Thundering cannons, fleets of sailing ships firing at coastal forts and political maneuvering as nations seek to conquer and control Menorca. Yes, it may sound like something from out of a fairy tale, but this was once the reality of the now peaceful Menorca!
Three European Nations Striving for Control
It’s hard to believe when you’re visiting Menorca that this island, and especially its capital Mahon, with its big, natural harbour, was once the scene of a power struggle between Britain, France and Spain between the 1700’s to the late 1800’s.
Menorca has always held a strategic location in the Mediterranean – one that was even more important in the days of sailing ships. Along with the other Balearic Islands, it sat close to important shipping lanes that connected southern Europe and the Gibraltar Straits. This made it a favourite base for pirates, which was yet another reason for the three great seagoing superpowers of the time to fight for its control.
The Castillo San Felipe
Situated to the south west of Mahon, at the entrance to the huge inlet that forms a natural haven from storms and enemies, we find the remains of the Castillo San Felipe. While most of the castle is in ruins, when visiting Menorca, a trip to the castle will still impress you with its past importance to those seeking to control the island.
The original castle was constructed in 1554 by the Spanish, who wanted to protect the entrance to Mahon’s natural harbour. The British, who conquered the island in 1708 and were awarded sovereignty by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, took the star shaped fortress with its already massive fortifications and moat, and began to expand it until it became the largest fortification of its type in Europe. Over the coming years, the struggle between Britain, France and Spain resulted in many naval battles, but the Castillo San Felipe fortress kept guard over the harbour and the capital.
In 1782, Carlos the 3rd of Spain conquered the island and, for reasons lost in history, had most of the castle destroyed. Despite the British regaining control a few years later, they were never successful in restoring the castle to its former glory before the island was restored to Spain.
The saga of the struggle for supremacy ended with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. The treaty, that was supposed to establish peace between France and Britain, only lasted for a year, but during that time Menorca was returned to Spanish sovereignty and it has been part of Spain ever since.
Castillo San Felipe Today
Today the castle remains in ruins, but it’s still worth a visit to see one of the ‘historical re-enactments’ that take place during the summer months (see local tourist information for more details) or to take a guided tour of the extensive system of tunnels that still exists.
Opening Hours and Entry Fee
From June to September the castle is open Thursday and Sunday from 10am. During October, November, March, April and May it’s open every Saturday from 10am. In December, January and February the site is only open for groups with a reservation.
Regular entry costs 5 euro, for senior citizens and children aged 13 to 16 it is 2.5 euro and for children up to the age of 12, entrance is free.
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 visiting Menorca for a relaxing holiday. 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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