Menorca

History

The island is in a strategic location, both from a military and a commercial point of view, and has therefore been coveted by nations and empires that have wanted control of the Mediterranean.

The taulas and talaiots (megalithic stone monuments) that are dotted around the island date from a relatively late period in the island´s prehistory, the Bronze Age, which lasted from 1,600 BC to 200 BC in Menorca. When the Talayotic culture started to decline, Menorca began to be visited by Phoenician and Greek merchants, and it was the Carthaginians who were the first to conquer the island. They founded the cities of Jamma (modern-day Ciutadella) and Maghen (modern-day Mahón). The Carthaginian troops included the famous honderos baleares, soldiers who were said to be able to pierce shields and helmets with their stone missiles.

The Romans conquered the Balearic Islands in 123 AD, giving Menorca the name Balearis Minor or Minórica. The mosaic found on Isla del rey in the port of Mahón is from the period of the Roman colonisation of the island.

In 427 AD Menorca was conquered by the Vandals from North Africa and in 534 AD by the Byzantine Empire.

For four centuries from 903 AD the island was occupied by the Arabs and during this period Ciudadela was the capital. The Menorcans´ passion for horse riding originates from this period and this is reflected in the fiestas that take place every year on the island, such as the fiesta de San Juan de Ciudadela on 24th June. Spain regained control of the island during the reign of King Alfonso III. He expelled the Arab ruler Abu Umar from the island on 17th January 1287, incorporated the island into the Kingdom of Aragón, and repopulated it with Catalans.

During the sixteenth century Menorca was repeatedly raided by Turkish pirates. In 1534 Mahón was sacked by the Turkish pirate Barbarroja, and on 9th July 1558 Ciudadela was sacked by the pirate Piali, who destroyed the city and captured and enslaved 3,500 of its citizens.

For the next century and a half Menorca was subject to raiding by the Moors. In order to protect the island, Felipe II ordered the fortress of San Felipe to be constructed at the entrance of the port of Mahón, along with various defence towers along the coast, including that of San Nicolás in Ciudadela.

In 1713 Menorca was conquered by the English, who ruled the island until 1802 when, following the Treaty of Amiens, England gave Menorca back to Spain. It was during the English occupation that Mahón became the capital of the island.

Climate

Since 1862 the temperature has rarely exceeded 34ºC or fallen below 0ºC, giving an average maximum temperature of 19.6ºC and an average minimum temperature of 14ºC. Consequently, the average annual temperature is 16ºC, giving a seasonal average of 10ºC in winter and 23ºC in summer. January and February are the coldest months, after which the temperature rises gradually until it reaches its maximum in July and August.

Geography

Menorca has a land area of 702 square kilometres and a coastline of 216 kilometres. The maximum distance between any two points is 47 kilometres, which is the distance that separates Ciutadella and Maó. The coast of Sant Lluís, in the east of the island, is the first spot in Spain where the sun rises.

The island is divided into two halves that are symmetrical, but geologically very different. The North has an uneven and rugged coastline, with little vegetation, numerous islets and dark or reddish sandy beaches. The southern coast is characterised by smooth, rounded cliffs that are made up of calcium rock, gullies formed by the sea and coves with white sand that are surrounded by pine trees. The highest point on the island is Monte Toro, which is 357 metres high.

Vegetation

The vegetation of Menorca, which is typically Mediterranean, is primarily forest. In Es Migjorn and the surrounding area the most common form of vegetation is the wild olive tree, which is known on the island as l´ullastrar (Prasio-Oleetum Silvestris). Further inland, in the mountainous areas, as well as in the gullies, the oak tree is the most common form of vegetation. Other types of vegetation include pine forests, submarine plants, a species of juniper, known as sabina, which grows near the beaches, as well as different types of evergreen salt cedars, known as tamarindos.

Other types of woodland, shrubs and submarine vegetation, which are present on a smaller scale, include the Flax-Leaved Daphne, a poisonous evergreen shrub, arbutus, commonly known as strawberry trees, heather, including the Erica multiflora variety, broom, myrtle and juniper.

Natural Features

Caves: Menorca has around fifty natural land caves and a dozen underwater caves situated in the north and south of the island.

They are formed by rain water filtering through calcium rock and are especially interesting places because, in many cases and particularly in caves with sea water that are not connected to the sea, they contain species of animals that are not found elsewhere.

Wetlands: Throughout the island there are ponds, marshes and lagoons which have different flora and fauna. The coastal wetlands include the albufera de Es Grau nature reserve, which due to its great natural interest has walking routes, Addaia, Son Saura and Son Bou. Eight dune systems are associated with these wetlands: the albufera de Es Grau on the north coast, Son Saura, Tirant, Cavalleria, Pregonda, cala Pilar and La Vall, and Son Bou on the south coast.

Islets: These all enjoy a high level of environmental preservation, mainly due to a lack of human settlement. They have been a refuge for some very important species, such as the wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordii) that used to live on the main island but that today can only be found on the coastal islets. Other inhabitants of these islets are the important communities of rabbits and goats that were brought here by man. The conditions on these islets also favour the settlement of important colonies of marine birds. The most notable of these are the colonies of shearwaters on the isla del Aire and the Audouin gulls on dels Porros island.

Beaches: The coves and beaches of Menorca have clean and crystal clear waters that contrast with the white colour of the sand.

The colour of the water is due to the expanse of Posidonia oceanica, better known as Neptune Grass. The existence of this plant is considered to be the best indicator of the well preserved state of the beaches, as well as a clear sign of the good condition of the waters and of the coastline. The accumulation of leaves on the beach gives the beaches stability and provides them with sediments that come from under the sea.

The white colouring of these beaches comes from the calcium remains of the fauna that live amongst the seagrass. The conservation of this expanse of Posidonia oceanica is therefore the basis for the equilibrium of our coastline.

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