Isla de Tabarca

Once a pirate base, and later a refuge for freed prisoners from another island, the Isla de Tabarca is now a popular day trip for tourists from the Costa Blanca coast, Lying 3 miles off the Cape of Santa Pola and administered by Alicante City, it is the only inhabited island in the Valencia region. The boat trip from Alicante is around an hour and, from Santa Pola, some 30 minutes.
The 1,800 x 400 metre island forms part of the archipelago to which it gives its name, and was known by the Romans as ‘flat’ island, a name which is, indeed, still sometimes used today as ‘Isla Plana’. Its highest point is just 15 metres above sea level.

Berber pirates used it as a base for their assaults on the Valencia coast, and it was in the late 18th Century that King Carlos III decided to put an end to the problem by ordering a fortified town to be built on the island. Many of those constructions can still be seen today, built with materials from a nearby islet to the west of the island which is now known as ‘La Cantera’ – ‘The Quarry’: the defensive San José tower, the town walls, and the gateways of San Gabriel, San Miguel and San Rafael. The governor’s house – the Casa del Gobernador – is now a hotel. The island’s church was built at the same time and the lighthouse, on the eastern-most tip, during the late 19th Century.

It was also around this time that the King intervened to rescue Genoese fishermen taken prisoner when their island off the coast of Tunisia was taken by the King of Algeria in 1756. He secured their release two years later, and the 69 families were brought to Alicante. They were moved on to the island then known as ‘San Pablo’, which was rechristened the Isla de Nueva Tabarca, in honour of the freed prisoners’ original home, the island of Tabarka.

The Genoese origin is reflected in the surnames of some of those who live on the island today: Chacopino, Salieto, Luchoro …..
The island now only has a registered population of 170, and, according to ABC newspaper, it was not until 1984 that running water was supplied, with electric light coming just ten years ago. The situation led many inhabitants to move off the island to the mainland.

Tabarca was officially declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1964 and the island and its surrounding waters also hold the honour of the first ever marine reserve to be named in Spain. That came in 1986.

There’s a marine cave with stalactites, navigable by small boats, which lies on the south of la Isla de Tabarca extending for some 100 metres beneath the island’s surface: the Cova del Lllop Marí – sea lion cave. It’s said to hide buried treasure and another legend tells the tale of two sea lions who took shelter in the cave as the mother prepared to give birth to their cub.

Struck by fear, the mother went into early labour when fishermen surprised the pair inside the cave on a night of the full moon, and gave birth to a stillborn cub. She died of sadness and her mate died from loneliness after roaring out his rage and pain for three long days across the island.

It is said his cries can still be heard today from as far away as Santa Pola on the nights when the moon is full in the sky.


Headline: Isla de Tabarca
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Publisher: US