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The Improbable Story of Menorca’s National Day

It’s safe to say that many a country celebrates its independence on its national day, however, only few choose the day of their invasion as an occasion for this festivity. Menorca, however, is one of those exceptions.

A war between two brothers

Along Came Peter…

The Muslim and Christian population had been coexisting in peace on Menorca, which was an independent Islamic state – although tributary to King James I of Aragon – under the reign of Abu Utman from 1234 to 1282. The situation turned around, however, shortly after Abut Utman’s son, Abu Omar inherited the throne. Five years after Abu Omar’s accession the new Aragonese monarch, Peter III, dubbed Peter the Great, landed in the Menorcan harbour with his fleet of 120 sails and was heartily welcomed by the Moorish authorities, who appeared to welcome him by showering him with numerous gifts of submission.

The War Between Two Brothers

Peter the Great’s visit to Menorca, however pleasantly it passed, was in fact not the reason for his visit. He was simply passing by, having set out to besiege some major cities in northern Africa.

What he didn’t realise, however, was that the Menorcan inhabitants weren’t as loyal to him as they led him to believe, but to his brother, James II of Majorca, with whom he was in continuous conflict. In a successful attempt to sabotage his plans, the Moorish authorities of the island sent out a message to warn the North-African cities of the war fleet that was coming their way, causing Peter’s expedition to fail.

Alfonso the Peacemaker

Needless to say, the quarrels between the two brothers caused tensions to rise, and it was in fact Peter the Great’s son and successor, Alfonso III, who decided it was time to start channelling the energies and reincorporate the Balearic Islands into his kingdom. It was in October 1286 that he declared war on his uncle James II and summoned his subjects to undertake the conquest to the Balearic Islands with an impressive 20,000 men, divided over a hundred ships. On 22 November they set out for Mallorca, where they resided and spent Christmas before also conquering Menorca on 17 January 1287.

The Celebrations of Menorca’s National Day

Up to today, Menorca’s national holiday is held on 17 January. It is celebrated with a ceremony at the monument of King Alfonso III in the Plaça de la Conquesta, music by the local Municipal Band, and an impressive re-enactment of the conquest of Menorca, including giant effigies of King Alfonso III and the original Moorish King, Abu Omar, in the Plaça Constitució.


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