History of Formentera

The complete history of Formentera. From prehistoric times, through Roman and Phoenician times, to the present day.

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Content: History of Formentera

History of Formentera: more than 4,500 years of history

Although the island of Formentera is relatively small (only about 84 km2 in area), this has not prevented humans from inhabiting this territory (which had little to offer in terms of resources) since the Bronze Age, thus beginning the chronicles of the history of Formentera.

Later, the Phoenicians and then the Romans were permanent inhabitants of Formentera. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was a period of depopulation of the island, just as there was after the Black Death epidemic that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages.

Finally, the repopulation of Formentera, with the establishment of a permanent population on the island, took place from the 17th century onwards. Nowadays, and after a very hard post civil war period (as you will see later on), Formentera has positioned itself as one of the most important beach tourist destinations in the Mediterranean and in the world. For years now, the local government has also been focusing on environmentally friendly tourism.

Introduction to the history of Formentera

Tower of sa Guardiola, Espalmador Island, Formentera
Watchtower of Sa Guardiola (XVI century), Espalmador Island, Formentera

The history of Formentera is almost as long as the history of the contemporary human species itself.

The first stable populations and remains of dated constructions date from 4,500 years ago, although humans had almost certainly set foot on the island long before that date, on an ad hoc basis and without settling down.

Although it is romantic to think that the beaches and places we visit today have already seen the footsteps of other humans several thousand years ago, we must point out that 4 millennia ago the shape of the island was not exactly the same as it is today, partly because of the erosion suffered during this very long period of time and because at that time the sea level was between 1 and 2 meters below the present one.This meant that many areas now under water were afloat.

The shape of the island was somewhat different from how we know it today. If you have thought about it, that’s right: for sure none of the most famous beaches of the Formentera of today still existed, or they were extremely different from how they appear now in the photos.

From the first settlements of the Copper Age to the present day more than 4 millennia have passed. This means that Formentera has seen prehistoric populations , Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, there havebeen wars, raids by corsairs, epidemics, depopulation and repopulation

This is how Formentera has managed to reach the last stable repopulation in the sixteenth century, from which time the island has been permanently inhabited to a lesser or greater extent. Finally in the twentieth century Formentera was consolidated as a tourist destination and became one of the most famous islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the world.

Prehistory of Formentera

The small island of Formentera, today with a stable population of about 12,000 people and a fourfold increase during the summer months, has been inhabited – with short periods of depopulation – since approximately 2,500 BC. This is demonstrated by the more than 40 prehistoric sites on the island. The process of population settlement has lasted more than 4,000 years, and began with the first explorers who arrived in ancient Formentera aboard fragile copper-age boats.

Inhabiting Formentera during prehistoric times: an almost impossible task

Formentera was an extremely hostile territory for any human settlement.

  • First, because, as in the case of any island, in order to get there, a sea crossing had to be made, in most cases a dangerous one, with very rudimentary means and boats.
  • Second because, if you managed to get there, you found yourself, as on any small island, with a very particular ecosystem, with very adapted animal and plant species and in a very small number, biologically interesting for today’s scientists, but biologically interesting for today’s scientists but biologically interesting for today’s scientists but biologically interesting for today’s scientists. nutritionally too poor to sustain a human population with a population of prehistoric people that need to be supplied in large quantities with a diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates and that obtains a large part of these from hunting and gathering.

What food resources did Formentera offer in prehistoric times?

During the Holocene period (about 10,000 years ago) in Mallorca and Menorca there was an endemic species of wild sheep, the Myotragus, extinct about 5,000 years ago due to extensive hunting and human persecution.

In Formentera there is no record of the presence of Myotragus, therefore the terrestrial resources that the island could offer to a very undeveloped population were almost nonexistent.

The only protein sources available were to be:

  • The endemic lizards of the island
  • Seabird eggs during nesting season, one or two months a year
  • Mollusks and crustaceans that could be harvested and caught on the shore
  • Fish

For this reason, the first inhabitants were probably expert sailors and experts in the sea, from where they could obtain the nutrients they could not obtain on land through fishing, gathering mollusks and crustaceans, and hunting marine animals.

Later, after several centuries, one or more groups of inhabitants managed to develop a very basic agricultural economy and settle permanently on the island, as we will see below.

Prehistoric settlements and first settlers in the history of Formentera: 2.000 – 1.600aC or Copper Age.

Among all the archaeological remains that began to be discovered in the 70’s and 80’s, those found in the Cova Des Fum stand out. Pottery fragments and vessels typical of the Early Copper Age were recovered and confirmed the human presence on the island since that period. What corroborated the presence of a prehistoric community settled on the island was the discovery and excavation of the megalithic tomb of Ca Na Costa, in Es Pujols.

The permanent human presence in Formentera during prehistoric times, although there were suspicions of it, could not be confirmed until the end of the 20th century.

The vast majority of international experts agreed – erroneously – that Formentera had been uninhabited during prehistoric times, the only settlements from this period being those found in Ibiza.

However, thanks to the insistence, tenacity and hard work of local researchers Isidor Macabich, Manuel Sorà, Jordi H. Fernández and other international researchers such as the British Celia Topp, in 1974 several human settlements of the Bronze Age began to be discovered, being the most outstanding ones:

  • The megalithic tomb of Ca Na Costa – which can be visited – near where the municipality of Es Pujols is now located.
  • The Cova des Fum, in the cliffs of La Mola, which we will talk about later, provided the first indications of a prehistoric population settled on the island.
  • Prehistoric stone dwellings/huts in the area of Barbaria(technically known as Barbaria I, II and III; currently protected and open to visitors).

After these discoveries and seeing that the island was likely to hold more, in 1988 the “Archaeological Charter of Formentera” was created, promoted by the Consell de Cultura of the Balearic government and brought with it new surveys and sites during the following years.

This led to the fact that by the year 2000, a wide variety of remains had been discovered and catalogued in 40 locationsThe following were found: megalithic tombs, fixed settlements, a fortified enclosure, several caves with human and historical remains and a large number of metal objects and tools.

The findings made in the Cova des Fum and the megalithic tomb of Ca na Costa are without any doubt the definitive proof of the presence of permanent, stable and adapted human settlements in the territory of Formentera during the late Neolithic period.

La Cova des Fum: 3,000 years of history of Formentera

If there is one place in Formentera that stands out above the rest in terms of the amount of historical information it provides, it is undoubtedly the Cova des Fum.

What was found in the Cova des Fum?

The Cova des Fum is extremely interesting for the fact that it has provided archaeological finds that narrate a very extensive period of the island’s history, from prehistoric times to the most recent years of the Middle Ages.

The Cova des Fum is located in the cliffs of La Mola, although the entrance is currently in an inaccessible area of cliffs and thick island vegetation.

It is a grotto with a main room and several secondary branches, where they have been found:

  • remains dating from the Copper Age to the Middle Ages
  • indications of a stone wall to protect the entrance
  • ritual burials
  • an ossuary where the remains of several individuals were accumulated.
  • ceramic remains
  • metal parts
  • a prehistoric home
  • Weapons remains

Unfortunately, the access of the curious and amateurs during the 80’s and 90’s, who entered the cave without paying attention not to alter the different archaeological strata and collected samples without much criteria, left the Cova des Fum without some details of transcendental importance.

The most important remains found in the cave are in the Archaeological Museum of Ibiza and Formentera, some of them donated by people who freely accessed the interior of the cave and then donated the findings.

Photographic material is also available from the first visit to the cave by the British naturalist Frank Jackson, who, apart from taking photographs, did not alter any of the findings there.

The last professional excavation was carried out in 2012, working in the cave for a month and providing a large amount of materials and information to continue writing the history of Formentera.


The tomb of Ca na Costa

Megalithic Sepulchre of Ca Na Costa, Formentera
Megalithic Sepulchre of Ca Na Costa, Formentera

In the file you can find more information about Ca Na Costa

The discovery of such a sepulcher is the clearest evidence that we are dealing with a society that is fully established in the territory, rooted to the point of building structures to bury its deceased members.

An analysis of the construction shows that the tomb has the following characteristics:

  • the entrance facing west, towards sunset – coinciding exactly with the setting of the winter solstice
  • has a structure of 22 radii, formed by two concentric circles
  • a slight elliptical shape

This radial structure means that Ca na Costa is colloquially known by the people of Formentera as “es rellotje” (the clock).

All these characteristics also demonstrate that it is a precisely calculated construction, which cannot be explained by mere skill but by the use of complex calculations and measurements, typical of a relatively advanced community that knew how to interpret mathematics, geometry, the sun and the stars.

It also required the organization of a remarkable number of individuals as a work force to obtain, transport and carve the stones: a fully organized society. Carbon 14 dating carried out in 2001 placed the megalithic tomb of Ca Na Costa in Es Pujols as the oldest settlement of this type in the Balearic Islands, placing the remains between 2,000 BC and 1,600 BC.

What was found in the tomb of Ca Na Costa?

Inside the tomb were found:

  • 8 bodies
    • 2 women between 25 and 35 years old
    • 6 men between 35 and 55 years old
  • Together with the bodies, several objects were found, among which the following stand out:
    • boar bone, bear bone, and elephant bone buttons
    • remains of prehistoric weapons
    • ceramic remains

In the case of the buttons (especially those made with elephant bone), they certainly arrived by sea to Formentera, and it shows us that exchanges and contacts with the peninsula through Ibiza were frequent. The clothes in which these individuals were buried have not been preserved.

It should be noted that the age of the individuals found was higher than usual for the period, since in other areas of the peninsula and the continent life expectancy was even lower.

In the case of women, they died even earlier than men, mainly due to complications derived from successive pregnancies and childbirths, given the total lack of adequate sanitary conditions.

As a curiosity, the heights did not exceed 1.50m for women and 1.65m for men, with the exception of one man who was about 1.95m, probably because he suffered from gigantism (a condition caused by the malfunctioning of the pituitary gland).

Dental analysis shows that the diet consisted mostly of soft proteins, which is consistent with a diet based on fish and seafood, and was low in flour and sugars.

Prehistoric huts of Cap de Barbaria

Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II
Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II

The three prehistoric hut settlements of Formentera that have been excavated and studied are:

The most characteristic Late Neolithic sites are the dwellings found in the area of Cap De Barbaria and discovered, as mentioned above, almost at the same time as the tomb of Ca Na Costa and the Cova des Fum.

These are buildings and dwellings that all share the following characteristics:

  • raised with enormous stone plinths
  • are of complex plant
  • have a high number of areas/spaces (five, six or even more), where a functional division of these spaces can be observed – for animals, for work, for rest, etcetera.
  • its extensions reach up to 1,500 m².
  • approximately 10 to 15 individuals, and the

Although the cabins in the area of Barbaria are the most outstanding, this type of construction can also be found in other parts of the island, such as in the area of Es Ram and Sa Cala -both close to the Mola-, in Punta Prima and in the area of Can Marroig.

In these cases they are smaller than those of Barbaria, where the excavated constructions are the most extensive and where it seems that the community was more numerous.

Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II
Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II
What was found in the prehistoric huts of Cap de Barbaria?

Something common to this type of construction is that around the main huts or shelters other smaller ones were built, perhaps used for defense, storage or as a shelter for livestock, without being able to determine their precise use.

The complexity of all these constructions confirms that there was the presence of stable and sedentary communities on the island with an already developed agricultural economy, since excavations of the dwellings have been found:

  • Bones of domestic animals
    • mainly from goat, cow and sheep
  • Remains of tools
    • of work
    • for farm work
    • to develop other tools
    • forge
  • Remains of ceramics
  • Food scraps such as
    • shells
    • crustaceans

Other prehistoric constructions of Formentera

Some constructions for purely defensive tasks of this period have also been found in several areas of the island, the most remarkable of them in the area of Sa Cala in La Mola. In this place there is located a wall of about 30 meters long with two access doors and a semicircular watchtower.

The curious thing about this finding is that it is not a construction to protect against incursions from the sea but from the interior, which would mean that during times of scarcity of resources or droughts (during the Early Bronze Age there was a period of drastic reduction of rainfall), wars and tensions between the different prehistoric settlements of Formentera were common and it was necessary to protect themselves from an enemy coming from land.

The occupation of most of the island’s caves during this period is probably also due to a defensive reason and to watch the coasts to detect the arrival of enemies.

Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II
Archaeological site Cap de barbaria II

What kind of prehistoric society lived in Formentera?

Prehistoric society of Formentera
What kind of prehistoric society lived in Formentera?

The evolution of the prehistoric communities of Mallorca and Menorca during the Late Bronze Age led to the formation of the Talaiotic society, although this did not occur in Ibiza and Formentera.

The Late Bronze Age in Formentera is simply the continuation of the Primary and Middle Bronze with minor technological changes, as the findings indicate that there was a continuation in the use of Early Bronze establishments, without too many changes in the social structure.

The metallurgical advances of the period were introduced on the island, as bronze forges for metal smelting have been found in the settlements of Barbaria. This metal came with total certainty from Mallorca, Menorca and the mainland, since there are no known metalliferous deposits on Formentera, which is clear evidence that there was a fully operational network of exchange and trade between islands.

This flourishing of Balearic trade was what attracted the Phoenicians -an unparalleled seafaring and trading people- to the coasts of the Pitiusas around the 9th century BC, as we will see below.

History of Formentera during the Punic and Phoenician period: 600 – 100 B.C.

As mentioned above, by the end of the Bronze Age there was already a very active trade network between the different islands of the Balearic archipelago.

This was probably what attracted the attention of the Phoenicians, who from 900 BC were settled in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar, the eastern Andalusian coast and the Levante peninsular. The Phoenicians were expert sailors, avid traders and had the best ships in the Mediterranean, outperforming Greek and Egyptian ships.

The fact of expanding their commercial network by establishing themselves in the Pitiusas was an opportunity that they did not miss, and the presence of the Phoenicians in Ibiza is widely documented and recorded.

One of the most famous settlements is the Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta, in Ibiza, completely excavated and restored. However, there is not much evidence of their presence in Formentera and it is not known exactly what happened to the inhabitants of the island when the Phoenicians settled in Ibiza.

Remains of the Phoenician village of Sa Caleta, Ibiza
Remains of the Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta, Ibiza. Source: Wikipedia – Paul Hermans – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2108955

What is certain is that the Phoenicians were never interested in settling in Formentera, since no remains have been found beyond amphorae and ceramic remains on the surface, mostly in the walled area of Sa Cala, in La Mola.

There are no permanent settlements or Phoenician dwellings registered in Formentera.

Although it is true that not many studies or excavations have been carried out in relation to the presence of the population in Formentera during this period, it is true that a decrease in human presence on the island has been detected during this period.It was not completely uninhabited or, if it was, only for very short periods of time.

Perhaps the arrival of the Phoenicians to Ibiza, who had the most advanced boats of the time and were the best navigators in the Mediterranean for many centuries, facilitated the departure of the population of Formentera to other less harsh and arid areas.

The theory of the temporary depopulation of Formentera during the Phoenician period is also supported by the chronicles of several Greek geographers and historians between 300 and 50 BC, who describe the smallest of the Pitiusas as a deserted and uninhabited island.Some of them, based on fables and stories, even place it as a desert place infested with snakes.

The first name of Formentera

It is precisely in this period of depopulation that the island is described and named for the first time: Ophiusa/Ofiusa (island of snakes in Greek).

It was Strabo, a famous Greek geographer and historian who in his work “Geography” called the small of the Pitiusas with the name of Ofiusa, which he described as an uninhabited island near Ibiza:

The other island, Ofiusa, (Formentera) deserted and much smaller than Ebusus (Ibiza), is close to this one.


Although it was unlikely that the island was permanently uninhabited, it could be that the population residing there was not permanent.

First indications of exploitation of Formentera’s resources

A progressive decrease in the population of Formentera does not mean that there was no human presence on the island, but that the human presence at this time is focused on the economic exploitation of the territory.

It is during this period that the island’s environment begins to adapt to its inhabitants and not the other way around. During the Phoenician period is when:

  • Formentera’s salt begins to be mined
  • constructions have been found in the area of La Mola, used not as dwellings but with signs of exploitation of agricultural, livestock and salt resources.
  • the Phoenicians were the first to use Es Caló as a natural harbor.

This means that in this period Formentera was integrated to Ibiza as a territory susceptible to the exploitation of its resources.

Es Caló dock, Formentera
The Phoenicians were the first to use Es Caló as a natural harbor.

The most outstanding constructions of the Phoenician period of the history of Formentera are:

  1. buildings for ship repair (at this time is when Es Caló began to be used as a natural harbor)
  2. watchtowers on the islands of Espalmador and Espardell, at Punta Prima and Sa Cala, used together with those on the island of Ibiza as a network of watchtowers to detect the presence of enemy ships.

Controlling the sea passage that separates Ibiza and Formentera became a difficult task for the Phoenicians: from 300 BC the Roman Empire and its ships began to approach the Balearic Islands.

History of Formentera during the Roman Empire: 100 BC – 395 AD

Roman road from es caló to la Mola
Roman road from Es Caló to La Mola

The Roman Empire had been in continuous expansion throughout the Mediterranean Sea for several centuries. In 123 BC the Romans conquered the Balearic Islands, but from the beginning, in the case of Ibiza and Formentera, they did not include them as a territory of the empire but as territories confederated to it.

During the Roman period there was a period of great human activity in Formentera, and it is when we find the most explicit references to the island.

It still mentions that the island was infested with snakes, for example, in the following quotations from Pomponius Mela and Pliny the Elder.

Just in front of Ebusus (Ibiza) is Colubraria, of which I am reminded because even being full of a nombroso and evil genus of snakes, and even being uninhabitable, it is harmless and pleasant for those who enter it.
Pomponius Mela, year 40 AD

The lands of Ebusa (Ibiza) make snakes flee, the lands of Colubraria (Formentera) produce them, so it is dangerous for everyone except for those who carry land of Ebusus (Ibiza). The Greeks called that island Ophiusa.
Pliny the Elder, 1st century A.D.

What happens to Formentera during the time of the Roman Empire?

Fables aside, we cannot know if Formentera was full of snakes or not, but what we know for sure is that demographically -and contradicting several classical geographers- it is in this period when Formentera has its highest population density to date .

There are 19 documented deposits from the period of the low Roman Empire and this growth is closely related to the stage of productive growth and economic development that Ibiza experienced in that period. From this period there are even two necropolis, the oldest on the island, near where Cala en Baster is located and another necropolis in Sant Francesc.

This shows that at this time there was a fully settled population on the island, who were born, lived and died there.

In 74 AD Ibiza and Formentera ceased to be cities confederated to the Roman Empire to become territories in their own right, included within the Roman province of the
. This meant an increase in imports of materials, products and foodstuffs, as evidenced by the findings in Formentera of ceramics from Tunisia and the area of present-day Andalusia .

This influx of new products – especially from North Africa – led to a decrease in the number of farms throughout the territories of the Roman Empire, especially the smaller ones, which were less competitive in terms of price than the large African estates.

Formentera, which had smallholdings and self-consumption farms, also experienced changes due to the entry of goods and foodstuffs at low prices.

Outstanding Roman site: Castellum de Can Blai de Es Caló

Roman Castellum of Can Blai, Formentera
Roman Castellum of Can Blai, Formentera

As a result of the barbarian invasions at the end of the 3rd century A.D.In the wake of the internal crisis that shook the empire and the profound reform of the administrative and economic structure carried out by Emperor Diocletian, Roman society took a turn towards an improvement in the quality of life, less concentration of power and property in the hands of a few and the emergence of an incipient bourgeois class.

In the history of Formentera, this period is observed in the Castellum de Can Blai, located right on the piece of land that joins the two ends of the island, near Es Caló. It is a fortified construction in the form of a square castle, with a tower at each corner and an area of about 1,600 m².

More information about the Castellum de Can Blai here:

According to the studies and excavations that have been carried out at the site, it is almost certainly an unfinished construction, or if it was used, it was used for a very short time.

What type of building was Can Blai?

There are two main theories about the use of the Can Blai building:

  1. The first and most feasible is that it was a military type building/construction to perform defense functions, especially to protect the inhabitants of the surrounding area.
  2. The second is that it is a building promoted at a particular level, because of, as we have mentioned, the emergence of a social class that had accumulated wealth and had become “gentrified”.

A few meters from the Castellum, evidence has been found of a small farm and a necropolis of pits excavated in the pure rock, indicating that there were permanent buildings in the area and perhaps this building was intended to offer protection to the inhabitants of the area.

Currently the remains of the Castellum de Can Blai are recovered and protected and can be visited.

The period after the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantines: 395 AD – 1,000 AD.

After the disappearance of the Roman Empire and its division in 395 AD between the Eastern and Western empires, there is very little information about what is happening in what had been the territories of the ancient Roman Empire. This also affects Ibiza and Formentera.

What we do know for sure is that the Balearic Islands were occupied by the barbarians, coming from northern Europe, along with the current Corsica and Sardinia. In fact, in their period of greatest extension they had occupied the entire peninsular Mediterranean, North Africa and the Italian islands.

From the excavations carried out in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza we know that this barbarian occupation was violent, but in Formentera it is not known with certainty what happened, in fact partly because no studies or excavations have been carried out in this regard.

The distribution of the Mediterranean after the fall of the Western Roman Empire

The remains of the Roman Empire were distributed as follows:

  • The Vandals
    took North Africa, Carthage (present-day Tunisia and Algeria), Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands.

  • The Ostrogoths
    occupied the Italian peninsula

  • The Franks
    settled in the south of France and the north of the peninsula.

  • The Visigoths
    in the Iberian Peninsula and southern Portugal

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantines arrived two hundred years later, conquering all the territories from the barbarians, of which they would maintain control until about 700 AD.

During the Byzantine period there was a small repopulation of Formentera and from what has been found so far these are constructions that re-used the ruins of ancient settlements from 200 and 300 AD.

Fall of the Byzantine empire: autarky and depopulation

After the progressive fall and disappearance of the Byzantine empire and with it a lack of social organization, government and a total recession of trade, came a process of autarchy that impoverished not only the Balearic Islands but all the territories formerly controlled by the Byzantines.

Very little information is known about the history of Formentera during the post-Byzantine period, apart from knowing for certain that poverty was widespread and that both Ibiza and Formentera probably suffered total or near-total depopulation from 700 to 900 AD. If they were not depopulated, the population was very small and lived on subsistence economy and self-consumption.

At the end of this period, Formentera, like the rest of the Balearic Islands, saw the arrival of the Muslims, who had been conquering territories from the Byzantines advancing from Egypt since at least the 6th century.

Muslim conquest of the Balearic Islands: 902 to 1.229

Interior Mosque of Cordoba
The Mosque of Cordoba is the most outstanding monument of the Western Umayyad Caliphate in Spain. Source: Wikipedia – Timor Espallargas, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Mosque_Cordoba.jpg

With the Muslim conquest of the Balearic Islands by the Umayyad Caliphate, the four islands of the Balearic archipelago were named al-Jaza’ir al-Sharquiya li-l-Andalus, that is, the Eastern Islands of al-Andalus.

This relatively short period of just 300 years will be fundamental for the history of Formentera, as it was for the rest of the other Balearic Islands and also for the Iberian Peninsula. And even if it were of vital importance, the truth is that there are few samples or findings of Muslim presence in Formentera, partly because no lines of research have been opened on this period.

What is certain is that the Muslims used the Balearic Islands as the most advanced bases in the Mediterranean in case of further conquest or to defend themselves against invasions from the East. This can be deduced from the fact that in Mallorca and Menorca some cities were fortified and the interior defenses of both islands were reinforced.

The importance of the Muslim presence in the Balearic Islands

The arrival of the Saracens to the Balearic Islands meant another new period of growth for the Balearic Islands, and also in Formentera, just as it happened with the arrival of the Romans. The Muslims brought with them more advanced productive systems, which led to the flourishing of semi-permanent settlements on the island.

At this time Formentera became a territory merely destined to productive functions, without urban centers or stable population beyond farmers and ranchers, being centralized commercial and human activity in Yabisa (Ibiza).

The most common agricultural activities in Formentera, as in Ibiza, must have been:

  • Raisins, figs and dried fruit cultivation
  • Goat farming
  • Salt production

Muslim settlements in Formentera

There is evidence of several Muslim settlements in Formentera, being the most prominent:

  • In the area of La Mola there is the highest concentration of deposits, especially in the outer part of the peninsula (near the cliffs). It is assumed that in this way crops could be concentrated in the central area.
  • In the area of Es Carnatge, Migjorn and near Estany Pudent, sites from this period have also been found and identified.
  • It was at this time when Es Caló de s’Oli began to be used as a wharf.

Fall and disintegration of the Muslim empire of Al-Andalus

With the collapse and disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba, Al-Andalus fragmented into a group of Taifa kingdoms: Slavic, Berber and Andalusian. The disputes between these kingdoms weakened the old Muslim state, and the Christians began to take advantage of the situation to start gaining ground on Al-Andalus.

In the case of Formentera and the Balearic Islands, these were under Berber control, specifically under the domain of the taifa of Denia and controlled by Mujahid b. ”Abd Allah.

Formentera as a base for Berber pirates

Mujahid used the islands as a naval outpost to attack territories to the east and north, especially against Christian kingdoms, which he besieged with raids in the purest corsair style. The incursions and plundering on the coasts of Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, the Valencian Country and Catalonia were common.

The reason for these attacks? With the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba, the tax allocation to the islands had dropped enormously.This meant that the income for the upper classes and the Balearic state in general had decreased significantly. Piracy was thus a way to get money in the form of riches.

The attack of Sigurd I in the Cova des Fum against Muslims

As mentioned above, the Muslim kingdoms had been in decline for several centuries, and the Christians had started the crusades a few centuries earlier to begin to recover territories. It was in the Cova des Fum where one of the most important clashes of this period took place in Formentera, when the island was under Berber control and was used as an outpost for corsair attacks on Christian territories.

According to Norman chroniclers, Sigurd I left Norway for the crusades with 60 ships with the intention of reaching Constantinople fighting against the infidels he encountered along the way and recovering territories for the Christians along the way. Moreover, the Norman mercenaries had been hired by Byzantium, which offered a free bar for plundering in all the territories they conquered.

During his route to Constantinople, Sigurd I fought battles in northern Spain, Portugal, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Levant, the Balearic Islands, Sicily and Jerusalem. On his way through the Balearic Islands, in 1108, Sigurd I first arrived in Formentera, where he found a group of Saracens (as the medieval Christians called anyone with Arab features or who was Muslim) who had made a stronghold on the island. They had first attacked Sigurd I’s ships but could not withstand the onslaught and ended up fleeing, using the Cova des Fum as a last refuge.

After several unsuccessful attempts to make the infidels surrender, Sigurd I decided to take two barges full of soldiers up to the cliffs and lower them to the height of the entrance, in order to launch a rain of arrows into the interior. To overcome the survivors he decided to light a fire at the entrance of the cave and the Arabs, suffocated by the smoke, had no choice but to leave and surrender. The soldiers of Sigurd I did not accept the surrender and mercilessly murdered all those who remained, seizing the relics that the Saracens possessed.

Although the fact of lowering boats from the cliffs seems quite implausible and is idealized to the taste of the Norman narrators, it is feasible that the events occurred in this place and in this cave, given that the descriptions reflected in the chronicles coincide with the place. Moreover, the crusade of Sigurd I was narrated in great detail by the Norman chroniclers of the time, so one can think that this confrontation, although in a less novel form, really happened.

It was from this episode that the Cova des Fum (Smoke Cave) took the name by which everyone knows it now.

The Pisan-Barcelonian crusade of the Balearic Islands and the final conquest of the Catalans

The second major Christian attack against the Muslims in the Balearic Islands, possibly inspired by the crusade of King Sigurd I of Norway, occurred during the Pisan-Catalan crusade of 1114. This crusade was the one that temporarily recovered the Balearic Islands for the Christians, when the City of Barcelona and the Republic of Pisa (which had two cities that had become strong commercial centers, Genoa and Venice) joined forces in retaliation for the Berber corsair attacks carried out years before.

In addition to Pisa and Barcelona, they also contributed men and weapons:

  • Montpellier
  • Narbonne
  • Feudal lords of Catalonia, Occitania, Roussillon and Provence
  • Sardinia
  • Corsica

Although the piracy in the Balearic Islands was totally annihilated, they were lost to the Almoravids, who controlled the islands again until the definitive conquest of the Balearic Islands by Guillermo de Montgrí (under the orders of Jaume I El Conqueridor) in 1229.

Formentera in Medieval times: Catalan reconquest and repopulation

The Catalans conquered Mallorca and Menorca from the Muslims in 1229 led by James I the Conqueror, although he ceded command of operations for Ibiza and Formentera to Guillem de Montgrí, sacristan of Girona and archbishop of Tarragona, who conquered both for the Catalans in 1235.

With the definitive fall of Al-Andalus and the reconquest of the Balearic Islands, the foundations of the Formentera society we know today were built.

The islands were divided equally among the nobles who participated in the campaign.

The repopulation of Formentera by the Catalan-Aragonese crown

After the conquest, the repopulation of the islands of Ibiza and Formentera began with people from the Catalan-Aragonese kingdom, in the case of Formentera mainly with inhabitants from the north of Catalonia and the county of Empúries (the current Empordà). This repopulation process will last approximately 100 years.

The arrival of people from the Catalan-Aragonese crown is what gave Formentera and the rest of the Balearic Islands much of the character, customs and language it has maintained to this day.

This repopulation and reconquest of the Balearic Islands is what is celebrated in Formentera during the month of August, as well as claiming and defending the island’s culture and customs. The central day of the celebrations is August 5, precisely the day of Santa Maria, when concerts and activities are held in various locations on the island. This repopulation, however, was more difficult than expected and although those who wanted to occupy the territory were granted permission to live, build, work the land and fish in its waters, a context of crisis and economic recession had set in, which did not attract the population to the islands.

The difficulties of the repopulation of Formentera

Formentera, being a small and reduced territory, offered very few resources to ensure a successful repopulation of the island. The feudal lords in charge of the reconquest (the most prominent being the aforementioned Guillem de Montgrí) realized the difficulty of the enterprise and soon made a partial donation of the territories to the inhabitants, leaving them with only the jurisdiction of the islands.

Considerable advantages were also offered to those who decided to settle in Formentera. In this way, they wanted to stimulate the colonization process of Formentera.

Some of these advantages were:

  • Villagers could fish freely in the different lakes and in the sea.
  • They could leave the island whenever they wanted
  • They could sell, exchange or rent their properties freely

Even so, the repopulation of Formentera proved to be more complicated than anticipated and few inhabitants settled permanently on Formentera.

The first Christian monastery of Formentera: Es Monestir de La Mola

Land in la Mola
The Monestir de Santa Maria was somewhere in La Mola, although the exact location is still unknown.

Along with the attempts of repopulation, the conversion of the territory to Christianity also took place, with the arrival of the first religious to the island: the community of Augustinian monks of Formentera was born, who built a convent to Santa Maria in the area of La Mola.

It was precisely Guillem de Montgrí who, during the division of Formentera after the conquest, reserved some land in La Mola for some Augustinian friars who wanted to build an oratory. It is not known for certain how Augustinian friars arrived at La Mola, nor when they did it, but in the documents of the partition of the island after its reconquest, there was already talk of hermits, without specifying more details. This means that they may have been there before Formentera was recovered from the hands of the Muslims.

In any case, it was Guillem de Montgrí himself who reserved the land in La Mola for the Augustinians to build a temple to Santa Maria and some houses.

These Augustinian friars are also mentioned in documentation of the same period found in Mallorca, so everything leads us to believe that this monastery dedicated to Santa Maria really existed.

Death of Guillem de Montgrí and disappearance of the Santa Maria Monastery

With the death of Guillem de Montgrí in 1273, the favors towards the Augustinian community came to an end. Formentera was claimed by the heirs of Guillem de Montgrí and at the same time by the archdiocese of Tarragona, and both sides saw the monks as intruders in a territory that did not belong to them.

The frictions for the control of Formentera between the heirs of Montgrí and the archdiocese, even though the island was sparsely populated and could not offer interesting resources, continued until the end of the 14th century.

Finally the monastery of La Mola disappeared around 1298 (and its exact location is still unknown), but the toponymy remains: there are several areas in La Mola that are called “Es Monestir” in allusion to this first Augustinian monastery.

The Black Death: depopulation in the 14th century

The repopulation of Formentera was becoming difficult, but it became an impossible task with the arrival of the black plague epidemic that devastated the whole of Europe.

Formentera was totally depopulated around 1348 due to the Black Death epidemic that devastated Europe. The inhabitants who did not die from the epidemic left the island as soon as they could, believing that by fleeing to the mainland they would be saved (which in the end was a worse strategy).

A deserted island without the control of the authorities was something that was frowned upon at that time: there was no control of that territory and the island could be used by pirates or bandits to take refuge and attack nearby territories. Pedro IV of Aragon was very interested in the island being repopulated as soon as possible. At that time there were already human settlements on the island, although they were temporary for the use of agricultural resources, especially salt.

The most serious wave of plague was that of 1348, but there were other episodes in subsequent years. Especially important was that of 1402, which left the island of Ibiza practically empty of inhabitants, which caused, in turn, the total abandonment of Formentera as it depended on its larger sister island.

The different epidemics of the Black Death had so decimated the population throughout the continent that European society was in total regression: chaos, disorder, lack of control and insecurity reigned everywhere, and obviously also in Ibiza and Formentera.

New attempt of repopulation of Formentera

Thus, with a completely empty island and with the fear that it would be used by bandits and pirates, the proceedings began for the island of Formentera to pass into the hands of King Alfonso V El Magnánimo and thus be repopulated again.

At that time Formentera was used merely as a territory for the exploitation of its natural resources by the inhabitants of Ibiza, and in order to settle a stable population on the island, the first public Christian chapel on the island was built: the chapel of Sa Tanca Vella.

The first public religious building in Formentera: Sa Tanca Vella Chapel.

Chapel Sa Tanca Vella, Sant Francesc, Formentera
Chapel Sa Tanca Vella, Sant Francesc, Formentera

Sa Tanca Vella’s Chapel file

The chapel was built so that the population that as we have said lived in Formentera intermittently (farmers, salt workers, farmers…), had a place of worship to attend. In this way it was also intended that people would stay on the island longer, without having to travel to the church in Ibiza for the religious liturgy.

The importance of this small chapel located in the municipality of Sant Francesc, tiny and now surrounded by buildings although conveniently fenced and protected, lies in the fact that it is the first known place of Christian worship on the island.

It was built in 1369 dedicated to San Valero, being active until 1737 when the population of Formentera was already numerous. At that time the chapel became too small as a place of worship and the current church of Sant Francesc was inaugurated.

The construction of the chapel did not mean an automatic establishment of settlers in the territory, and during the following years Formentera was without owner and was used as a base for pirates and corsairs, as we will see below.

Formentera in modern times

Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, Formentera became a base of operations for the Barbary pirates first, and as a refuge for all kinds of bandits and globetrotters. The constant expansion of the Ottoman Empire throughout the fifteenth century, made the Turkish ships reach the Balearic Islands, where they perpetrated several looting and attacks.

At that time Formentera continued to be depopulated and used as a territory for agricultural, livestock and salt exploitation. The insecurity of the time did not intimidate the Ibicencos, who continued to visit Formentera to work there.

Piracy and privateering in Ibiza and Formentera

Corsair attacks in Sardinia in 1501 put all the western Mediterranean territories, including the Balearic Islands, on alert. Several Turkish attacks occurred in Ibiza and Formentera, but especially serious were the attacks on the salt mines of Ibiza in 1505 and the capture of the watchmen of the watchtower of the island of Espalmador (now disappeared).

The presence of Muslim and Turkish Barbary pirates became very common, especially after Barbarossa seized Algiers, the largest city in Algeria. Barbarossa’s alliance with the Muslim communities of North Africa (the Berbers), and thanks to the fact that Formentera was the closest Balearic island to the African continent, turned the whole area of the Pitiusas into dangerous waters for navigation.

The Spanish fleet was unable to control the attacks and made it clear that the clear defensive policy adopted by the Christian powers of the Mediterranean did not have the slightest effect in reducing the Barbary and Turkish corsair attacks. One of the most serious Turkish attacks was the Turkish assault on Ciutadella (Menorca) in 1558 .

Formentera, the lawless island

The years of abandonment of Formentera had turned the island into a practically wild place, where forests had spread and some domestic animals had become feral. In fact, this is attested to by several documents of the time.

In addition, the island of Formentera, in this scenario of total insecurity throughout the Mediterranean, had become a real lawless island, a frontier territory that served as a refuge for characters of all kinds .

All kinds of people could be found there:

  • bandits and thugs wanted by the law
  • Moors from Valencia and the peninsula, who, after the fall of Al-Andalus, felt disaffected from the Spanish Empire and wanted to return to Muslim lands.
  • migrants who were passing through from or to North Africa
  • renegades from Christianity who had converted to Islam and left the Spanish empire, but now wanted to return to Christian territories.
  • slaves who had fled their captors and had no place to go.

The lawless island status of Formentera meant that the inhabitants of Ibiza had to defend themselves. The few watchtowers and garrisons of watchmen that were in Espalmador (the one known as “Sa Torreta”) had nothing to do against complete squadrons of corsair ships in the event that they arrived in Formentera’s waters.

Victory at Lepanto and the end of piracy and privateering

Piracy in the Balearic Islands area, coming as we have said from North Africa, was stopped with the Spanish victory in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where the Spanish-Italian alliance defeated the Ottomans and definitively paralyzed the Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean Sea (and also the incursions of bandits allied to the Turks).

From that moment on, rebounding with the growth of the population on the island of Ibiza, the ideal conditions were created for the definitive repopulation of Formentera. The Ibicencos had begun to frequent Formentera on a more regular basis, starting agricultural and livestock farms to exploit the land.

Definitive repopulation of Formentera

The growth of the population in Ibiza and the pacification of the Mediterranean laid the first stones for the definitive repopulation of Formentera, which was still used as a territory for livestock and agricultural exploitations but did not have a permanent population.

It was still an island with no urban centers or roads, and practically a wild environment: how do you attract potential settlers to the territory in this way?

The key and definitive impulse came from the hand of two feudal lords of Ibiza: Marc Ferrer and Antoni Blanc.

The land grant to Marc Ferrer and Antoni Blanc

The event that would mark a before and after in the process of repopulation of Formentera was the granting of land on the island by the king to two feudal lords of Ibiza: Marc Ferrer and Antoni Blanc. They were the first who began to delimit Formentera, promoting the cultivation of the island’s lands and, in turn, the definitive establishment of the first settlers.

About Marc Ferrer and Antoni Blanc

In the case of the first, Marc Ferrer, he was a barber from Ibiza who had managed to become a successful merchant. He was much loved in Ibiza for, given his negotiating skills and his contacts with merchants from other countries, bringing to Ibiza two ships of wheat, first from Italy (1674) and then from Valencia (1699), when the island was suffering from a rather severe famine. This wheat was destined by Ferrer to the population of Ibiza.

On his trip to Valencia he did not understand with the merchant there about the price of wheat and ended up imprisoned, having to mortgage part of his fortune to be able to get out of jail.

In this way, he requested, years later, in compensation for the damage suffered to help the people of Ibiza, the concession of land in Formentera, which was abandoned. The king, the archdiocese and other lords of Ibiza agreed to his demands and he was granted lands in 1695 and 1699, in exchange for paying censuses and tithes for said lands, in addition to the fact that he would clear the lands to make them suitable for cultivation.

Marc Ferrer was first granted land in the area of what is now Sant Francesc, and later the entire area from Sant Francesc to La Mola.

Antoni Blanc was Marc Ferrer’s son-in-law. Antoni Blanc also received land through Marc Ferrer’s daughter, specifically a plot of land in the Porto-Salé area. At the beginning of the 18th century Antoni Blanc and Marc Ferrer had already established several farmlands, forcing the farmers to clear those lands they wanted to work in order to comply with the king’s demands.

Marc Ferrer and Antoni Blanc are considered the repopulators of Formentera. Such was his contribution to making Formentera what it is today that several public buildings and infrastructures (sports center, schools, streets…) are named in his honor.

Territorial division: the famous dry stone walls and the first dwellings appear.

With the clearing of Formentera in order to have arable land, the need to delimit the land was born, and that is how the traditional dry stone walls of Formentera arose .

In 1712 it was also established that in order to cultivate land in Formentera, one had to have a house to live in. In other words, farmers were forced to build a house on Formentera if they wanted to cultivate the island’s land.

The first of the sites chosen for a prototype urban nucleus was the area around the chapel of Sa Tanca Vella in 1718, which also converted the small oratory into a vicarage. In this way they laid the foundations of what today is the town of Sant Francesc.

The watchtowers of Formentera

Tower des Garroveret de Barbaria, Formentera
Tower des Garroveret de Barbaria, Formentera

Another very relevant aspect of this period was the construction of the watchtowers of Formentera. Work did not begin until well into the 18th century, when in fact the harshest era of Turkish and Barbary piracy was a vague memory..

However, insecurity was still evident in the Pitiusas islands, and it was common from time to time for bandits to assault fishermen at sea or try to surprise the inhabitants of Ibiza or Formentera to plunder their homes and escape by boat. So the various feudal lords of Ibiza and Mallorca had been demanding a surveillance system for both islands for centuries, and although late, the watchtowers were eventually built.

The five towers for the surveillance of Formentera and Ibiza are:

  • the tower of Sa Guardiola on the island of Espalmador (1749)
  • the Garroveret tower in Barbaria (1762)
  • the tower of Sa Gavina in Porto-Sale (1762)
  • the tower of Sa Punta Prima (1762)
  • the tower of Pi des Català in Mitjorn (1762)

The figure of the towers is well known and is part of the history of Formentera even to non-expert eyes.

Visit the files of each tower here:

In the following link you can see the towers over the map

Smoke was used to warn of the presence of ships during the day and fire at night.

Some of them, for example the tower des Garroveret in Barbaria and the tower des Pi des Català, which had two cannons from the church of Sant Francesc, were also artilled to not only perform passive defense tasks, but, if necessary, to defend themselves by actively attacking.

Although perhaps the best known, visited and photographed of them all is the Torre des Garroveret in Cap de Barbaria, the most interesting is the Torre des Pi des Català, in the area of Mitjorn, as it has been restored and adapted to receive visitors.

Construction of the Church of Sant Francesc

Church of Sant Francesc, Formentera
Church of Sant Francesc, Formentera

Extensive information about the church of Sant Francesc

As we have said before, in 1712 it was established the obligation to have a house on the island in order to be able to cultivate the lands of Formentera. The first houses were built around the Chapel of Sa Tanca Vella and the population growth began.

The small chapel of Sa Tanca Vella then became too small for a growing population, and in 1726 it was decided to build a church. The work was completed in 1738 and the church of Sant Francesc was inaugurated.

The main characteristic of the church of Sant Francesc is that it is not only a church, but also a fortress. The building was designed as a place of worship and at the same time as a refuge for the population in case of danger. In fact, the church of Sant Francesc had artillery cannons to defend itself in case it was besieged and was the only defensive building on Formentera until 1749, when the Sa Guardiola Tower was erected on the island of Espalmador.

The cannons of the church of Sant Francesc were later moved to the tower des Garroveret, in Cap de Barbaria, once the tower was finished, in 1763.

Construction of the Church of La Mola

La Mola Church, Formentera
La Mola Church, Formentera

Extensive information on the church of La Mola

With a continuously growing population, and with the Berber and pirate attacks already a distant memory for the inhabitants of Formentera, a group of houses was created in the area of La Mola. Therefore, in 1771, the inhabitants of that part of the island demanded the construction of a church so that they would not have to travel to Sant Francesc for the liturgy.

The pleas of the population were heard and in 1784 the construction of the new temple was completed, the second (third, if we count the small chapel of Sa Tanca Vella) that was built in Formentera. The church was inaugurated by the then bishop of Ibiza Manuel Abad y Lasierra.

The first villages of Formentera

At the end of the 18th century there were already three nuclei of houses on Formentera, the first proto-urban nuclei on the island.

The first of them was, as we have said, Sant Francesc. The village of Sant Francesc grew around the small chapel of Sa Tanca Vella popularly known as “Pueblo de Formentera”, and later around the Church of Sant Francesc.

The second was the grouping of houses in the area of La Mola, which, as we have said, led in 1784 to the inauguration of the aforementioned church of Pilar de la Mola so that the inhabitants of that area of the island would not have to move to Sant Francesc.

The third urban nucleus to be born was Sant Ferran, which in 1797 had a small group of houses around the area then known as “Ses Roques”.

Counting these three “embryonic” urban nuclei, Formentera reached the year 1800 with a stable population of 1200 people and that would continue to grow until today.

Growth and infrastructure improvement

During his stays in Ibiza and Formentera, the bishop Manuel Abad y Lasierra (who was bishop of Ibiza for some years) transmitted to the king his opinion in reference to the delay that Ibiza and Formentera suffered in comparison with other territories of the peninsula. The aim was to improve living conditions on the island, to promote the education and schooling of children born on the island and to achieve living conditions similar to those enjoyed in other territories.

Thus, a Board of Authorities was created in 1789, which was to promote trade, education, productive activities and the grouping into villages of a population that was still quite dispersed.

In Formentera this translated into:

  • A large number of fig and carob trees were planted.
  • The cultivation of vines was promoted throughout the island
  • The Roman road or “Camí de Sa Pujada” was rehabilitated.

Formentera in contemporary times

During the 19th century the inhabitants of Formentera survived mainly thanks to an economy of self-consumption and subsistence, under a very traditional social organization and very hard living conditions.

Food was based on the cultivation of cereals, as well as the use of cattle for food and the production of milk and cheese, and was complemented by what the inhabitants could obtain from the sea.

Ibiza and Formentera at the beginning of the 19th century

Formentera was not directly involved in the Napoleonic wars nor was it occupied by French troops, but it suffered the consequences of an era marked by crises, protests, riots and revolts.

Life on the island was harsh and relied heavily on crop yields to feed a scattered and fairly isolated population. The few surpluses that Formentera could generate for the population were sold in Ibiza.

The help of the church, individuals and the authorities of Ibiza was absolutely necessary in times of drought or when the people of Formentera were victims of adversity. For example, during the great drought of 1845 the inhabitants of Formentera lost most of their livestock due to lack of water. At that time, lhe population, which numbered about 1,500 people, had to receive help from Bishop Basilio Antonio Carrasco, who sent a shipment of potatoes and rice to La Savina to alleviate the food shortages caused by crops that had dwindled due to the lack of water.

At that time Formentera had no school and the port of La Savina was very rudimentary.

Construction of the Estany Pudent irrigation ditch.

The same bishop don Basilio was the one who built the irrigation channel that currently connects the Estany Pudent with the sea (before it was a closed pond), renewing the stagnant waters of the lake with fresh sea water and thus eliminating the supposed focus of diseases that was the lake.

He was also the promoter of the construction of the cistern of La Mola, to ensure a water supply to its inhabitants.

Sa sequia estany Pudent Formentera
The irrigation ditch known as Sa Sequia, built in 1845 and which connected for the first time the Estany Pudent with the sea.

Construction of La Mola Lighthouse

It was during the reign of Isabel II (1833 – 1868) that the well-known Faro de la Mola was built.

Lighthouse of La Mola, Formentera
Lighthouse of La Mola, Formentera

If you want to read more you can visit the file on the Lighthouse of La Mola.

It was the first lighthouse to be commissioned in Formentera and is currently restored, has a museum and a cafeteria. The lighthouse gardens are also used for open-air concerts and cultural activities.

Formentera at the beginning of the 20th century

By the beginning of the 20th century the population of Formentera had grown to 2500 people. Despite the many attempts at modernization and infrastructure construction carried out during the second half of the 19th century in Formentera, the island continued to be a place with harsh living conditions for its inhabitants.

The industrialization of the Salinas by Salinera Española, the creation (after many efforts) of the first town hall of Formentera, and the construction of a first prototype of a mooring near the Estany des Peix (right now that mooring is the port of La Savina), had timidly helped the inhabitants of Formentera to stay on the island.

Immigration at the beginning of the 20th century

However, and based on this population growth in a territory that did not offer adequate resources in terms of the basics, many Formentera residents (especially men) were forced to emigrate. The most common destinations were Cuba, Argentina and Uruguay. Although many of these emigrants returned to Formentera after a few years, some of them stayed to live in one of these countries permanently. For example, there are documented approximately 90 people from Formentera who went to Cuba never to return.

Cultural openness and increased mobility of people

The progressive development of new forms of transport (especially navigation) and therefore the incipient opening of Formentera to the rest of the world, contributed to the arrival on the island of new ways of thinking, new concerns and new political currents, among which anarchism stands out.

This current of anarchism brought new ideas to the island and a movement of vindication towards the rights of the people of Formentera was born.The construction of the first school for both sexes in Sant Francesc, together with a house for the teachers, and an incipient current of unionismespecially on the part of the workers in the salt mines.

The majority union in the salt mines, as in many areas of pre-civil war Spain at that time, was the CNT.

The Second Republic in Formentera


The Spanish Civil War in Formentera

After the outbreak of the Civil War, the side that rebelled against the Second Republic took control of the Balearic Islands, except for the island of Menorca. It was July 19, 1936. As for the peninsula, the only territories that were totally under the control of the government were Catalonia and the Valencian Community, and it was from there that the offensive to the Balearic Islands was organized by the Spanish-Cuban captain Alberto Bayo. Bayo controlled Ibiza and Formentera with relative ease on August 8, although when he tried to assault Mallorca the counterattack of the Francoists, aided by Mussolini’s Italian air force, forced him to retreat. The Francoists took full control of the Balearic Islands on September 20. After the control of the Balearic Islands, the Francoists began a campaign of repression in Formentera, which ended with the shooting of 11 people. The Republican leaders and the most visible faces of the II Republic on the island had managed to flee or had gone into hiding, so those shot were simple citizens and grassroots sympathizers.

The concentration camp of La Savina: es Campament

The Formentera detention camp was created under the official name of Colonia Penitenciaria de Formentera near La Savina, on the shores of Estany des Peix. It came into operation in 1939 shortly after the end of the war and although there is no reliable data, it is known that it was one of the harshest camps in that part of the Mediterranean, housing about 1000 prisoners in 20 wooden barracks and surrounded by a stone wall with barbed wire on top to prevent escapes.


Living conditions became very harsh, the treatment of prisoners by officials was brutal, and most of the deaths that occurred were due to malnutrition. According to several researchers, at least 58 deaths occurred until its closure in 1942. The prisoners were then transferred to other concentration camps, most of them to those of Alicante, Burgos and Lleida.


Currently the remains of the fascist prison are still visible from the main road once you leave La Savina towards Sant Francesc, although if you do not know what it is they pass for simple buildings in ruins.


The land where the remains of Es Campament are located is privately owned, but the Consell is working to turn it into a space open to the public and in remembrance of the victims of the dictatorship. As a reminder of this dark episode in the history of Formentera, a metal plaque with a poem by Joan Colomines was placed on the façade of the only building still standing, which reads as follows:

Cemetery of the living, now all in ruins

in the pond, with the joy of a fish

still all is famine, you can still hear it, still hear it

the howl of the dying and the weight of the sun.

Everything is soft today, the “xalanes”,

the seagulls, the blue, green sea,

the sand and the coral, and the savinas

that point the north of our winds.

That which was is now gone. The ashes remain,

on which we will make the world of all.

Cemetery of the living, memory forever

to the pond, to the sea and to the hearts.

Joan Colomines i Puig


Currently and while work continues to make the area visitable as an important part of the history of Formentera, every April 14, on the anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931, a brief tribute to the victims of fascist repression is held on the grounds where you can still see several of the remains of what was the fascist prison of Es Campament.



Of the escaped Formentera residents who had avoided the detention camps and Franco’s repression, those who fled to France found themselves in the midst of the drama of World War II and it is known that some ended up confined in concentration camps in Nazi Germany and the harsh refugee camps in the south of France. Of those who fled to the south, some ended up settling in the French colonies of North Africa, where they worked in various trades. Once the Civil War ended, those who returned or had not left the island had to face repression, carried out by the Law of Political Responsibilities of 1939 and later by the Special Tribunal for the Repression of Freemasonry and Communism. Some people from Formentera were prosecuted by this court, such as teachers, former mayors or republican leaders. The early post-war years in Formentera were hard, with a population of approximately 2800 people that was decreasing, whose living conditions had worsened and would continue to do so until the economic opening of Franco’s regime in the 60s.

The economic opening and the creation of the tourist Formentera

With the progressive economic opening of Franco’s regime, Spain began to develop an incipient tourist industry of which Formentera was also a part. During the 1950s the first hotel establishments began to open, including the Hotel Cala Saona, the Hotel Rocabella in Es Pujols and the fondas Pepe, Platé, Rafalet and La Savina. These establishments are part of the history of Formentera for being the pioneers in the creation of the tourist Formentera.

La Fonda Platé was one of the first tourist establishments in Formentera.


In the following decade the Ibiza airport was opened to international traffic, which increased the number of visitors to the islands and the opening of new establishments: Hotel Formentera Playa, Hotel La Mola and the vacation resort Mar y Land. At the same time, the island of Formentera was modernizing, with the improvement of the port of La Savina (which in fact had already received improvements years before) with the creation of an electricity generation plant (1968), the opening of schools in La Mola and Sant Francesc (1973 and 1976) and the improvement of services for residents, which in the 1980s already reached 4700 people. With the death of Franco and the arrival of democracy, Formentera’s tourist industry was in full swing. Although the pace of construction had accelerated and tourism was already the main source of income for the territory, (at that time was when they stopped exploiting the salt mines) the people of Formentera took to the streets on several occasions to protest what they considered aggressions to the exceptional natural environment of the island: the plans to build a macro hotel complex in the area of Punta Pedrera and Estany des Peix and a camping in the area of Ca Marí.


Both projects were abandoned after neighborhood protests. The 1988 coastal law and the opposition of the neighbors safeguarded large areas from urban speculation, maintaining the spirit of this unique environment. From the 2000s to the present day, the challenges are the management of the massive influx of tourists, which quadruples the population and the demand for resources on the island during the summer months.