Ciutadella dates back to before the period of Roman rule on Minorca. It was the island’s chief city until 1722, when the British governor Richard Kane moved the capital to Maó. Ciutadella Port, which is part of the old town, is one of the most iconic spots in the city. Its numerous outdoor cafés and restaurants provide an opportunity to savour the typical cuisine of Minorca, which is based on seafood, and to enjoy the fine summer evenings in a setting of great beauty alongside the sea.
The centre of the old town is Plaça d’Es Born, where the Town Hall, Es Born Theatre and a number of grand mansions in the Gothic Revival style, such as the Can Salort, Can Vivó and the Torre Saura, are to be found. The obelisk in the square is a monument in remembrance of the attack by the Turkish fleet in 1558, which brought great suffering to the residents of Ciutadella, who were either killed or forced into slavery. Leading off from this square are the twisting, narrow streets of medieval origin, most of which have now been pedestrianised. A stroll through this area reveals fascinating details from other eras. Ses Voltes, a street with characteristic arcades that provide protection from the sun and rain, is the shopping centre for this part of Ciutadella.
Ciutadella is the episcopal see of Minorca and some of the most significant religious buildings are to be found here, among them the Church of El Roser, now converted into an art gallery, the Convent of Santa Clara, the Church del Sant Crist and the Seminary, which houses the Diocesan Museum and has a remarkable cloister. The most noteworthy of all, however, is Minorca Cathedral itself, the most important Gothic building on the island. Built on the site of a former mosque, the minaret of which serves as the bottom section of the bell tower, it has a single nave and a number of side chapels. It was built at the order of King Alfonso III in the 14th century following the reconquest of the island by the Christians.
Ciutadella was a fortified city and still retains some of its old defensive edifices such as the Castle of Sant Nicolau, a defensive tower built in the 17th century at the entry to the port, and the bastions of Sa Font and El Governador, which were part of the walls that circled the city until the late 19th century.
Lastly, mention must be made of the St. John’s Day celebrations on 23 and 24 June, when Ciutadella throngs with people come from all over to enjoy these traditional festivities that are so deeply rooted on the island. One event, for example, involves a horse in a leading role and is a ritual that has survived since the Middle Ages.
Ciutadella is an essential place to visit for anyone wishing to get to know the island of Minorca.