The pirate Barbarossa and the “year of misfortune”

On September 4, 1535, at the height of the Ottoman power in the Mediterranean, the pirate Barbarossa, in revenge for the assault on the city of Algiers by the hosts of Carlos I, entered through the roadstead of Mahón, devastated the island and took 800 hostages from Menorca to Constantinople to sell as slaves. Due to continuous fear, the Menorcans asked King Felipe II for protection. The monarch ordered the construction of a simple fortification on a promontory at the mouth of the port of Mahón but, as a condition, he ordered that the locals themselves build it.

On the southern shore of the mouth of the port of Mahón, in the middle of the 16th century – 1554-, according to the plan of the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Calvi, the castle of San Felipe. It was a castle with four bastions joined by four curtains, surrounded by a narrow and deep moat dug in the stone.

The first stone was laid on May 1, 1554, the feast of San Felipe Neri, and four years after its construction began (1558), its artillery rejected the attempted landing in the port of Mahón de Pialí Mustafá, who, when rejected , decided to attack Ciudadela, capital of the island, located in the western part. The capital suffered a devastating Turkish attack, which marked the aforementioned town in history forever. That year is known in Menorca as the «year of misfortune».

It took 30 years to finish the construction of the fort: stonemasons and stonemasons made an extraordinary effort, even at the cost of their health, having to continuously breathe the dust of the «marés» – limestone from the Miocene – and always work in the light of a small lamp. They extracted the cantons from the underground quarries and at the same time built galleries of life and combat that, in case of attack, they would use as shelters in the subsoil.

Stonemasons and soldiers lived in a humble town built by them —S’Arraval—, a few meters from the fort, located where the current Es Castell cemetery is located.

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