A Walk through the Centuries
Dalt Vila, seen from a distance, looks like an over-dimensional work of art. Historical Eivissa’s buildings are stacked haphazardly like dice; the white-washed houses with their staircases, niches, windows and shutters in assorted colours, balconies, gates, frescoes and ornaments. But there is much more to it than this fairytale beauty, leaving you awestruck when you walk through the narrow, old streets.
The real magic of Dalt Vila is not perceived by eye, it is something in the air that is indiscernible and yet constantly present: the unique atmosphere of a town that has written world history. It was founded 2700 years ago. That is when the Phoenicians established their first colony.
After them followed the Romans, the Arabs and eventually the Spanish monarchy of the Middle Ages.
The various epochs in history gave the old town such cultural richness that it was named World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1999. Each era has left behind its traces, hidden in numerous details.
As we enter the fort across the heavy drawbridge, old Rome greets us – in the form of two headless statues. They are copies, the originals are in Dalt Vila’s Archaeological Museum. The inscription above the gate was done around 1500 A.D., and reads: Philipo Haec Construebantur (“this was built for King Phillip”). It applies to the Spanish heir to the throne Phillip II, who built the fortress we know today.
The mighty entrance portal Ses Taules leads through an arched hall directly into the weapons court, where troops and officers used to gather. Within the thick walls you can almost hear the armour clanking…
We leave behind the gloomy walls on the other side and find ourselves standing in the middle of the colourful tourist scene of the modern day. But we just need to turn around once to travel back to the past: above the gateway of the weapons court, facing the square, there is a sculpture of a Roman military leader. We walk past it along the right and follow the cobbled street up to the Plaça dels Desamparats.
There under the shade of an old eucalyptus tree we encounter the bronze sculpture of the historian Isidor Macabich (1883 – 1973) who wrote the great “Historia de Ibiza.”
Our trip takes us further up and slightly to the left, to the Baluard de Santa Llúcia, one of the seven ramparts inside the town fort. Here the Middle Ages are particularly impressively reconstructed: canons stand in the parapets as if they are still waiting to be fired.
Turning our back to the Baluard, we can catch sight of Dalt Vila’s great cathedral which towers above the roofs of the old town. Rather inappropriately it is dedicated to the Señora de la Nieves, the “Virgin of Snow”. But that is simply due to the fact that the Christian Catalans conquered the island on exactly this day in the Church’s calendar.
We follow the path of the rising alleyways, to look at the cathedral more closely. Over the centuries, in the place of this chapel, a Roman temple, an early Christian basilica and a Moorish mosque have stood. In the archaeological museum adjacent to the cathedral we can practically touch this epic variety: exponents from the Phoenician, Punic and Roman history of Ibiza invite us on a journey through time.
Behind the cathedral a narrow street leads to the other side of Dalt Vila, the part that shows even more influence from the Middle Ages than the lower town, with its residential houses and boutiques. The rocks drop steeply into the sea. Potential attackers had no chance here.
We turn right again. After a few metres a dark entrance in the fortress wall opens – the entrance to the tunnel Es Soto Fosc (literally, “the dark forest”). It is an old escape route, through which the besieged from the castle could get to the coastline. Through the iron grid that lets light enter the passageway the defenders used to throw stones and burning pitch upon attacking enemies. We keep following the spine-chilling path inside the cold walls. At the end we are welcomed by warm sunlight, a modern-day parking lot, the here and now. Above us towers Dalt Vila, solid as a rock and agelessly beautiful.