Let’s start with the most beautiful and most visited town in Menorca, being the capital of the island and a very important part of it. It has a natural harbour, the most beautiful in the world. Its streets will transport you to a place full of history and culture, which has been modernised over the years.
Although it has modernised some of its rooms, tradition is never lost, that’s why it preserves its magic and is a centre of attraction for many tourists who decide to relax. Be sure to visit the Fish Market and the Muelle de Poniente, where strolls will be full of a delightful experience.
Over the last twenty-five years, Menorca Mahon has undergone a series of urban development projects that have revitalised the city. Of particular note is the refurbishment of several public and private buildings. Mahon has made peace with its past and is justly proud to offer it to visitors. At the dawn of the new millennium, the buildings that have marked the development of the city since the 17th century are once again shining like beacons, adapting to the new era with all naturalness and recovering their importance in a modernised centre.
In books and museums there are only a few traces of Mahón before the Catalan and Romanian conquests. Between 1287, when Alfonso III decided to reinforce the existing fortifications, and the invasion of Barbarossa in 1535, the medieval centre expanded to the point that the defences had to be reinforced by another wall; after 1600, this boundary was also moved. With British rule, the capital rose and brought with it many changes that are still visible today, two centuries later. Wherever you go on a tour of the city, you will inevitably come across the stamp of this period.
The Pla del Monestir is a good starting point to visit the church and convent of Sant Francesc, which now houses the Museum of Menorca. It was first a convent and the church was built in the 1700s, which explains the Baroque decoration outside the Gothic approach, but useful for the phased construction. Once the architecture and contents have been explored, it is worth taking a tour of the remodelled exterior to see the port, the driving force behind the aforementioned remodelling, and the Dalt Vilanova neighbourhood to the west.
From here, the route continues along Calle Isabel II, with its large houses and hanging galleries (the landscape overlooking the Levante quay), and Cas General, Kane’s chosen residence, now the headquarters of the army. The path ends at the Convent of the Fathers of the Conception and leads to the neoclassical façade of the town hall. To see it from the front, you have to go to Pla de sa Parròquia, to Plaça de la Constitució. This area, flooded every day with vehicles needing parking space, awaits the annual festivities, whose noise is as deafening as that of the traffic, but much busier. The square also houses the military building, the Principal de Guàrdia, and the church of Santa Maria, whose construction began in 1848 on the site of the church of the same name commissioned by Alfonso III. Externally, the bell tower, built only a century later, lessens the weight of this disproportionate monument. The interior, however, is adorned with an enormous, angelic-looking organ. Built by the German masters Otter and Kirburz, the organ, with its 3,210 pipes and four keyboards, dazzles all those who come to listen to concerts by famous international artists, and is said to be one of the reasons why the people of Mahon are so passionate about music. The Pla de sa Parròquia leads to the Plaça de la Conquesta through a narrow alleyway dedicated to Alfonso III, whose image is also in the square. So much repetition is inevitable in the heart of the castle, the fortress where the Muslims surrendered and which gave rise to medieval Mahón. The palace of Can Mercadal, converted into a public library, and the viewpoint behind this building make this part of the city well worth a visit.
Leaving the square from the corner opposite the entrance, you can reach the Ses Voltes waterfront, the town’s main maritime link. From here, a sloping path leads down to the quays, an archipelago of lush islands rising from the bends of a grey asphalt river. As you climb successive steps, the view changes. The slope and rock walls are impressive, as is the concept of the original project (1951, Josep Claret), but recent interventions in this area, also known as Parc Rochina, have softened the awe-inspiring effect.
The buildings overlooking the gardens, the Art Nouveau-inspired Casa Mir and the Peixeteria, a working fish market, are the work of the architect Francesc Femenías. He created many original houses, warehouses and factories and was also responsible for important municipal works as municipal architect.
Leaving the visit to the port as a self-guided tour, the next stop should be, thanks to its proximity, a series of buildings known as El Carme. The convent, which housed the Carmelite order, and later the courthouse and prison, has been transformed into a series of premises with a cultural vocation, including the building that houses the archive of the Hernández Mora Foundation. The cloister still houses the meat, fruit and vegetable market that occupied the site for over a century, and a new shopping area has been created under the central courtyard, connected to the underground car park in Plaza Miranda. This square offers another good view of the port, while the neighbouring Plaça Príncep and Carrer Anunciavay give access to a pedestrianised centre formed by Carrer S’Arravaleta and Carrer Nou, the steep slopes of Deià and Carrer Hannover and Plaça Colom with small branching streets. Full of shops, this area gives an idea of the tourist season just by observing the flow of people in and around it.
As you enter the slope of Deià, you are greeted by the Parque Fréginal, a landscaped area of modern design, heir to the communal gardens of yesteryear. The Deià slope ends at the Teatro Principal, inaugurated in 1829 to host opera performances (it is even older than the Liceu in Barcelona) and is another pillar of the local love of theatre and music. Nearby, in the Plaça Bastio, are the towers of the Arch of San Roque, the last remains of the second ring of walls.
You must, however, make a detour along the road to reach another street of great tradition, Dr. Orfila or Carrer de ses Moreres, from which Carrer Cifuentes and Carrer del Cos de Gràcia branch off. In the latter is an old road that leads to the hermitage of Vergé de Gracia, patron saint of the town, where spectacular equestrian competitions are held during the annual festivities. One of the most outstanding buildings in Kos is the church of La Concepción, built as an orthodox church by the Greek colony that arrived in the city… also in the 18th century. Bearing in mind that there was also a Jewish synagogue and that other large temples date from the same period, we can conclude that the city enjoyed great prosperity and that the abolition of the Cane Inquisition gave a boost to the religious freedom enjoyed by many denominations.
Cifuentes Street (or Sa Rovellada de Dalt) has already been mentioned above: it is the headquarters of the Athenaeum, or Society, a scientific, literary and artistic society. This society, which continues to promote numerous cultural events, houses an important collection of seaweed and fossils.
S’Esplanada could complete this main axis of the historic part of the city… and it could also be the starting point, as it is kilometre zero in terms of connectivity between Mahón and the rest of the island. A new bus station stands where the British barracks used to be, and pigeons now fly over what was once a parade ground. Young people socialise, old people stroll, and a twice-weekly clothing and craft market draws crowds. Although the use and space have been reorganised for specific projects, the vitality continues to fuel daily life. It is the perfect place to rest your feet and retrace your steps.
However, we must move on, because what has been described so far is not the end of a long list of interesting places to see. Streets such as S’Arraval, Camí des Castell, Gràcia or San Fernando are the centres of other possible itineraries to discover, together with the industrial area, the modern, fun and educational Rubió i Tudurí park, which highlights the local flora. So, depending on how much time you have, don’t hesitate to “lose yourself” by turning in any direction: it’s worth it.