History and cultural elements of Formentera

History of Formentera

History and culture of Formentera.

Here you will discover some of the historical and patrimonial elements that the island of Formentera offers. Tourism was not always the way of life on the island and it is worth not to forget.

La Mola lighthouse

Working since 1861

Torre des Garroveret

Torre des Cap de Barbaria

Molí Vell
de La Mola

18th century flour mill

Camí de Sa Pujada

Historic trail with spectacular views

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Ethnographic Museum

A look into the past in the center of Sant Francesc

Torre de la Gavina

Located on the west coast of the island

Es Cap Lighthouse

Surrounded by an almost lunar environment

Torre des
Pi des Català

The only tower that the access to its interior is allowed.

Torre de
Punta Prima

Located on the edge of the cliffs
History of Formentera
Cami de sa pujada Formentera

The history of Formentera island is full of interesting and surprising curiosities! Did you know that the first inhabitants settled there during the Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago? Incredible but true! The discovery of a megalithic tomb called Ca na Costa in 1974 provides evidence of an organized and stable population during that time. It’s amazing to think that this island had a rich history long before the arrival of the Phoenicians in Ibiza over a thousand years ago.

After a period without population, Formentera was influenced by Punic and Roman cultures, leaving interesting vestiges for today’s researchers.

Although it’s unknown if the island was populated after the Visigothic invasions, there is evidence that during the Arab occupation in the 11th century, there was a stable population, as can be seen in the remains of houses, wells, and cisterns from that time.

In 1109 during the Norwegian Crusade, the island was raided by Vikings.

According to the accounts of Norman chroniclers, during a time when the Crusades shook the world, the legendary Sigurd I set out from the coasts of Norway with an impressive fleet of sixty ships, determined to liberate the Holy Land from the hands of the infidels and reclaim, by force of arms, those territories that belonged to Christianity.

On their way to Constantinople, the Norman mercenaries hired by the Byzantines enjoyed full freedom to plunder all the territories they conquered, becoming a powerful and fearsome force.

While sailing near the coast of Formentera, Sigurd and his fleet were attacked by Berber pirates who, at that time in history, used Formentera as a base for their raiding and boarding of ships and cities in the Mediterranean.

The battle was brief, and the Saracens took refuge in a high cave in the cliffs of La Mola, now known as Cova des Fum, as a result of the following story.

Sigurd I made a momentous decision to eliminate those who had dared to attack them. He ordered his men to bring two boats full of soldiers to the cliffs and lower them to the height of the cave entrance, from where they began to rain down a deadly shower of arrows inside the cave.

To defeat the survivors, the Viking king lit a fire at the cave entrance, suffocating the Arabs with smoke and forcing them to come out and surrender. Hence the name of the cave, Cova des Fum (Cave of Smoke).

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In 1235, James I of Aragon conquered the Pityuses,
which became part of the Kingdom of Mallorca.

According to the Llibre dels Feyts, written by James I himself, Formentera was still inhabited by Moors at that time. After the expulsion of the Muslim population, attempts were made to establish a permanent population on the island, but it failed due to the island’s harshness and Berber incursions. However, in the 15th century, the first successful repopulation of the island occurred. From this time comes the simple Romanesque chapel of Sa Tanca Vella, in San Francisco Javier, built in 1336.

Although the island could not maintain a stable population under the rule of the Vallterra due to threats and lack of willingness of people to settle on the island, the Vallterra maintained nominal rule until the 18th century. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Formentera was only occasionally populated by inhabitants of Ibiza due to the insecurity caused by the continuous presence of Berber pirates.

In 1695, the second repopulation of Formentera took place

After the entire island was donated to Marc Ferrer and Toni Blanc for their services to the crown, the arrival of new settlers, brave and determined, brought hope for a prosperous future for the island. Over time, a fortress in the form of a church was built, dedicated to San Francisco Javier, and defense and watchtowers were erected along the coast, ensuring the island’s safety from pirate raids. Gradually, small population centers were created around the churches, although most of the population was dispersed in small country houses. By the mid-eighteenth century, the population of Formentera had already grown to four hundred people, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the island had prospered to almost two thousand inhabitants, thanks to the hard work and dedication of those brave settlers who had initiated the repopulation whose main task was to convert what were previously pine and juniper forests into farmland

Salt production: Only industry in pre-touristic Formentera.

The extraction of sea salt in Formentera was a demanding and arduous task that required great physical and mental effort from the workers. In those days, there was no modern machinery to facilitate the work, so most of it was done manually and through traditional methods.

The workdays were long and exhausting, carried out under scorching sun and in an environment with high salinity that made the work even more difficult.

Despite these extreme conditions, the salt workers persevered and worked with dedication to extract the precious salt that was vital to the island’s economy. During periods of high activity in the salt flats, families in Formentera were intimately linked to the extraction of salt. It was rare for adult and teenage males on the island not to work during the summer, when the salt was harvested, and the precious product was collected.

Undoubtedly, the salt flats and salt extraction were the main economic engine of Formentera for centuries, as evidence of the existence of salt flats dates back even to Roman times.

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1960s - 1970s The arrival of first tourist and hippies

Formentera had maintained a stable and continuously growing population, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s when a new air arrived in the island and a tourist industry began to emerge, offering a relaxed and tranquil environment. During that decade, the hippie movement reached Formentera and left a deep mark on the island, creating an atmosphere of freedom and creativity that still exists today. Despite the delay in obtaining electrical supply, with the construction of a submarine line from Ibiza, Formentera began to flourish as a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

More than six decades ago, in 1958, a fearless French navigator named Paul Lombard anchored off the shores of the beautiful island of Formentera. With him, he traveled two brave friends who had joined his journey from distant Algeria. Upon setting foot on solid ground, they were captivated by the beauty of the island and decided to explore all its corners.

During his first stay on Formentera, sailor Fernando Laborey, one of Lombard’s travel companions, had a brilliant idea to create something unique on the island. It was a pioneering idea. He approached the owner of La Savina hostel, Mr. Vicente Mayans, with a proposal that would forever change the way travelers experienced the island.

Thus was born “The Argonauts Club”, the first tour operator in Formentera, a pioneering company in its time that offered an unparalleled experience to those who ventured into the island’s crystalline waters and idyllic landscapes. They paid tribute to the legendary Greek heroes who embarked on the quest for the Golden Fleece with this name.

Since then, Formentera has been a popular destination for travelers and adventurers, thanks to the vision and passion of those first visitors who created something magical and unforgettable on the island and which marked the beginning of an industry that forever changed the history of Formentera.

1993: No Camping Movement

At a crucial moment in Formentera’s history, the fate of the island hung in the balance, and a proposal to build a camping ground in the es Ca Marí area threatened to decide its future forever. Many saw it as a covert maneuver to urbanize the island, but Formentera, always proud of its authenticity and natural beauty, was not willing to give in to the massification that threatened its existence.

The island united in one voice and unequivocally said “no.” The fight began with a strike followed by a massive demonstration on November 5, 1993, in which the inhabitants of Formentera came together to demonstrate their rejection of the camping ground’s construction. With their strength and determination, they managed to put the proposal into oblivion and kept their island a natural paradise.

All the political forces at the time agreed to defend the islanders’ desire, and some of those leaders were even disqualified from their positions for not following the directives from higher authorities. They accepted to end their political careers for the common good of the island and the explicit desire of its inhabitants.

Finally, in 2008, the Consell Insular de Formentera held an important meeting in which it unanimously decided to revoke the building license granted for the es Ca Marí camping ground. The then-responsible for Works and Urbanism, Bartomeu Escandell, explained that the license was granted more than fifteen years ago and, as the works were not executed, it violated the deadlines for initiation and execution established in the Balearic Islands Urban Discipline Law. Moreover, the project required authorization to execute works in a protected area, which was not obtained.

With this plenary, that urban project that was against the island’s entire population and political groups was definitively buried.

Creation of the Formentera Island Council: Consell Insular

For years, political decisions had always been made from Ibiza, with Formentera being considered just another extension of the island of Ibiza. Formentera had been completely dependent on its older sister, Ibiza, and the people of Formentera fought to get their own Consell Insular, like the other islands.

Finally, in 2007, after the reform of the Balearic Islands’ Statute of Autonomy in 1983, and after decades of struggle, Formentera obtained its own Consell Insular, a great victory for its community and the ability to make decisions about its own territory and the growth model that is desired for the island.

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