to the history page. We have now entered the month of August, but not to worry.
It is a habitual occurrence at this time of the year. Far from stating the obvious,
I offer fair warning to the uninured. In Ibiza, passing over the calends of this
month is rather like passing through the gates of hell: you never know what kind
of strange creature you're liable to encounter next. Mental coherence begins to
crumble as the month wears on and, eventually, sanity ceases altogether.
perils not withstanding, August is Ibiza's biggest fiesta month, not just for
holidaymakers but for the native population as well. There are a total of six
bank holidays during the course of the month, some celebrated over the whole of
the island, and some locally in the various town and villages. There is one fiesta,
however, which reigns supreme over all the others. It is Sant Ciriac, the commemoration
of the Catalan Conquest. The festivities span several days and include fireworks,
precessions by land and sea, cultural and musical events, etc.
apart, what concerns us here is the historical significance behind the fanfare.
August 8th marks the day when, in 1235, the Catalan forces sailed into Ibiza and
claimed the island for the Crown of Aragon. To better understand the whys and
wherefores of the conquest, let us examine the chain of events that led up to
The Crown of Aragon
story begins with the Reconquest, which could roughly be described as Spain's
answer to the Crusades. In effect, the Reconquest was the Spanish theatre of war
against Muslim hegemony. During the 11th and 12th centuries, the main strength
resided with the Muslims, but the balance of power began to shift in favour of
the Christians at the start of the 13th century. A decisive battle in the year
1212 (Navas de Tolosa) marked the point of no return in Muslim-Christian rivalry.
From this juncture onward it became clear that the growing political and military
momentum of the allied Christian forces had finally succeeded in overshadowing
five centuries of Moorish supremacy.
Of all Spain's Christian
kingdoms at this time, Aragon was the most powerful. Among other factors, its
primacy was due to its well-developed seaports, one of which was Barcelona. Not
surprisingly, this coastal city became the kingdom's leading merchant and naval
A Plea to the Monarch
only impediment to the expansion of Barcelonese commerce was the rampant and unchecked
piracy that plagued local waters. In 1227, with this grievance in mind, a consortium
of beleaguered merchants request an audience with their king, Jaime I, later known
as Jaime the Conqueror. They complained that it was impossible to conduct business
with neighbouring seaports owing to the Moorish snipers who perpetually sharked
the seaways. Needless to say, the Balearic Islands provided the perfect launch
pads for these attacks and with piracy as the foremost national industry, the
Moors' seafaring abilities were honed to precision. No ship, however well-armed,
was ever safe when passing through Balearic waters. The king saw the truth in
the merchants' words and agreed to take naval action to oust the Moors from their
island lairs, for once and for all.
took two years to prepare the offensive, which had as its first target Majorca.
Jaime had a good number of troops at his disposal, but when launching large campaigns
he invariably called upon a core group of trusted knights for their collaboration.
In this way, even as the ruler of a relatively small political unit, he could
amass the manpower necessary to undertake large military ventures.
siege against Majorca was successfully carried out in 1229, with the original
plan being to carry on directly to Ibiza. Unexpectedly, however, the king was
called away to a parallel campaign in Valencia where his personal leadership was
needed in battle. Thus, it was decided that the attack against Ibiza and Formentera
should be postponed until Jaime could again join the campaign. (Just as an aside,
the island of Minorca was also left unassailed at the time, though a pact of non-aggression
was drawn up; it was definitively captured in 1287).
back to Ibiza, six years had passed since the battle plans were put on hold, and
still the king was occupied in other endeavours. Eventually, Jaime asked one of
his closest personal friends, the warrior knight, Guillem de Montrgrí,
if he would assume leadership of the siege.
Montgrí had just accepted the high post of Archbishop of Tarragona, although
he had not, as yet, been ordained. Faced now with two very different life options,
the knight undertook a solemn search of conscience and came to the conclusion
that he must renounce the archbishopric for he was much more a warrior than a
man of the cloth. The Pope accepted Montrgrí's determination, but under
one condition: that all of the goods of conquest and the wealth generated thereby
should be turned over to the Church of Tarragona upon the knight's death. Montgrí
agreed and so it was done.
Preparing the Warpath
the king, Montgrí had a good number of troops at his disposal, but he needed
to double his manpower in order to take Ibiza. To this end, he enlisted the aid
of two friends, Nuño Sanz (a.k.a. the Count of Roselló) and Pedro
of Portugal, a warrior prince who at that time lived in Catalonia. Together, the
three men took to the seas in 1235, their ships laden with artillery, and their
hearts bent on victory.
They approached Ibiza from the
south, disembarking on the Playa de Figueretes, presently part of Ibiza town.
After a small skirmish in which the Christian troops prevailed, the invaders made
their way on foot to the walled city. Here, legend has it, they were let in though
a secret entrance by previous agreement with a Moorish traitor. The story goes
that there were two Moorish brothers who ruled the island. One brother ruled the
citadel - and was therefore more powerful - while the other brother ruled the
lower city and the marina. It is said that the top brother stole one of the lower
brother's wives, hence creating a motive for treason and revenge.
this tale has never been officially chronicled, it is thought by island historians
to be true. Their assumption is based firstly on the fact that, for the Moors,
the battle was virtually lost before it even began. The wronged brother had nothing
to lose and everything to gain by making a personal pact with the invaders. His
willingness to aid them no doubt assured him exemption from the usual fate of
vanquished rulers - death or, even worse, slavery. The second argument for the
story's likelihood is a 14th century document in which the beach of Figueretes
is referred to as "the field of treason". Also convincing is the fact
that the medieval name for the street where the Christian troops are purported
to have entered was "the street of the invader". If Montgrí had
only known it would be so easy, he could have left half his men at home!
any rate, anyone interested in visiting the actual site of alleged entry can go
to Ibiza's old town and follow the cobbled streets up to the Capilla de San Ciriaco
where a commemorative plaque hallmarks the spot. The chapel that now stands at
this site was named in honour of Saint Cyriac, the patron saint who, in the ecclesiastic
calendar, corresponds to the day of the conquest, 8th August. Just as a side note,
Saint Cyriac of the Baths was an early Roman martyr who was killed in 304 after
having worked as a slave to build Diocletian's Baths. The fiesta of Sant Ciriac
was not officially declared as a public holiday until 1897.
us next week as we carry on with our busy summer agenda and commemorate the lovely
inland village of Sant Llorenç.