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Municipality of Mahón

Mahón (the Catalan name Maó is the official form, and often known as Port Mahon in English), is a municipality and the capital city of the Balearic Island of Minorca (the Balearic Islands form an autonomous Spanish community), located in the eastern part of the island. Mahon has the second deepest natural harbour in the world, 5 km long and up to 900m wide. The water is deep but it remains very clear.

Its population in 2009 is roughly 29,495.[1]



The name's origin is attributed to the Carthaginian general Mago Barca, brother to Hannibal, who is thought to have taken refuge there in 205 BC.

Mahon was captured in 1287 from the Moors by Alfonso III of Aragon and incorporated into the Kingdom of Majorca, a vassal kingdom of the Kingdom of Aragon. Its harbour, one of the most strategically important in the western Mediterranean, was re-fortified.


British rule

Minorca was captured by the British during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1708, and its status as a British possession was confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During the island's years as a British dependency in the 18th century, Mahon served as its capital and residence for the governor, the most famous being General Richard Kane (references to General Kane as "Sir" are erroneous; he was never knighted[2] ).

The island changed hands several times during the eighteenth century, with France and Spain both capturing it. In 1783 the Peace of Paris returned the town to control of the Spanish but it was occupied for a final time by the British during the Capture of Minorca in 1798 before being returned to Spain for good in 1802.

Modern era

Historic centre of Mahon

Today it serves as the seat of the Island Council of Minorca (Consell Insular de Menorca).

Towards the end of the 20th century, a refurbishment of its historic centre was made possible by income from tourism.

A traditional cheese made on the island (Queso de Mahón) is named after the city. Some believe that the origin and name of mayonnaise are found in this Minorcan city[3]. In Spanish mahón is also the name of nankeen, especially the blue cloth.

In Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series the city plays a large part. One of the two main characters, Stephen Maturin, is an Irish–Catalan.

Spelling controversy

There is some debate over what the correct spelling of the city's name in English should be; due to the general tendency in English to ignore accents in foreign words, many dictionaries refer to the city by an adaptation (Mahon) of its Spanish name (Mahón), while many other sources vouch for using the Catalan spelling (Maó) in English-language publications.

Traditional coat of arms of Mahon

Related to this, there is controversy around the correct official toponomy: (Maó) is the proper form according to Catalan orthography and approved by local, regional and national government, but (Mahón), is preferred by some conservatist sectors. Some also prefer the old Catalan spelling (Mahó). The Catalan is itself subject to regional sub-dialects, with each of the Balearic islands having its own variations.


  1. ^ The World Gazetteer
  2. ^ Sloss, Janet (1995). Richard Kane Governor of Minorca. The Bonaventura Press. ISBN 0-9508153-6-5.  
  3. ^ A Small Affair - French Menorca (1756 - 1763)

External links

Coordinates: 39°53′21″N 4°15′49″E / 39.8892°N 4.2637°E / 39.8892; 4.2637


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