The singularity of Formentera starts with its history. The megalithic sepulchre of Ca na Costa, 4,000 years old, is the most spectacular monument of the first human occupation of the Balearics. This large dolmen was constructed using huge slabs of stone.
At Cap de Barbaria several prehistoric villages have also been conserved, and in different caves at La Mola remains from the same era have been found. Later, Phoenicians and Carthaginians also frequented Formentera, which was then known by the Greek name of Ophiousa, or Island of the Snakes. Which is rather strange, since there are none of this kind of reptile on Formentera.
The evidence of the Roman presence is quite clear. A vestige of that era is the name Formentera, which some believe is derived from Frumentaria (wheat) and others from Promontoria (because of its two promontories). The cliffs of La Mola are riddled with the mouths of numerous caves. One of them, the Cova del Fum, was the scene of an event that was reflected in the Nordic sagas.
In the 11thcentury, when the island was ruled a lack of resources that forced them to by the Muslims, the Norwegian King Sigurd attacked a group of pirates who kept their booty in the cave in question. To get them out, he had a Viking ship go down over the rocks, throwing burning torches into the cave and suffocating those inside.
This adventurous character was to continue centuries later. In the 16th and 17th centuries Formentera was on the front line of the war between Christianity and Islam. The island was abandoned and left uninhabited because of the continuous pirate incursions. It filled up with dense vegetation, and it is said that more than one Berber pirate hid the fruit of his pillage here. Treasure island.
In the 18th century the island was repopulated. This explains the church of Sant Francesc de Formentera, as solid as a fortress, since it also served as a defence like the towers that still watch over the island’s coasts. One of Formentera’s riches was salt, which was extracted under extremely harsh conditions. The pools where some of the sea water was first evaporated and the salt then crystallized can still be seen today.
The island was discovered by hippies in the ‘sixties. It became the symbol of “paradise, now”. Many things still remain from that era, from the crafts and woollen jerseys to the music and the street markets. Formentera has not had an easy history. Its inhabitants have had to fight against pirates first, then the problems arising from insularity, emigrate to America. As a consequence, they are tough people, accustomed to hardship. They are considered good sailors, and have faithfully preserved their traditions such as the “cant pagčs”, very Moorish in style and sung whilst covering the face with the hand.
The traditional attire is different to that of Ibiza. The most striking thing is the combination of the broad-brimmed straw hats worn by the women and the traditional costume, which is black or very dark. In Sant Francesc de Formentera, the Ethnological Museum allows one to contemplate objects from the island’s past, such as the windmills or the salt exploitation devices.
The gastronomy is peculiar, too. “Peix sec”, fish dried beside the sea, is used as a condiment in dishes like salad. The most popular confectionary is “orelletes”, as well as fritters and “flaó” (cheesecake with mint). Not to forget the wine made in Formentera, or the traditional “vi pagčs”.
In this way Formentera offers sensations of adventure, of a return to the past. Like in the La Mola lighthouse, facing the sea that leads to Algeria. A romantic image, reminding one of the mention Jules Verne made of the island in his novel, Hector Servadac. And one which runs its eye of light over the extension of La Mola every night.