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- Not to be confused with the Tunisian coastal town of Tabarka.
Tabarca (Valencian: [taˈβaɾka], Spanish: [taˈβarka], also known in Valencian as Nova Tabarca and Illa Plana, and in Spanish as Nueva Tabarca and Isla Plana), is an islet located in the Mediterranean Sea, close to the town of Santa Pola, in the province of Alicante, Valencian community, Spain. Tabarca is the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain and it is currently known for its marine reserve.
Despite being much more socially and economically related to the fishing port of Santa Pola, the tiny island of Tabarca is a part of the city of Alicante. Administratively, it is managed as a rural district of Alicante, jointly with el Palmeral, Aiguamarga and Urbanova.
The local census (2011) counted 68 inhabitants and its postal code is 03138.
The islet is 1,750 m (5,741 ft) long, with a maximum breadth of 300 m (984 ft) and absolutely flat. Almost next to the main islet lie the islets of la Nau, la Galera and la Cantera. It lies approximately 8 nautical miles (15 km) south southeast from Alicante and 5 nautical miles (9 km) east south east from Santa Pola.
It is worth mentioning the church and the walls in the west part of the island, which is the traditionally inhabited part. The houses are low and the only tall buildings are the church and the lighthouse.
The tiny island has become a popular day trip destination either from Alicante or Santa Pola, with its quiet fishing village offering an old fort, several fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clear turquoise water, several coves and tidal pools ideal for bathing.
Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau ('Saint Paul's Island') or Illa Plana ('Flat Island'). Believed to be the island that St. Paul disembarked on, the island was a refuge for Barbary pirates up to the end of the 18th century.
Its Tunisian fellow islet off the town of Tabarka was a part of the Republic of Genoa till 1741 when it was conquered by the Bey of Tunis. In 1760, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island. A group of Genoese sailors shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet off Tunisian Tabarka, were rescued and settled here. The islet was renamed Nova Tabarca ("New Tabarca" in both Catalan and Latin). Thus a settlement was created by royal edict on this uninhabited island which the North African corsaries had previously used as a platform for raids on the Levantine coast.
On their arrival, the Genoese were first moved to Alicante, where they provisionally lived in the Jesuit School, empty after the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain. Finally, the Genoese were moved to the island jointly with a Spanish garrison. The military engineer Fernando Méndez Ras planned a fortified town and walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were built. From 1770, the island was known as Nueva Tabarca ('New Tabarca').
Despite the fact that the Genoese assimilated and shifted their language into Valencian and, later on, Spanish (which are both the languages currently spoken on the islet), the Genoese descent of the settlers can still be noticed today in the surnames of Italian origin common on the islet.
The gateways are still visible and so are the Governor's House (currently a hotel) and the church of St Peter and St Paul, concluded in 1779.
In 1850 the governor and the garrison were removed. At the end of the 19th century, the island had a population of around 1,000 people mainly devoted to fishing. Nowadays, the permanent population is around 50, making Tabarca the smallest permanently inhabited Spanish island, although this number is multiplied by ten during the tourist season in summer.
The main activity of the local population is fishing, with the catch brought to Santa Pola's fish market, but tourism becomes the most important resource during summer, specially in July and August.
Tabarca is a protected marine reserve called Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca, declared a Zone of Special Protection for Birds by the EU, with a varied marine fauna (sea bass, grouper, conger eel, gilthead etc.). It is surrounded by very clear and unpolluted waters. The island is formed by materials of volcanic origin on top of which limestone and quaternary deposits have settled.
Tabarca was the last Spanish Mediterranean location where the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal successfully bred before it became extinct in this part of its range in the 1960s. This proves the high quality of the waters around the island in terms of marine ecology. Therefore waters around Tabarca were declared a Marine reserve in 1986, the first of its kind in Spain. This status was mainly granted due to its submarine posidonia prairie, which is the largest in the Spanish Mediterranean and has an extraordinary ecological value in terms of marine fauna and flora.
In order to both enhance the marine biodiversity and protect it from fishing, an artificial reef was laid near the island by the Marine Reserve authorities.
- Tabarca en Google Maps
- Official site of the Spanish Marine Reservations, including Tabarca (in Spanish).
- Tabarca insights, including details about the local food.
- Detailed site from the Alicante city council about Tabarca (in Spanish).
- Visit Tabarca