The 18th century was a very turbulent period for Menorca, with the three imperial European powers of France, Spain and Great Britain occupying the island within the space of one hundred years. The British, who occupied the island three times during that period, left a lasting legacy, much of which is still very evident today.
The first and longest period of British rule, from 1708 until their expulsion by the French in 1756, is regarded as a ‘golden age’ and one of the most fruitful of Menorca’s recent history. This is largely due to the arrival of Menorca’s first British governor Richard Kane in 1712 who did a huge amount to improve living conditions for the Menorcans. He abolished the Inquisition, considerably reducing / curbing the church’s influence, reformed the legal system, introduced new agricultural methods, built schools and reservoirs and was responsible for building the first road to link Mahón (Maó) and Ciutadella, which to this day bears his name, Camí d’en Kane or Kane’s Road.
Clearly visible from the Maó side of the harbour, the Naval Base is, by its very nature, not usually open to members of the public, apart from on special occasions such as the Virgen del Carme Fiesta. However, members of the Menorca Britannia Association were invited to visit the base for a guided tour with a Naval Officer, Bgda. Jose Luis Diego, who related its history.
The British first used Maó as a port of call on their commercial routes in 1621 and Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Mansell based his fleet there when engaged in protecting commercial shipping from pirates. In 1644 Charles II negotiated with the Spanish Crown for the right to use Maó harbour and it became a regular stop for ships for revictualling.
Did you know that there is a thriving community of Menorcan descendants living in St Augustine, Florida...? Every year the ‘Menorcan Heritage Celebration’ takes place on the second Saturday of March each year. People come from all over the United States to pay tribute to their ancestors who emigrated to Menorca during the British occupation of the 18th century, believing they were leaving the hardship and disruption of that time for a better, more prosperous life ahead.
Held in the courtyard of Llambias House, a historic building that dates back to early Menorcan times, the Menorcan flag is flown and traditional dishes from those early days are served, including their own Menorcan clam chowder! There is also singing and dancing, family stories are told and many bring family photos and history to share.
You’ll probably be surprised to learn that Menorca’s slower pace of life, beautiful countryside and peaceful atmosphere hide a colourful and turbulent history. The key reason being its strong geographical position and excellent natural harbour which led different civilisations for over a thousand years to fight for control over the Island and, importantly, control over the Mediterranean.
Menorca also has more ancient remains than any other Mediterranean island and its unique past is reflected in a wealth of prehistoric sites, historic towns, fortresses and monuments. The first settlers were thought to have arrived some 4000 years ago during the Bronze Age, leaving with them collective burial chambers, Navetas, that date from this period.