The city of Maó (known as well as Mahón in Spanish) was founded on the southern side of a promontory in what is one of the largest natural harbours in the world. As you wander through its age-old streets, you discover evidence of its ancient history, the legacy of the various civilisations that have passed this way. Maó became the capital of Minorca during the British occupation of the island in the 18th century, and many of the changes that shaped the modern city we see today were made at that time.
The streets of the old town contain the city’s most important buildings, among them the Town Hall, done in the Gothic Revival style, and the military headquarters with a red façade known as the Principal de Guardia, a building originally used by the British garrison. The main religious buildings are also to be found in this part of the city, such as Sant Francesc, El Carme and the Church of Santa Maria, which contains a huge organ dating from the 19th century that has been used in memorable classical music concerts, such is its quality as an instrument. Minorca Museum, housed in a former Franciscan convent done in the style of the Baroque, provides insights into the cultural wealth of the island.
The centre of Maó has been largely pedestrianised and most of the city’s commercial activity is to be found here. Its steep streets contain modernista buildings, such as Casa Mir, and the grand residences on Carrer Isabel II, which were built by the prosperous bourgeoisie. As you continue on your way through the centre, you come to the Mercat de Peix (fish market), built on the site of an old 18th-century bastion, and the El Carme Cloister, where a market of crafts goods typical of Minorca is held.
Maó has a number of squares and public gardens, among them Plaça Miranda, with vantage points providing spectacular views out to sea. The city’s most iconic spot is its port with its esplanade that invites visitors to stroll along it and discover its multitude of restaurants, cafés and small shops. Maó Port stretches for 5 kilometres and makes an excellent starting point for boat rides that provide an opportunity to get to know the city from the sea and to enjoy a landscape in which nature and manmade constructions are interspersed. The buildings visible from the water include old fortifications and villas that played a part in history, such as the Golden Farm, which has a commanding view of the entire bay and was the residence of the British governor Richard Kane. In addition, you can have a closer view of the islets of Illa del Rei and El Llatzaret and its grand building now used as a venue for seminars and congresses during the summer. It was originally a quarantine station in the 19th century, where goods and people from other ports that could have been infected were detained for a period until they were declared free of contagion.