Ibiza’s romantic heritage: A tour of Dalt Vila

Ibiza’s romantic heritage: A tour of Dalt Vila

Time travel seems entirely possible when walking up the stone ramp towards the stately arched entry to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Dalt Vila. History seeps from every paving stone, every twist in the labyrinthine streets, every doorway and monument. One can’t help but be swept up in the lingering dramas, loves and losses of the people who have lived here for the last two and a half thousand years. The ambience goes beyond simple romance, although romantic it is, the walls are dripping in untold stories.

Dalt Vila, Ibiza fortified town was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

The first protagonists were the Phoenicians. In 654 BC, these industrious traders and consummate sailors developed the capital as Aiboshim, the city of Bes named for the god of protection and dance. It was a dynamic city, an important stop-off along the ancient tin and salt trade route stretching across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Trade and prosperity always invite invaders and the hardy Phoenicians were the first to fortify the hilltop city using stone quarried from Sa Pedrera known colloquially as Atlantis. You can read more about that here.

After the decline of Phoenicia, the island came under the rule of Carthage, followed by the Romans then the Moors, with the Vandals, Norwegians, Byzantines and quite a few pirates having a go in between occupations. Building on the work of previous administrations the Moors tinkered with the fortifications and left an architectural and agricultural legacy across the whole island. Much of the walls we see today were commissioned by Carlos I and Filipe II during the mid-1500s in order to withstand the modern weaponry of the Renaissance period.

Seven bastions with uninterrupted views across the sea were armed with cannons to ward off invading Turkish pirates and anyone else with nefarious intentions. Today tourists take selfies with the glittering Med behind while summer evenings host an outdoor cinema, occasional concerts and a yearly Medieval Fair sprawling across the battlements and streets once filled with armour-clad soldiers. A route around the perimeter is dotted with multi-language information points providing insight into the history of the city as well as breath-taking selfie spots.

Seven bastions with uninterrupted views across the sea were armed with cannons to ward off invading Turkish pirates.

The Phoenicians dedicated a small shrine to Tanit, their goddess of almost everything, upon which the Carthaginians built their own sanctuary followed a Roman temple culminating in a mosque built by the Moors. The Catalans erected a little church on top of the mosque that eventually morphed into the majestic cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows; an odd name considering the temperate climate of Ibiza.

The Catalan conquerors had made a promise to build a parish in honour of Saint Mary who’s feast day falls on August 5. As the final assault that saw the city taken happened on August 8, 1235, it seemed to be a divine message. The snow part comes from Catholic mythology that saw Saint Mary bring snow to the first church built in her honour in Rome. While seeing snowfall on the plazas of Dalt Vila is unlikely, the Cathedral is rather awe-inspiring, created not only for worship but also for refuge from marauders.

The majestic cathedral of Our Lady of the Snows sits at the top of the old town.

Renovation projects conducted over centuries have left an architectural mosaic. Of the original Gothic design, we are left with the bell tower while the interiors were redecorated in the baroque style in the 17th century. Numerous important religious artworks are still on display including 14th-century portraits of Saint Anthony and Saint Thecla, a 16th-century Genovese altarpiece and a 17th-century relief of Mary of the Rosary. The original 16th-century bells are still in use and were an important part of island communications during antiquity.

Other buildings of note are the City Hall, once a Dominican Convent, the old courthouse which now contains the tourist office, a government building known as La Universitat which houses part of the excellent archaeological museum and the Almudaina Castle. Unlike a traditional castle, it consists of a group of buildings making up what was the Moorish citadel. It’s earmarked to become a Parador – a chain of five-star hotels in historic buildings across Spain. Renovation has been slowed by the continual discovery of archaeological treasures.

Museums abound within the walls of Dalt Vila. The archaeological museum pulsates with history. Occupying several buildings some objects on display are more than 3,000 years old and the exhibition covers prehistory through to the Christian re-conquest. Keep an eye out for the original Roman statues that stood either side of Dalt Vila’s main entrance. The ones you see today guarding the drawbridge are replicas; the invaluable originals are safe and sound within the museum.

Museums abound within the walls of Dalt Vila.

The Diocesan Museum, accessed through the Cathedral, contains fascinating items relating to the history of the Church in Ibiza. Museu Puget, occupying an aristocratic residence of Gothic and Catalan style, holds a permanent exhibition of works by Narciso Puget Riquer and Narciso Puget Viñas. Casa Broner is a masterpiece of modernist architecture that fits in perfectly with its medieval surrounds. The celebrated architect and designer Erwin Broner lived here until his widow donated it to the city. Finally, the contemporary art museum is worth a visit with a collection that covers the avant-garde artists of the hippie generation plus quality temporary shows.

Dalt Vila is overflowing with sites to visit but should one tire of so much intellectual footwork, the streets themselves are blissfully charming. Winding cobblestone pathways are shaded by surprising bursts of pink bougainvillaea. There is still a thriving local community living within the walls and it’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of someone hanging their washing or children playing in the street. Life goes on here, with generation after generation (plus a handful of true bohemians and culture-loving expats) going about their daily lives without paying any attention to the tourists who stumble upon their doorsteps.

Obviously, after all that culture one needs sustenance in order to move onto the important act of shopping. Little cafes tucked into impossibly ancient boltholes spill out onto the streets where a coffee and snack can keep you going for a while. More substantial provisions can be found at some of the island’s most celebrated restaurants, usually only by night. El Portalon sits under a leafy trellis and produces refined haute cuisine. La Oliva expertly blends Mediterranean flavours with a touch of Asian influence. El Olivo Mio bends towards the traditional with top-quality Mediterranean classics prepared to perfection. The ancient stone walls and sophisticated menu at La Torreta will have you thinking like a Corsair.

Little cafes tucked into impossibly ancient boltholes spill out onto the streets

The Citadel contains high-end fashion and a slew of quirky boutiques. The celebrity-frequented Annie’s stocks rare vintage labels, pieces by emerging designers and eclectic accessories. Classic white linen and cotton flowing dresses, trousers and shirts for adults and kids can be found at Divina. These designs are based on the traditional garments of Ibiza and have been spotted on everyone from Bianca Jagger to Kate Moss. Adrenaline is overflowing with unique statement jewellery and trinkets. Pick out something special from the collection of handmade leather goods at Lovy – perhaps a travel bag to fit in all your extra shopping!

It’s definitely possible to spend the whole day strolling the streets of this historic landmark. Time your visit to take advantage of the daytime buzz before heading to the top of the citadel to witness the same sunset the ancients did. Descend the cobbled lanes in the twilight back towards the main plazas and partake in a candlelit dinner. Dalt Vila’s magic is hard to resist. Historic and romantic, these city walls have induced acts of poetry and daring – sparking the imagination of every person who has crossed the portal.

Guided walking tours of Dalt Vila and its museums can be arranged for guests of Seven Pines Resort Ibiza – contact our Guest Relations Team for more information: guestrelations.ibiza@7pines.com / +34 971 195 200

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