Ryanair and Easyjet planes touch down one after the other with a familiar seasonal thud, near-rupturing under the weight of raucous young passengers whose eyes glow with feverish holiday excitement and whose purses spill out with stocked-up summer savings. Business wear is swapped for bikinis and beach bottoms while bacon butties begin to stifle morning hunger as pasty Brits make their way towards the irresistible beat of beach music with fake tan in one hand and vodka in the other.
When dusk finally settles, a leopard faced man in a tophat starts to perch outside a high rise hotel clutching facepaint while nearby a Spanish traveller and his girlfriend dust themselves down with glitter outside a local supermarket before fervently beckoning party goers towards their golden dust, which at €20 a go resembles even real gold in price. Party shimmer wafts through the warm evening air, the buzz of daytime transforms into a nocturnal pumping of house music, bars fill with dolled up guests and bellies fill with beer as British flags wave amongst fans gesturing with intoxicated passion around football screens.
The evening sky finally darkens to black and the night brings with it the much anticipated midnight journeys to the renowned Pacha, Space and Amnesia. Inebriated crowds sway in unison around club tour buses, vomit flies across the occasional pavement while club doormen accept €70 entrance tickets with relish from stumbling clients. DJ’s work their trance charms, table dancers flaunt their flawless bodies, barmen impress with their cocktail juggling manoeuvres, coloured pills pass from person to person like tic-tacs and hedonistic clubbers enter a musical nirvana- the reality of Ibiza and its all intoxicating power is just as summer clubbers dream it to be.
Yet, as one peels away Ibiza’s celebrated glossy sheath of cocktails and crime, one may chance upon a secret thicker skin hidden between the shadows of moonlight fiestas and neon lights. Lying in silence like a dormant volcano preparing to unleash its once fiery core is an ancient cultural history greater even in strength than the tequila that slides down the throats of the island’s seasonal inhabitants each year.
Not merely a tourist hub of high rise buildings and seasonal partying, as one of Europe’s oldest settlements, Ibiza is also a rare cultural gemstone boasting thousand year old burial sites and ancient painted caves from the Talayotic people. Savouring the sun-kissed cradle of Ibiza’s rich natural resources, shepherds and mountain goat farmers became Ibiza’s first known settlers, inhabiting the island some 3500 years ago. Since then the toes of Pirates, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Muslim Arabs, Catholic Catalans, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, the Doors and the Rolling Stones have all grazed against the rough sand granules of its celestial shores.
645 years before Jesus Christ, Ibiza was already a buzzing centre of trade for Carthaginian merchants, who although lacking the golden party shimmer of today, were instead able to trade ‘white gold’- the pure white bounty of salty goodness sacrificed by the sea. Their famous general Hannibal was born and the island evolved into the fortified capital of Evissa.
Roman invasion came 500 years later and their rule would last another 500, their roads and advanced technology brought a wave of wealth and prosperity until the Byzantine empire of Greek origin added their warriors’ hands to the pie, laying claim to the island for a century to come before arab settlers instigated takeover. These Muslim Moorish arabs introduced innovative irrigation methods; for years they reaped the rewards of Iabissa’s [Ibiza’s] fertile land through rice, cotton, orange and olive farming, but by the 13th century their mosque was replaced with a cathedral and a bloody change of hands was to occur as the Catalans seized the island’s precious soils. The customs, language and religion of the Catalan people left lasting imprints on the island; even now, long after Spain’s invasion and victory, Catalan tradition has been carved into the crevices of Ibiza’s cultural canvas, shaping the way of life of present day locals.
Having undergone turbulent changes in civilization throughout its existence, by the 1950’s Ibiza became a land that welcomed immigrants of all descent. Gypsies, European travelers and free-thinkers congregated on the island, many sheltering from the dictatorship of Spanish General Franco in Ibiza’s cocoon of liberal thought and expression. Through revolution and revolt, it was these vagabonds and hippies of the 1950’s and 60’s who were to make Ibiza the night time land of dance and drink it is today. Free spirited bohemian artists, poets, writers and musicians swarmed the island, bringing wild sunset fiestas and a cultural renaissance inspired by doctrines of ‘peace and free-love’.
Thus, bathed in hippie limelight, the historic threads that make up Ibiza’s rich cultural tapestry were to be hidden behind alcohol and amnesia as the island experienced an explosion of seasonal tourism ignited by the freedom that cheap flights and package holidays had brought to mainstream holidaymakers.
A blessing or a curse- how has mass tourism affected the lives of Ibiza’s inhabitants? Drug trafficking and gang crime- is Ibiza’s seedy underside decaying its cultural core? Should more be done to protect Ibiza’s ancient cultural heritage or is tourism and the great prosperity it brings, the way forward?