This city – as Alaior in Menorca deserves to be named since being awarded the title by Alfonso XII – was created at the expressed desire of another king, Jaume II of Majorca, in 1304, when the parish of Santa Eulària already existed and in order to group together the inhabitants scattered in the outlying area. A farmstead called Ihalor is documented as previously existing in the area, a name that is often used instead of its current one.
Throughout history it has always maintained its independence, almost always irrespective of the orders that Ciutadella or Maó tried to impose on it, settling for the tertiary position behind them in the never-ending battle for the role of leading city. It gained this independence, which it still defends, with its universitat institution founded in 1439, the title which for over three hundred years guaranteed its self-governing status at a municipal level.
It could be said that tourism entered the island via Alaior: the Cala’n Porter urbanisation was the first and that of Son Bou did not take long in filling the pages of the first travel brochures in which Menorca appeared. This priority activity is not very noticeable in the town centre, however, perhaps because some kilometres of almost unspoilt scenery separate it from its satellite urbanisations. In mentioning it, the outskirts of the town are great for bicycle trips, especially towards the north, where one of the spots worth visiting is the hermitage of Sant Llorenç de Binixems, a traditional destination of local processions.
The recent widening of the main road has hidden the image it once offered a little, but whoever enters Alaior from Maó can still take in the “everlasting” view of a hillside of houses crowned by their main temple of worship. The church of Santa Eulària dominates and imposes, built in the highest part of the town in order to gain respect and obedience, symbolic or otherwise, for the role it plays or played in the people’s lives. The first work dates from the 14th century, but there was a rebuilding process in the 17th century that corresponded to the Baroque details. A little gloomy inside, the outside dazzles in contrast, exposed to the sun that illuminates it, and the winds, but as solid and well ensconced as can be seen from some aspects of the building: the curious turrets on the main facade or the buttresses, reinforcing its castle-like aspect.
Sant Diego, a Franciscan church and convent, is another noteworthy building. Its ancient cloister, known as the Pati de la Lluna, or Moon courtyard, is especially beautiful, even with its separation into housing units (and steps are being taken to turn it into a public space of varied uses). The Can Salort building, full of character, currently houses a part of the UIB, the University of the Balearic Islands.
A detailed walk will enable you to discover not only the most obvious and immediate – the streets making up what has always been “the centre”, those closest to the Plaça Nova, the Carrer Major or the Town hall, with an imposing entrance – but also the views to be had from its historic boundaries. Close to the church is the Munt de l’Àngel, with its water tower competing with two old mills and square forming both a car park and viewpoint. It looks out to the south and the east and, further on, to the ravine broken up by orchards. This southerly view uncovers a blue horizon. Indeed, from Alaior you can see the sea.
Still in the urban north-east, another square shaded by pine trees, that of the hermitage of Sant Pere, marks the cemetery exit, with the Es Cós as the obligatory direction. On this walkway over another gradient, today facing the industrial estate, the galloping horse races of the festivals take place, and it is the last path in the town for the people of Alaior. The ledges on the stone walls that line it provide the public with a raised grandstand from which to view the equestrian competition.
Although the district is chiefly known for its connection with the tourist industry, and secondly for its footwear manufacturing – with world famous brands – its original link with the countryside and country chores has not been lost. The annual agricultural and livestock fair, with breed competitions and exhibitions of machinery, reflects the vitality of the dairy industry, directly linked to these sectors. The cheese manufacturers have modernised production methods and greatly enlarged their markets, and as all the brands provide produce of an unquestionable quality, buying this typically Menorcan product for your own consumption or as a souvenir or gift is highly recommended.