Did you know that Menorca and the other Balearic Islands share a dark and violent past? A past filled with drama, with passion, with treasure and piracy on the high seas? It may be hard to believe as you’re sipping a sangria next to the hotel pool or enjoying a plate of calamari in a local market – but it’s true. |
A holiday in Menorca is perfect for just about everybody. Excellent food and wine, friendly people, and lots to see and do for holidaymakers of all ages. But when you sit on those wonderful beaches looking over the sea – try to imagine Blue Beard or Long John Silver plundering and pillaging. Piracy: An Ancient Institution
Even today, the sea lanes suffer from pirates. Modern-day pirates concentrate mainly on getting paid ransom money, but in the past, ships were waylaid and looted and their crew killed. Records from the Roman Empire around 120 BCE show that Quintus Metellus was given the task of ridding the area around Menorca and the Balearic Islands of the many pirate vessels that preyed on ships bringing cargo to and from the Roman Empire.
Metellus’s campaign was not only successful (at least, for a little while), but also helped to add the Balearics to the ever-expanding Roman Empire.
Menorca’s Strategic Location
Today, tourism – consisting of tens of thousands of people taking their holiday in Menorca – is the island’s main claim to fame. But in the past, Menorca’s strategic location made it a coveted prize for the many states and empires that rose and fell across the Mediterranean. The Balearics changed hands many times over the centuries – among the Romans, the Umayyads, and even the Vikings from the frozen north. But throughout its history, one thing remained constant: the pirate ships that roamed the waters of the Western Mediterranean, using the island as a base, seemingly unhindered by whomever had apparent control.
Crusades Against Menorcan Pirates
We assume that all the crusades took place in the Holy Land. But in fact, this isn’t strictly true. In the 12th century CE the Arab Empire that controlled much of Spain and Portugal was being pushed back to North Africa by Christian armies. As part of this campaign, and in order to protect their commercial interests from the ravages of Muslim pirates operating around the islands, Italy launched a Crusade in an attempt to conquer the Balearics and wipe out the pirates. Unfortunately for the Italians, the campaign was far less successful that they had hoped and piracy, while greatly reduced, remained a serious problem.
A Never Ending Story
In fact, piracy remained an unsolved problem until relatively modern times. During the Middle Ages and the period of the Holy Roman Empire, piracy thrived. Barbary pirates from North Africa regularly raided the islands and the sea lanes looting and killing whilst the controlling powers were helpless to stop them. From the East, Turkish pirates raided not only the islands but also mainland Spain seeking to take some of the wealth that was pouring into the Spanish Empire.
Piracy even became a weapon of war. Warring nations such as Britain, France, Holland, Spain and many others would commission private ships to attack and destroy enemy vessels both civilian and naval. Many of these “privateers” were former pirates who now had legal permission to carry on their trade. Others were ship owners looking to make a fast buck, and many of them carried on as pirates when the war ended.
Menorca Today: An Island Paradise
Little is left of Menorca’s pirating past. There are a couple of coves and beaches that suggest that pirates once operated here but no real remains. In a way, that’s to be expected because the pirates tended to move around to stay out of the law’s reach.
Pirates or not, when you’re on your holiday in Menorca you’ll have plenty of exciting and fun things to do. Enjoy the sun and the sand. Sample the great food and fine wines. Tour the amazing countryside. Try out the many bars and nightclubs and go home with a suitcase full of experiences and an urge to come back for more.
Brenda Jaaback, Managing Director of Bartle Holidays, is a renowned Menorca expert. From its history to its people and from its wildlife to its cuisine - no secret of the island remains hidden to her. Personally selecting the finest properties for her clients, Brenda is the go-to person for anyone planning a relaxing holiday in Menorca. Bartle Holidays makes no warranty as to the accuracy of information contained in this article and excludes any liability of any kind for the information.
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