Beyond its world-renowned nightlife and pristine beaches, Ibiza has history in abundance, boasting a rich tapestry of ancient civilizations that have each left their mark on this Mediterranean gem.
Once one of the richest coastal Mediterranean cities, the island has at various times been home to the Phoenicians, Punics, Romans, Moors and Christians, and evidence of these eras can be seen throughout Ibiza. A key highlight is the winding cobblestone streets of UNESCO World Heritage Site Dalt Vila, the island’s historic Old Town, where over 2,500 years of captivating history unfold. Here you can step into the medieval era at the iconic Castell d’Eivissa, and explore the formidable walls and towers that once defended the island from invading forces.
Immerse yourself in the ancient Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta, whose well-preserved ruins date back to the 8th century BC, marvel at the remnants of Roman statues at Portal de ses Taules, or explore the strategic watchtowers that guarded the island against pirate attacks. Each historical site reveals a unique chapter in Ibiza’s rich and varied cultural heritage – here are just a few of the top historical sites Ibiza has to offer.
With over 2,500 years of history, Dalt Vila (Ibiza’s historic Old Town) is among the oldest towns in Europe, and the entire Old Town was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. The fortified area has an array of cultural and historic treasures, including a castle, old walls, a cathedral, monastery and numerous high quality museums, not to mention its labyrinth of narrow passageways, cobbled streets, and its many restaurants and shops.
Perched on a hilltop known as Puig de Vila, Dalt Vila offers impressive views of the harbour and the neighbouring island of Formentera. Originally known as Ibosim, Dalt Vila was first populated in the Phoenician era in 654 BC. Its elevated location led to its new name of Dalt Vila, meaning ‘High Town’, and over the centuries, the town was occupied by various civilizations, including the Romans.
Walls were first constructed around the town in the 5th century to defend against pirate attacks. These underwent several modifications and were reinforced in the 16th century under King Philip II. The new heptagon-shaped Renaissance-era wall, equipped with cannons, took 40 years to build and played a crucial role in safeguarding the city from pirate and Ottoman invasions. Restored in the 20th century, the walls of Dalt Vila now stand 25 metres high, and are up to 5 metres thick.
Catedral de Santa María de la Neu de Vila d’Eivissa (also known as Cathedral of Santa María de las Nieves) is Ibiza’s Cathedral – known for the diversity of its architectural styles, and dedicated to ‘Saint Mary of the Snows’, the patron saint of Ibiza. Situated at the highest point of Ibiza’s Old Town, Dalt Vila, the cathedral offers fantastic sea views and spectacular panoramas of Ibiza Town and surrounding areas.
Christianity reached Ibiza and Formentera in the first centuries, though between the 8th and 13th centuries, the islands were under Muslim rule. On 8 August 1235, Catalonian troops under Guillem de Montgrí conquered the Pitiusas islands, restoring Christianity. An agreement prior to their conquest in 1234 meant one of their first obligations was the provision and foundation of the parish of Santa Maria de Ibiza.
It wasn’t until the 14th century that Ibiza had enough settlers to start work, initially in a Gothic architectural style. Later additions and renovations ensued over the centuries, notably a large restoration completed in 1728 in a Baroque style. In 1782 Pope Pius VI erected the episcopal seat of Ibiza and the church of Santa Maria acquired the rank of Cathedral.
Puig des Molins is one of the largest and best-preserved necropolises in the Mediterranean area – and indeed the world. There are almost 3,000 burial tombs across 5 hectares, with some graves dating back to 7th century BC where thousands of ancient Ibizan residents were buried or cremated. Boasting the world’s finest collection of Punic remains, the necropolis is one of the sites that led to Ibiza’s Old Town World Heritage status.
Ibiza has a rich history as an important Mediterranean harbour. Over the centuries, it has been inhabited by various civilisations, and Puig des Molins has served as the city’s cemetery since its foundation. It was used for burials from the 7th century BC until around 700 AD and contains the remains of Phoenicians, Punics and Romans. The area was later utilised for agriculture, and windmills were also constructed there from the 15th century onwards.
Visitors to the necropolis may find it hard to grasp the vast size of the cemetery, yet have the opportunity to view some excavated areas, burial pits, caverns and tombs. Descending into the underground caves, visitors can explore funeral chambers, stone coffins and sarcophagi. Whilst only a few of the tombs are open to the public, the accompanying museum provides a comprehensive understanding of the site, arranged chronologically from the Phoenician era in 625 BC, through the Punics, to Roman burials (up to 700 AD).
Ever since Ibiza’s discovery by the Carthaginians over 3,000 years ago, the island’s strategic location – between mainland Spain and North Africa – made it susceptible to invasions and pirate attacks, given the high value goods transported in the nearby waters. After being under Arab rule for over 300 years, Ibiza and Formentera were recaptured by the Catalans in 1235 during the Reconquista. However, the island’s former rulers used their knowledge of the archipelago to carry out pirate attacks, raiding homes, stealing goods and animals, and capturing women and children for ransom.
This prompted the Catalans to build a series of watchtowers, strategically positioned to enable sentries to spot incoming pirate ships and raise an alarm. Initially an acoustic warning was given, though later a more advanced system involving fire signals was adopted. The island’s inhabitants would then either seek refuge in the fortified towers or nearby churches (which were also fortified).
7 of these pirate towers are still preserved today on the main island, including the: Torre Des Carregador, Torre d’en Rovira, Torre d’en Valls, Torre de Portinatx, Torre de Balansat and the Torre des Savinar (one of the best places to watch the sunset in Ibiza).
Sa Caleta Phoenician Settlement, a UNESCO World Heritage site, spans over 10 acres and contains the foundation remains of simple stone buildings – the last remnants of an ancient Phoenician settlement dating back to the 8th century BC.
The Phoenicians arrived from the Iberian coast, and whilst the site may initially have been used a seasonal or provisional base for economic and geographic expeditions, they eventually settled there, utilising the area until around 600 BC, when they appear to have intentionally abandoned Sa Caleta, relocating to Ibiza bay. The site’s location was probably chosen due to its proximity to the island’s natural salt marshes. The Phoenicians harvested the natural salt crystals to use as a currency for trade – the first commercial enterprise of the island.
Excavations conducted in the 1980s and 1990s revealed the foundations of simple stone buildings, an urban area with narrow streets, and a communal square, providing insights into the original layout of the settlement. Archaeologists also found evidence of metal and ironwork, along with stone mills, kitchen implements, and circular ovens for communal use.
The Castell d’Eivissa – Ibiza Castle – stands atop the Dalt Vila, the historic Old Town of Ibiza. This imposing medieval fortress is an assortment of numerous buildings that span centuries (including the Moorish-era Tower of Homage, the 8th century Almudaina Moorish keep, the former governor’s home and the 18th century infantry barracks), reflecting the island’s strategic importance and the influence of its various civilizations.
Its origins can be traced back to the 7th century BC when the Phoenicians settled in Ibiza. Over time, they were succeeded by the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines, each leaving their marks. However, it was during the Arab occupation in the 9th century AD that the fortress took its present form, with the Arabs fortifying the castle and expanding its defences.
In the 13th century, the island was reconquered by the Christians, and the fortress was reinforced with more substantial walls and a moat, drawbridge, and system of gates and towers. In the 18th century, its military importance diminished, and it fell into disrepair. Today visitors can explore its ancient walls, towers, and courtyards while enjoying stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and the Mediterranean Sea.
Sa Capelleta is a secondary archaeological site situated just outside the Necropolis del Puig des Molins. Whilst smaller than Puig des Molins, Sa Capelleta chronicles the use of one plot of land by 3 distinct stages and populations of Ibiza over many centuries – from Punic, Roman and Islamic times.
In the 4th to 2nd century BC, the site housed a Punic shrine, and was used as a place of worship, adorned with carvings, statues, and oil burners. The site later became a Roman burial ground from the 2nd to 3rd century AD. The third phase of the site’s history occurred during the 11th to 13th century when it served as an Islamic suburb. Excavations have uncovered a street, two doorways, and well pits, offering insight into the layout and daily life.
Descending from a metal walkway, visitors can explore the ruins up close, immersing themselves in the three distinct stages of the site’s occupation. They can walk along the Islamic street, pass through the doorways of ancient houses, observe the wells and Roman graves, and touch the stones of the Punic shrine.