Isla de Tabarca

Isla de Tabarca, Spain | C.1760

Photo Credit: Carla Sifer

Eleven nautical miles offshore of Alicante, Spain, Isla de Tabarca is a small islet in the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout history, it has been a place of refuge, at times serving as a hideout for pirates and a rescue for shipwrecked sailors. The only inhabited island in the Valencian Community, it is now known for its marine reserve and visits to the island are only made by a 40 minute ride by ferry or private boat.

With historic origins dating back to the Roman era, Tabarca is believed to the island where St. Paul the Apostle disembarked. For centuries it was known as Illa de Sant Pau or “Saint Paul’s Island”. Up until the end of the 18th century, Tabarca was also a refuge for Barbary pirates, the notorious pirates that operated off the coast of North Africa.

In 1760, King Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification of the island. Years later, a group of Genoese sailors, having been enslaved by the Bey of Tunis, shipwrecked near its coast. The sailors were rescued and relocated to live among Tabarca’s fortified walls, Spanish garrison, and barracks. In 1770, the island was renamed and known as Nueva Tabarca, or New Tabarca.

In 1850, the island’s governor and garrison were removed. The Governor’s House still remains on the island and is now used as a hotel. Towards the end of the 19th century, the island’s population tallied in around 1,000 people. Today, it has around 50 year-round residents, making it the smallest permanently inhabited island in Spain.

While tourism presently drives the island’s economy, fishing remains a favorite activity for the local population. The island, which is actually a small archipelago comprising the islets of La Cantera, La Galera, and La Nao, is rich with coves and beaches met with crystal-clear waters. In 1983, it was officially declared a marine reserve

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