The huge T-shaped stone towers in Menorca, whose height exceeds 5 meters, gave rise to the legend that they were built by giants 2500 years ago.
I went to Menorca to walk the famous one along the Cami de Cavalls coastal path and swim in its neon blue waters. When I arrived, I knew nothing of the island’s rich archaeological heritage, but it was everywhere I looked.
Menorca has one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric monuments in the world (several of which considered for inclusion to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2023), and there were megalithic stone monuments standing at crossroads and in green fields).
As I walked, I passed giant T-shaped structures called ” taulas » (tables). They are taller than human height and made of colossal stone slabs that shone under the bright Spanish sun. When I learned that these tables gave rise to legends about giants living on the island, I began to wonder who actually built them, how they were made, and what they were used for.
Although Menorca is known for its beaches and coves, the island also has a rich archaeological heritage (Image copyright Gaizka Portillo Benito/Getty Images)
I spoke with archaeologists Christina Bravo and Irene Riudavec to unlock the secrets of the stones. They met during excavations, founded Nurarq (a company for the promotion of Menorca’s cultural heritage) and now divide their time between archaeological research and excursions. Riudavec told me that the taulas, which are only found in Menorca, were built around 2,500 years ago by the mysterious civilization of the Talayots, prehistoric people who settled on the island in the Bronze Age.
No one in the past could understand who could build taulas because it seems impossible. That is why legends have come down to us that taulas are tables for giants
“Nobody in the past could figure out who could have built the tauls because it doesn’t seem possible,” Bravo told me. “That’s why there are legends that tauls are tables for giants.”
She explained that each of the two boulders that make up the taula can reach 5 meters and weigh up to 13 tons. A large slab was used as a vertical base and a second ‘capstone’ was balanced across it to form the top of the ‘table’.
According to Bravo, the Talayota people used tree trunks to transport huge stones, creating mounds of earth as a form of scaffolding as they lifted them into place. They didn’t bother with mortar or binders, instead using something called the “cyclopean technique,” which basically means stacking dry stones together. “Even the technical term for archeology is about giants,” Riudavec said, and as she spoke I imagined one-eyed monsters cutting through huge rocks.
Menorca has nearly 1,600 archaeological sites, more per square kilometer than anywhere else in the Mediterranean (Image credit: Hans Georg Roth)
I asked her why she was so fascinated by this culture. “Because even though they were on this small island, surrounded by other Mediterranean cultures, the Talayot people maintained their own strong identity and created completely new forms of buildings … that are monumental and unique,” she said.
What I learned about the Talayot culture from the archaeologists only increased my curiosity. These people occupied only two Balearic Islands (Menorca and Mallorca) and did not seem interested in expansionism at a time when the Greeks and Carthaginians were actively colonizing everything they could, including nearby Ibiza.
They were also odd: Despite living so close to the sea, they didn’t eat fish, Bravo told me. And even though they knew about the potter’s wheel from their encounters with other cultures (the wheel was widely used in other Mediterranean cultures at the time), they did not adopt it, choosing instead to continue making pottery by hand.
They also built ancient “skyscrapers” – dome-shaped watchtowers, which are called talayots , which reached 12 meters in height – and created funeral chambers with a view of the sea. However, much about them remains a mystery, including, importantly, the exact purpose of the tauls , the very structures that make this civilization distinct.
Over 100 burial caves have been cut into the rocks in the Coves of Cales (Image credit: LJ Coffey)
One of the reasons we know so little is that the Talayots left no written records. However, thanks to an ancient Greek historian named Diodorus Siculus, who wrote about them in his 40-volume epic Bibliotheca Historica between 60 and 30 BC. “They were taught by their mother by putting a loaf of bread on a branch … until they could hit it with a rock, they couldn’t eat that day,” Bravo said. Thus motivated, “they became very accurate, very quickly.”
Sometimes these soldiers were hired as mercenaries; the Carthaginians hired them to fight the Greeks. But although Diodorus records this and also notes that they spent their wages on wine and women, his writings shed no light on the mystery of the taula.
One day, while cycling to my favorite swimming bay, I stopped at Binissafullet, a Talayot settlement in the southeast of the island, which is right next to the main road. I drove by almost every day of my trip and noticed how the sun lit up the taula at different times of the day, turning it from honey to gold. It is one of only seven tauls that still exist on the island, but we know that there were originally at least 32, possibly more, and are believed to have been used for religious purposes. (“All archaeologists agree that statues of gods, altars, and other objects related only to ritual purposes were excavated near tauls,” Riduavec said.)
Every Talayot village had at least one horse-shoe-shaped temple or shrine with a taula located in the center. “Many people think that [таули] were in the open air, but our excavations found evidence that these sanctuaries were covered. The ceilings were made of debris, branches and compacted clay,” Riudavec explained.
The Talayot settlement of Binissafullet is located in the southeast of the island (Image credit: LJ Coffey)
She and Bravo fully excavated one of these sanctuaries at a site called Kudia Cremada, near the capital city of Mahon, in the south of the island, and they spent a lot of time thinking about the taul’s purpose. “We started thinking about symbolism,” Bravo said. – What was the T-shape for? Does it have a symbolic function? Was it just an architectural function?”
Although it was previously thought that the T-shape might represent Tanith, the Carthaginian goddess adopted by the Talayots, this hypothesis has fallen out of favor with modern researchers. In 2020, Riudavets published an article , in which she proposed a new theory: she and her co-authors believe it may represent a closed door to the world of the gods, with a huge vertical slab blocking what might be a doorway, thus indicating that humans cannot pass. by. “But the gods they can pass through it and be with you during the rituals that take place in the sanctuary,” Bravo said.
Menorca was and remains a sacred and magical island. For the people of Menorca, talayotic fences and taulas are relics of their ancestral past
While the exact meaning of tauls may have been lost over time, their spiritual energy is still powerful today, says Luis Montero, a Menorca native and holistic therapist who runs center in Mahon. Montero believes they were “primarily a symbol of divinity” and meditates regularly, apart from the taula at Binissafulle.
In Torre den Galmes, archaeologists have restored Talayotic round houses (Photo: Ivanvieito/Getty Images)
“Menorca was and still is a sacred and magical island,” he told me, explaining that he had developed a new system of deep energy work based on talayotic energies that he said works like reiki to promote healing. “For the people of Menorca, talayotic fences and taulas are relics of their ancestral past and they hold them in high esteem,” Montero said. “On certain full moons, some locals still make sacrifices.”
As I climbed the hill near section 16 of the Cami de Cavals route between Alayor and Son Bou in the south of the island, it became clear why the Talayot people chose to locate their largest village, Torre den Galmes, here. The observation deck offers a view of the southern coast, which is important for watching the invaders. I walked around the remains of the three talayots at the top and left some flowers in the corner of the shrine up here as an offering to the unknown gods.
On the lower southern slopes of the hill were Talayot round houses, which have been restored by archaeologists. According to Riduavets, the total population here was between 200 and 300 people, and the settlement had a complex fresh water collection system, created from a series of cisterns of various sizes carved into the rock.
If the island is granted World Heritage status this year, it will unlock more funding for much-needed research that could help unlock some of the taul’s mysteries.
It would also be a boon for cultural tourism, encouraging new visitors to explore this beautiful island with its unique archaeological heritage.