Ibiza is part of the Balearic Islands, which were populated by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, and the Spanish. Isolation and a lack of trade through much of history meant the island’s residents were traditionally poor farmers, craftsmen or fishermen. This changed dramatically when Ibiza began to attract large scale tourism. The food, habits and culture reflect a close relationship with the land and sea and a strong Catholic influence. An influx of bohemians in the 1930's and 1960's added another dimension to the artistic side of the island.
Ibiza began as a port town, founded by Phoenician settlers in 654 BC. Their decline in power saw the island come under control of Carthage, during which time locals produced dye, salt, wool, and fish sauce to become a regular stop on the Mediterranean trade route.
Ibiza negotiated a treaty with the Romans that allowed the island to retain its Carthaginian–Punic institutions while avoiding further destruction during the Second Punic War. The island became an imperial outpost, off the trading radars of the time, which also allowed for the preservation of many buildings, monuments and artifacts.
After the Romans, Ibiza was conquered by the Vandals, Byzantines and then the Moors, who brought in Berber settlers and converted much of the population to Islam. The Norwegian King Sigurd I was the next to invade Ibiza as part of a crusade in 1110, followed by Aragonese King James I, who conquered it in 1235, deporting the Muslims and importing Christians from Gerona. The locals were reduced to just 500 people by the black plague in 1348, which struck again in 1652, killing about 1,000 of the 7,000-strong population. The island was allowed to maintain various forms of self-government until King Philip V of Spain imposed strict rules and language in 1715 after the War of Spanish Succession.
The Catholic Church ran much of Ibiza’s affairs in the 18th and 19th centuries, building churches and restructuring island life around faith while doing little to improve the lives of the inhabitants, many of whom emigrated to escape the pitiful working conditions in the salt mines. Tourism began to reverse the island’s fortunes with the introduction of a regular ferry from the mainland in the early 1930's. The spread of fascism in Europe also saw a number of artists and writers escaping to Ibiza.
The Spanish Civil War pitted Republican and Franco-Nationalists, often from the same families, against each other, lasting from 1936 to 1939, resulting in much bloodshed and the expulsion of the Nationalists.
Ibiza transformed from a backwater into a major tourist destination in the 20 years that followed with the development of major beach resorts in the 1950's. The population nearly doubled in the 1960's and 70's, mainly due to the travel boom that attracted builders, tourism workers and hippies from the mainland.
Spanish rule continued in Ibiza until democracy was established in the late 1970's, resulting in the creation of the Statute of Autonomy of the Balearic Islands, which applies to Ibiza, Majorca, Minorca, and Formentera. Today, the beaches and massive nightclubs have made it a major party destination, especially amongst the hip, young European crowd.
Ibiza is part of modern Catholic Spain with a culture largely reflective of that. However, Ibiza’s historic isolation and occupation by various ethnic groups, including Moorish and Roman people, has left its mark on the architecture, art and cuisine. The Catholic calendar and turning of the seasons are the main drivers behind many of the community events, but the people’s love of family and food help make Ibiza a pleasant and interesting place to visit any time of the year. The unusual geography and the myths around such landforms like Es Vedra give a mysterious and interesting dimension to this sandy paradise.