Behind its relaxed and fun loving façade, the Island of Menorca hides a rich and varied history influenced by the nations that have ruled it over the years. Evidence of this can be seen anywhere when visiting Menorca, but perhaps the most evident of places is the Governor’s Palace in Mahón.
History in Architecture
The original building, built as a private residence known as Casa del Rey, dates back to 1685, when the capital of Menorca wasn’t Mahón but Ciutadella. However, when the British occupied the Island in 1708, they transferred the seat of government to Mahón (Mao in Catalan). General Richard Kane, who was appointed as the lieutenant governor in 1712, commandeered the Casa del Rey to be the Governor’s official residence – which is the status it still has today.
The Palace is a complex of buildings that has been adapted, renovated and added to by successive governors from Britain, France and Spain. As a result, it is an eclectic collection of architectural styles that reflect the Island’s diverse history and cultural influences.
General Kane is perhaps the person most responsible for expanding the Governor’s Palace. Soon after taking occupation he began an extensive program of renovations and additions to the palace and surrounding area to make it suitable as the seat of British rule.
When you’re visiting Menorca, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that much of this, and other structures in the capital, are built in an architectural style that is very reminiscent of British architecture of the time. Buildings with Georgian facades, red brick and sash windows make much of Mahón seem to be a little piece of Britain, and their style is quite different from the architecture of the island’s other cities and towns which have a distinct Spanish style.
Opposite the Palace is the Treasury House, which was once connected to the Palace by a bridge (demolished in 1839). The interior was extensively remodelled after the British returned the island to Spanish rule following the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Renovations included a grand staircase in the Spanish style and a magnificent throne room that was used by successive monarchs on their visits to the island. The throne room is still used for important occasions, of which the most significant is perhaps the ‘Pascua Militar’, which commemorates the return of Menorca to Spain. This is an annual event attended by many, including those representing the island’s diverse cultural history – amongst others a vibrant British expat population.
British Construction in Mahón
During their on/off occupation of Menorca, the Brits instituted many construction programs, particularly in the capital. Kane, as part of his expansion program, built a large watchtower (part of a chain crossing the island) used to signal the approach of enemy ships and to allow for the mustering of forces in good time.
The Castle of San Felipe on the southern shore of Mahón’s huge natural harbour was expanded by the British during their occupation of the island, and eventually developed into the largest fortress of its type in Europe. When the Spaniards temporarily regained control of the Island between 1782 and 1785, the Spanish King Carlos the 3rd ordered the castle’s demolition. As a result, its previous majesty has been lost, but it’s still possible to explore a warren of underground tunnels at the site.
Fort Marlborough is a small fort built by the British to protect the southern flank of the San Felipe Castle. It is unique in that most of the structure is located underground, and makes for a fascinating tour.
There is much more evidence of British influence to see when visiting Menorca and especially Mahón. As for the Governor’s Palace, it represents the island’s history and culture and is treasured by locals and visitors alike.
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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