The harbour of Porto Cristo lies on a fish hook shaped inlet and serves as Manacor's port. There is limited evidence of pre-historic life apart from Bronze Age life in the Caves of the Drach (see the Caves of Drach and Hamm for more information). The Roman used the estuary a port but the excavation of a sunken ship show that it was further inland, close to the Caves of Hamm.
Following the conquest of Mallorca in 1229, fishermen sold their catches to Manacor's traders but there was still no village by the shore. Legend tells is that an Italian boat took refuge in Porto Cristo's bay from a great storm in 1260. The crew brought ashore a statue of Virgin Mary and Jesus and they took it to Manacor. The same statue is still in the Church of the Dolores in Manacor. The harbour was named after the legend; Porto Cristo or Christ's Port.
Pirates from the Ottoman Empire began attacking Mallorca in the 16th Century and Porto Cristo harbour was an easy target. Although Manacor was six miles inland, the sheltered inlet had to be protected and in 1577 the Tower of Falcons was built on the northern headland of the harbour. In 1851 a new lighthouse was built at the end of Sa Carabassa to guide sailors into the harbour.
By the 1880s, Mallorca's vineyards were booming and by 1888 Manacor was producing so much wine that the railway to Palma could not cope. A new customs post was opened in Porto Cristo and a ship delivered wine vats to Barcelona every week. The export business was just getting going when the phylloxera, or vine pest, reached the island and wiped out the vineyards in a single season; the customs post closed after only three years. Check the Wine Route webpage in the Raiguer North section to find out more about Mallorca's wine industry both past and present.
Porto Cristo's first chapel was built at the same time but it was soon extended into the Church of the Carmen we see today a short distance from the beach.
While Porto Cristo's beach is now a place of relaxation and leisure, it was a battlefield in the summer of 1936. Following a military coup on 18 July, towns and cities across Spain found themselves either under Nationalist or Republican control. Menorca was under Republican control but Mallorca and Ibiza were under Nationalist control and on 23 July Republican planes bombed Palma.
On 1 August Republican troops captured both Menorca and Cabrera Island off the south coast of Mallorca and five days later the Catalan Government in Barcelona made plans to seize the rest of the Balearic Islands with the support of the Government of the Republic. Captain Manuel Uribarri's fleet sailed from Valencia on 7 August to capture Formentera and it was joined by Captain Alberto Bayo's fleet from Barcelona; the two joined forces to seize Menorca. Although the two captains met in Mahón to work out how to capture Mallorca, Uribarri's fleet returned to the mainland, having failed to agree on a plan.
Despite the disagreements the Republican forces landed on the Mallorcan coast north of Porto Cristo on 16 August and by nightfall 9,000 troops and ten artillery pieces were ashore and advancing inland. To begin with they faced a mixture of Regular Army soldiers, Guardia Civil policemen, customs officers and volunteers from the local villages. A lack of confidence and coordination stalled the advance, giving the Mallorca garrison time to react and before long there were 1,200 regular soldiers, 300 Guardia Civil policemen and around 2,000 volunteers dug in front of the Republican soldiers. While it did not seem much, it did stop them reaching Manacor and a front line developed north east of the town, running through the hills around Son Carrio and Son Severa. During the stalemate Porto Cristo was called El Red Porto , or the Red Port, the Communist's colour.
The delay helped the Nationalists more than the Republicans, and when Italian planes reached Mallorca on 27 August, their fighters shot down the Republican planes while their bombers hit the Republican trenches. On 31 August the Italian authorities sent Arconovaldo Bonaccorsi, or Count Rossi , to control the Nationalist forces; he would soon be known as the Lion of Son Severa. The Antifascist Committee of Ibiza was also asking for help from Barcelona.
The Republican expeditionary force was under attack from the ground and skies and it lacked provisions and medical support. Morale fell rapidly and men were soon falling back to the shoreline, leaving their artillery and equipment behind. Although the Jaime I and Libertad escorted the cargo ship Black Sea to Porto Cristo with 700 men, equipment and supplies, on 3 September and the hospital ship Marqués de Comillas anchored off shore; they brought too little, too late.
The Italian bombers bombed the ships and Central Government ordered an evacuation, troops left their frontline, carry as many wounded as possible. During the early hours of 4 September the Liberty escorted the Black Sea ship out to sea with 4,000 soldiers aboard, but they were far from safe; the ship was still loaded with ammunition. The Jaime I also escorted Marqués de Comillas away from Mallorca but it headed for safety leaving too few troops behind to defend the beachhead. They could not hold off the Nationalist counteroffensive and the last troops escaped on 12 September. By 19 September Mallorca was clear of Republican forces and the following day Nationalist troops occupied Ibiza and Formentera.
While the battle was over the repercussions were not. A cruel repression followed on Mallorca, starting with the injured members of the invasion force; they were executed in a local convent. The rest of the Republicans were executed not long afterwards. The invasion left bodies and wrecked equipment on the beaches around Porto Cristo, and mass graves were dug to return the area to normality.
Only it did not result in normality. Mallorca became the private domain of Count Rossi and hundreds of opponents of the Nationalist regime were rounded up and executed after summary court martials. Mallorca also became a Nationalist air base for bombing attacks along the east coast of the mainland and a sea base for attacks against Republican convoys. Check out the Spanish Civil War webpage to find out more about this difficult time on Mallorca.
A short drive from Son Porto Cristo northwest to the village of Son Carrio and then east towards Calle Millor will give you a taste of the 1936 battlefield. The hills are silent now but the memories have not faded.
Castell del Amer
At the end of Punta Amer headland is a 16th Century stone tower built to stop the pirate raids. The island's V iceroy, Lluis Vich, had wanted a watchtower in 1585 but work was cancelled due to a shortage of money. It only started after pirates captured Muro's militia captain and a number of fishermen in September 1688.
The tower was f inished in 1696 and it has an unusual shape which combines a square tower and a pyramid shape which may have been chosen to reduce the quantity of stone required or to deflect cannon balls. A drawbridge crosses the moat and once inside you can see the room where the watchmen lived. The balcony gives access to the embrasures and a spiral staircase leads to the roof where the cannons were positioned.
The tower stopped pirates using Punta Amer peninsular as a staging area until it was sold to a private buyer in the mid 19th century. Soldiers returned once more in 1936 when the tower became a lookout post during the Spanish Civil War; the adjacent cafe was also added as a storehouse.
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