Ciutadella had always been the capital of Menorca until the British, who held sway over the island during the major part of the 18th century, moved the capital to Mahón. The city lies 45 kilometres from Mahón and is still the official seat of the Menorcan bishopric.
It is well worth visiting the Old Quarter, with its medieval streets and noble palaces. As with the other Balearic cities, Ciutadella has to be seen on foot. The best advice is to lose oneself in the maze of narrow lanes and alleys criss-crossing the Old Quarter.
Among the chief sights to be seen are: The Olives Mansion, with its severe Neoclassical façade, is located right opposite the main door of the cathedral. On display inside are some interesting frescoes bearing animal motifs and a Roman statuette unearthed at the Pujol Antic archaeological site on the island.
The Vivó, along with the Salort Mansion, overlooking the Born, has a Neoclassical façade painted red with traditional Menorcan motifs. It is one of the city’s hallmarks. The Salort Mansion, near the Cathedral, is the only house open to the public, though access is restricted. It is open during the morning over the summer months. The entire building is a museum that is worth exploring.
The Palace of the Count of Saura, also near the Cathedral, is graced by one of the most beautiful façades in Ciutadella. Although visits are not allowed, from the street one can hazard a pretty accurate guess at the interior beauty of this building, last refurbished in the 17th century.
From the look-out point, situated behind the City Hall, one is treated to a magnificent view of the harbour area. Ciutadella Harbour is no more than a deep creek that penetrates into the very heart of the city. It is nevertheless of sufficient depth to accommodate deep-draught vessels.
The Born, with an obelisk at its centre, was formerly the plaza de armas (i.e., main ceremonial square and gathering place in times of upheaval) and is now the venue for a number of public events during the year, the most memorable of which are the fiestas and daring equestrian displays held to mark St. John’s Day (San Juan).
The Cathedral is regarded as the most monumental church on the island. Historians tell us that the Menorcan cathedral was constructed on the site of a mosque bigger in size than that of Medina Minurka, and that the only extant remains are to be found in the belfry, the erstwhile minaret. The church, Catalonian Gothic in style, possesses a single spacious aisle and six side-chapels.
One of Ciutadella’s most typical sights is the calle Josep María Quadrado, with its arcades, known locally as Ses Voltes. It is this feature that lends the common touch to Ciutadella’s noble architecture, which tends to abound in convents, monasteries, churches and palatial mansions.
St. Clare’s Convent (Santa Clara) stands in the centre of a charming quarter of cobblestone alleyways, and today hardly retains anything of the original building, which was sacked by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. The cloister of the Church of Socors is another of the city’s highlights. By going up the calle Castell Rupit and keeping to the Seminary wall, one comes out at the point where the building stands on the calle Santíssim. Originally an Augustinian monastery, the cloister -one of Ciutadella’s truly unique gems- was built using money raised by the friars from the sale of noble titles which they had procured from Philip IV.
As regards fiestas and festivities, Ciutadella reigns supreme. Menorca’s most classic fiesta is the city’s annual celebration held on 23rd and 24th June to mark St. John’s Day. In a 600-year-old tradition, medievally clad riders and their mounts pick their way through the thronged streets, going right in amongst the crowd, the pirouetting steeds being urged up onto their hind legs (the Jaleo).
In the immediate locality of Ciutadella, one can visit the beaches of Cala Santandria and Son Saura, as well as the famous Megalithic mausoleum of Naveta des Tudons, just five kilometres outside the city limits.