Castles, Fortresses and Towers
For its geographical location Menorca has been an island highly coveted by different cultures since prehistory, becoming a very important point in maritime and commercial routes. After the Talayotic era, Greeks, Pubics, Iberians, Romans, vandalos and Byzantines arrived on the island over the centuries. In 903 the Muslims settled on the island until the conquest of King Alfonso III of Aragon in 1287. In the 16th century it suffered attacks by Ottoman pirates, and during the 18th century it was conquered and recaptured by the British, French and Spanish, until in 1802 it returned to Spanish sovereignty.
Visiting the buildings they built to defend the different populations that conquered the island is to immerse themselves in its history. A fascinating way to discover the different vestiges of the past, understand and imagine how the various cultures, the important events that took place, lived and defended.
In 903 Menorca was annexed to the Caliphate of Córdoba. And during the years they were on the island, the Arabs built a castle on the summit of the mountain of Santa Agueda, in the term of Ferreries, on an ancient Roman castro. Its construction took place between the 10th and 13th centuries, although the exact date is unknown. At 264 meters high, it is the third highest point of the island, the castle provided a panoramic view for control of the territory, especially the ports of the north coast.
In 1278, when Alfonso III of Aragon conquered Menorca, the castle was the last point of resistance of the Arabs. Later, the castle was destroyed during the reign of Peter IV of Aragon. Currently, the castle ruins are closed, but the views from there are breathtaking.
The port of Maó, for its dimensions, its privileged location and its characteristics, was one of the most desired in the Mediterranean. It was a maritime point between Spain and its Italian possessions; during British rule it was the support port of the British squadron in the Mediterranean, and then found itself at the centre of the crossings that joined the French route from Toulon to Algiers and the English route from Gibraltar to Malta.
That's why it's in the port of Maó that the largest fortresses on the island are.
On the southern shore of the port's mouth, we find the remains of Castel Sant Felip. He rose in the mid-16th century, with the aim of protecting the island from the Turkish attacks it had previously suffered. It expanded during successive British dominations to become one of the most important fortifications of the time in the Mediterranean. It was one of the first bulwark-style fortifications built in Spain. The castle facilitated Spanish communication with Italy and, during the British occupation of the island, served as a naval arsenal supporting Gibraltar.
But in 1782 Spain regained the sovereignty of Menorca and King Charles III ordered the demolition of the castle.
Between 1720 and 1726, the British built a small fort in the Cala Sant Esteve, on the south side of the mouth of the port of Maó, with the intention of protecting the southern part of the castle of Sant Felip. Fort Marlborough is heptagonal in shape and is surrounded by a large moat dug into the rock. The north side connected, through a moat and an underground tunnel, the castle of Sant Felip.
It was partially destroyed by the Spanish in 1782, and during the last British domination (1798-1802) it was rebuilt with some modifications.
As far back as 1850, under the reign of Elizabeth II, a fortress began to be built in front of what had been the Castle of Sant Felip, on the peninsula of La Mola. This fortification was lifted with the aim of defending the port of Maó and as the base of operations of army forces on the island.
To build it, an ancient fortification of the last British domination was used. And fortress Isabel II, popularly known as La Mola, was inaugurated in 1852, although its construction did not end until 1875, when it had become obsolete due to advances in artillery technology. Thus, in 1896 a new phase of construction began and a series of more modern defensive batteries were installed.
The fortress has never been attacked, so it remains in good condition. The spectacular construction offers wonderful views and houses secret corners and interesting curiosities to discover.
During the 15th and 16th centuries a series of watchtowers were built in coastal areas to alert the arrival of pirate ships, during a very convulsive time in the Mediterranean. Many of these towers have disappeared or are in poor condition, but you can visit the watchtower of Monte Toro, the one of Binisermenya (in Maó) or that of Artrutx (in Ciutadella).
Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Spaniards, English and French built a series of towers along the coast, in high places with good visibility, in order to monitor and defend the island from enemy attacks and pirate raids.
Strategically located in the port of Ciutadella, the Castle of Sant Nicolau was built by the Spanish between 1680 and 1682. This tower, protected by a moat and with a drawbridge leading to the entrance, has a different architecture than the other defensive towers. Its vault-shaped interior is where the armament and food were kept, and served as a den for the soldiers. At the top there is a terrace that served as a surveillance and attack area.
The Tower of Fornells is one of the largest in Menorca. It was built between 1801 and 1802, under the English occupation of the island, with the aim of guarding the Port of Fornells and preventing enemy landing and its possible attack on the Castle of Sant Antoni. The Tower has four levels: a cistern excavated in the subsoil, a ground floor where weapons, ammunition and food were stored, a first floor housing the garrison and an upper floor, the artillery platform, with a small furnace used to heat cannonballs that were thrown at enemy ships, with the aim of burning.
Even today we find many defense towers scattered around the island that are in good condition or have been restored and can be visited as the Torre d'Alcaufar, the Tower of Sanitja or the Tower of Son Ganxo, among others.