History of La Mola Fortress Isabel II, an essential historical monuments

History

A unique experience in Menorca that has already lived more than 500,000 people. A must to understand the history of the island.

Historical background

Francisco Fornals - Corresponding Member of the Royal Spanish Academy of History

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The military importance of Mahón harbour has been obvious for centuries, especially since the Sixteenth Century, in which political conditions converted the harbour into a port of call for the Spanish Crown’s connections with its Italian possessions. Later, during the British dominion of Minorca, it became the English fleet’s Mediterranean support harbour, and lastly, in the Nineteenth Century, it was the crossroads of the French shipping route between Toulon and Algiers and the English shipping route in the Mediterranean between Gibraltar and Malta.

The harbour’s dimensions, its depth and protection from the dominant winds in the western Mediterranean, made it one of the best ports in this area; according to the well known phrase made by Genovese Admiral Andrea Doria: “July, August and Port Mahón, the best harbours are in the Mediterranean”. This was especially so, in an age when navigation of the seven seas was by sail and the journeys made by these ships required ports of call able to harbour the major fleets of the times.

From an early age, the natural physical conditions of Mahón’s harbour were recognized and enhanced by the fortifications raised on either side of the harbour mouth; firstly by Saint Philips Castle (San Felipe), on the southern shore from 1555 onwards, and later on the northern shore in 1848, although there had been other fortifications there even prior to that.

Saint Philip’s Castle, traced by J.B. Calvi in 1555, was enlarged several times during the Spanish period (1555- 1708), and with the arrival of the English in 1708 was reinforced with construction of a series of works, forming a double defensive enclosure, also by construction of Fort Marlborough on the southern shore of Cala San Esteban.

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As early as the Sixteenth Century, Governor Moncayo, in 1541 recommended the construction of a fort on La Mola. Years later Calvi dismissed this idea, opting for construction of Saint Philips on the opposite shore of the harbour. It was the English, in 1708, who initiated building on the northern shore, with Saint Anne’s fort (Santa Ana), consisting of a broken line, forming a Hornworks covered by a ravelin, closing the way to La Mola from the isthmus of Los Freus.

The English were never to finish Saint Anne’s fort on La Mola, according to the plans drawn up by engineer Durand; however, for years there was a series of officers destined there waiting to see the fortification finished.

Years later, in 1799, the English built two defense towers on La Mola: Saint Clair (Cala Taulera) and Erskine (Princesa).

However, the fortress standing on La Mola today is a Spanish masterpiece. Building was initiated after the demolition of Saint Philips Castle (San Felipe), due to reactivation of international tension in the Western Mediterranean, when France occupied Algeria.

Minorca was left almost defenseless after the second destruction of Saint Philips Fortress (San Felipe), in the first half of the Nineteenth Century; but increasing Anglo- French antagonism in the 1840s, due to the crossing of their Mediterranean shipping routes, compelled Spain to fortify the island once again.

Before the Government could approve Minorca’s new defensive criteria, international events were precipitated; in the British Chamber of Lords, they even came to say that if Spain did not defend the island, England would take the necessary measures to avoid its occupation by another power.

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Chronology

1706 - 1712

The War of Spanish Succession. Minorca comes under British dominion by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

1722

Under leadership of Governor Richard Kane, Mahon is proclaimed the island’s capital.

1756 - 1763

French conquest of Minorca led by the Duque de Richelieu.

1763 - 1781

The signing of the Treaty of Paris gives way to the second British dominion.

1782 - 1798

The Duque de Crillón recovers Minorca for the Spanish Crown.

1798 - 1802

Third and last British dominion.

1802

The Treaty of Amiens returns Minorca to Spanish Sovereignty.

1840

The decade sees an increase in International tensions in the Mediterranean, mainly between England and France.

1848

On La Mola a campaign battery is built urgently, to impede the entry of French ships into Mahon harbour.

1850

On La Mola a campaign battery is built urgently, to impede the entry of French ships into Mahon harbour.

1852

Inauguration of the fortress, in which it is named Fortress of Isabel II, in spite of still being under construction.

1860

Queen Isabel II of Bourbon visits La Mola after which fortification Works are intensified.

1896

Technical advance in gun design makes the fortress obsolete and work commences on a series of modern coastal batteries around La Mola’s cliff tops.

1926

The Spanish government purchased eighteen 15” (38.1cm) artillery pieces from the United Kingdom, for Spanish coastal defense.

1930

The Vickers Armstrong guns are transferred to their respective emplacements, two of which are in La Mola.

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