In fact, its highly advantageous geographic position and huge natural harbour has made it a coveted prize for the British, French, Spanish, Turks, and more over the centuries. Each of Menorca’s historic occupants have left their mark on the island, both physically and culturally. For visitors to the island keen to go beyond the beaches, Menorca’s often turbulent history is never far from view – provided you know where to look.
Castillo de San Felip
For a glimpse into the island’s past, you can’t do much better than a visit to Castillo de San Felip (St Philip’s Castle). The fortress – now mostly ruins – was begun by the Spanish in the 16th century on the southern shore of the entrance to the Port of Mahón. This strategic position allowed the occupants of the fortress to guard and monitor the harbour, which is one of the largest and deepest natural harbours in the world. Such a harbour was extremely attractive for world military powers, as it could safely hold large fleets of ships through the winter.
In the 1760s, British forces rebuilt and expanded the fortress around the existing Spanish structure. However, the new fortress was not to last long. Castillo de San Felip was partially demolished after the Invasion of Menorca (1781), which returned the stronghold to Spanish control.
Today, the ruins of Castillo de San Felip are open for guided tours every Saturday at 10:00am. The tour, which lasts about two hours and is led by a bilingual guide, includes a visit to the fascinating underground tunnel network hewn into the bedrock. On select evenings, historical re-enactments take place featuring actors in period costume, who recreate the scene of a fortress under attack. If a step back in time is what you’re after, the Castillo delivers – and then some.