People have lived around the hill known as Capdepera at the eastern tip of Mallorca since pre-historic times and over forty Pre-Talayotic and Talayotic sites are dotted around the area. The Romans named the hill 'Caput Petrae', or 'Head of Stone', and sailors used it to guide them across the straits to Menorca. When the Moors took over the island they named the eastern peninsula 'Yartan' and they too used the hill to keep watch on the coast and built a watchtower on its summit; the remains of it are still there.
Following the invasion of Mallorca in September 1229 and the capture of Palma three months later, the Yartan area was given to the Nunis and Montso families and they renamed their new lands Arta. Jaime the Conqueror's barons spent the next two years hunting down the Moors who did not want to live under Christian rule and the King returned to the island to oversee the final capture and enslaving of the last group.
Jaime then considered Menorca but knew that that he did not have enough support to raise another invasion fleet. Ramon de Serra, head of Mallorca's Knights Templar, suggested sending three armed galleys across to Ciutadella to announce that Jaime the Conqueror had lived up to his title and now that Mallorca was under his control, he was planning to invade Menorca. The delegation would also suggest that their King would accept the island's surrender.
Brother Serra and Berenguer de Santa Eugenia, head of the Aragonese Knights Templar, were accompanied by Don Assalit de Gudar, Jaime's expert on assessing the potential of territories, and when their ships anchored in Ciutadella the whole town came out to meet them. After hearing the King's message, the Emir and his sheikhs retired for the night to discuss its implications. Only while they were meeting, lookouts noticed something strange occurring on Mallorca's coast. Fires started to appear, only not one or two, or even a dozen, but dozens.
By the time the news reached the Emir around 300 bonfires lit up the hillside around Capdepera.
Jaime had ridden to Capdepera with his small bodyguard and a few mounted servants. As soon as the sky went dark, he ordered them to start lighting fires until it looked from a distance as if several thousand men were camped on the hillside. Although the Jaime did not have an army, he wanted the Emir of Menorca to think he did.
For three days the negotiations continued in Ciutadella and for three nights Jamie's men lit new fires. The Emir eventually submitted to James' offers, surrendering all the fortresses on the island in return for the King's protection. Jaime and the Emir met on Mallorca and signed what is believed to be the world's first peace treaty in Torre de Nunis on Capdepera hill. Although the Emir and his sheikhs would continue to run Menorca, they had to pay a hefty annual tax of 3,000 quarters of wheat, two hundredweight of butter, 100 cows, and 500 sheep or goats. James had extended his kingdom without having to rely on his barons for help and he returned to the mainland a happy man.
In 1300 Jaime's son, King Jamie II ordered the founding of the town of Capdepera with the idea of populating the strategically important hill. A church was built on the summit and work started on building a castle to protect the inhabitants. The coastline was plagued by pirates and Jaime hoped that the townspeople would inhabit houses inside the new fortress. The walls were eventually completed in 1387 but many people refused to move in because the houses were too small. King Sancho I offered money to each family who settled in the castle but wealthy families preferred to live on the slopes below the castle; only the poor and immigrants took up his offer.
The threat from pirates had not gone away and one large pirate raid is remembered every December with a fiesta. The guards sounded the alarm and the 'Gabellins', as the townspeople of Capdepera were known, grabbed their valuables and head inside the castle. From the walls they could see hundreds of pirates scrambling up the hill and while some prayed inside the chapel, others paraded a statue of the Virgin of Hope around the parapet. When all seemed lost a thick winter fog descended across Capdepera hill, forcing the pirates to withdraw back to their ships rather than getting lost. The fiesta is known as the 'Miracle de Sa Boira' or the 'Miracle of the Fog'.
After 1715 the new Bourbon dynasty posted a troop of mounted Dragoons inside the castle and a Governor's House was built in the centre of the castle. Many houses were converted into barracks. Over the years that followed a new church and town hall were built in the centre and the townspeople turned their backs on the fortress. Although the castle was sold at public auction in 1862 it was left to rot and only the poorest lived inside the decaying fortress. In 1983 Capdepera town finally regained ownership of the castle.
The short walk through Capdepera's narrow medieval streets up to the castle gates is like taking a step back in time. Once inside the walls you can climb the winding street to the summit of the hill, noting the foundations of the tiny houses while imagining the hustle and bustle of medieval life. The Governor's House stands in the centre of the castle and a display explains how the local people made a living out of palm leaves, the main crop in the area in years gone by. Another display describes the role of watchtowers which can still be seen along Mallorca's coast.
You can climb the narrow parapets and walk around the walls to the remains of the ancient Moorish tower where Jaime signed the treaty with the Emir of Menorca. But the jewel in Capdepera's crown is the view from the roof of the tiny church. One can almost hear Jaime's hearty laugh as he looked across to Menorca after hearing that the Emir had fallen for his hoax.
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