Maó is the local name for the capital but it is also known as Mahon in the Spanish language.
We have mentioned that this town boasts one of the largest natural ports in the world and probably the most beautiful. It has been the historical doorway for many civilizations, offering a natural refuge with deep anchorage opportunities and strategically placed in the middle of the Mediterranean.
3000 years ago the Phoenicians called it Maghen regarding it as a shell. Upon the arrival of the Carthaginians, the name was changed to Magon, duly named after General Magon, Hannibal's brother, who settled on the island around 205 B.C
The city grew with the coming of the Romans and with the presence of the Muslims the capital was shifted to Ciutadella. The episodes of invasions and rules reach its most dramatic moment in 1535, a year of grief, when the terrible pirate, Red Beard, ransacked and destroyed the city as well as capturing hundreds of its inhabitants, who were forced into slavery and sent to the north of Africa.
In spite of the raiders, famine and other scars, the city began to recover economically and Mao's urban development considerably increased throughout the following years, reaching its maximum splendour during the 18th century.
Whilst the British, French and Spanish were at war for the control of the city, the eagerness for such a treasured prize caused five changes in power. In the first British occupation in 1722, Maó was turned back into the administration capital, the harbour business flourished and the transit of fleets from all over the world became quite intense, allowing the growth of an important middle class in Maó. This is when the most outstanding buildings were raised and Maó acquired a glamorous personality, which can still be seen in its buildings today.
A stroll through its old city centre allows you to view the heritage of the 18th C. colonial style with the unique neoclassic town hall, Baroque elements and the red façade of the Guards lodge (Principal de Guardia); Other buildings of note are the religious buildings: Sant Francesc, El Carme or Santa Maria, the Main Theatre (one of the oldest opera houses in Spain) or the Convent of the San Francisco. More modern buildings include properties like Mir House or the astonishing town houses along Isabel II Street.
An interesting building is the fish market (Mercado del Pescado), built on top of an old bulwark dated from the 18th century. Daily fresh fish can be acquired here. Another beautiful building with a gastronomic feel is the Cloisters of Carmen (Clausters del Carme) , which has a superb fresh vegetable and food market.
Behind this market you will locate the Miranda Square (Plaza Miranda), which has a viewing point overlooking the harbour with a grandiose panorama.
After this encounter with the old town, why not pop down to the harbour side, you can visit the harbour boutiques, enjoy a coffee or meal in one of the variety of bars and restaurants or take a excursion around the port.