History of Majorca

It may be said that the history of Majorca (Mallorca) is as long as its coastline. Were it not for the 5,547km (3,439 miles) of coast, we can be very sure that the island's past, present and future would be very different. Majorca (Mallorca), like other major islands of the Mediterranean, has attracted a cornucopia of conquerors, invaders, settlers and tourists, who have all contributed to its richness and vital history.

The formation of the Baleares islands is assumed to have taken place around 150 million years ago. At first, Majorca (Mallorca) was joined to the peninsula as an underwater island. One hundred and fortynine million years later, more or less, its present configuration came into being. Scrub forests comprising pine, rosemary, wild olive, lentiscus and dwarf fan palms were the island's main vegetation. Rockrose and lavender predominated in the sierra.

The sparse vegetation supported only a few animals. The smallest were field mice and wood shrews; the largest, the civet cats. Birds, on the other hand, have always been plentiful. Even though their habitat is under constant threat, counting the migrators and a few indigenous species, they number today well over 2,000 species. But of all the non-human species on Majorca (Mallorca), it is only the pine tree which isn't in decline. As for home sapiens, the present population stands at 600,000, and is increasing at a frightening rate.

Rainfall on the island is slight, varying between 1,400mm (55in) in the mountains to only 300mm (11.8in) on the southern plain. The winds blow principally during the winter and spring, when they are predominantly out of the north (the Tramuntana) and the southwest (the Llebeix). The southeast Sirocco brings with it red sand from the deserts of Africa which, if nothing else, seriously irritates the island's clean-car owners.

Carthegenian CoinFor most Majorca (Mallorca)ns, history didn't really begin until the Catalans retook the island from the Moors in the 13th century. On the other hand, experts date the first islanders to between 1300 and 1000BC. Even though the earliest people obviously carried on primitive but active trade with others around the western Mediterranean, the quantity of arms found in their early dwellings shows that the island still had a long way to go before becoming the 'Island of the Calm'

Phonetian HeadstoneBecause of the location of the archipelago. the Balearic islands found themselves on the great trading routes that criss-crossed the Mediterranean Sea. Eivissa (Ibiza) became an important commercial center for first the Phoenicians, then the Carthaginian traders. While Majorca (Mallorca) played only a minor part in these 8th- and 7th-century cultures, there are references in classical texts to Majorca (Mallorca)n honderos (stone slingers) fighting for the Carthaginians in the Punic wars.

When the winners, the Romans, finally tired of the piracy that was rife in the Baleares, they organised an expedition to conquer and settle Majorca (Mallorca). in 123BC Quinto Cecilio Metelo conquered the island, and for five and a half centuries Majorca (Mallorca) was subject to the vicissitudes of Roman history. Historians believe that at the time there were two major centers. Pollentia (beside Alcudia) and Palma. After a few centuries more of 'ups and downs' under the successive domination of the Vandals and the Byzantines, the Muslims began 200 years of attacks on the island at the beginning of the 8th century. In 902 the entire archipelago was annexed to the Emirate of Cordoba.

While Roman culture probably had the greatest impact on Majorca (Mallorca)n social patterns, the influence of the Moors was responsible for important advances in the island's agriculture, along with development of the island's crafts and commerce. It is also easy to pinpoint the Moorish contribution to the island's folklore, language and cuisine

Jaume I, the conqueror 

King Jaume IIt was the Majorca (Mallorca)n Moors' plundering of Catalan boats that finally provoked King Jaume I to plan the overthrow of the island. At the end of the year I229, 15,000 men with ],500 horses aboard 155 ships set sail from Salou, in Tarragona. Bloody details aside, Jaume I, the Conqueror, annexed the island to his Kingdom of Aragon. The monarch then subdivided this newly enlarged kingdom between his two sons - the younger, Jaume, got Majorca (Mallorca).

Jaume II's domination of Majorca (Mallorca) lasted only a brief period. As an independenBellver Castlet Kingdom, from 1276 to 1344, the island lived through what the historians call a 'Golden Age'. Jaume's reign saw a flowering of the island's agriculture, industry and navigation A number of new villages were founded. coins were minted, Bellver Castle was built. ln addition, the Almudaina was transformed into a splendid Gothic palace and the building of the Convent of Sant Francese was begun. It was also the time of the Majorca (Mallorca)n philosopher and scientist Ramon Llull.

But the Catalans were not happy about Majorca (Mallorca)'s independent successes. In 1344 they resorted to brute force, reincorporating the islands definitively into the Kingdom of Aragon. At the end of the 15th century, the Baleares were united with the Kingdom of Spain as part of the political union of Castile and Aragon.

During the following centuries, Majorca (Mallorca)n villagers were at odds with their neighbours in the city. Sometimes they displayed their rancor by bad-mouthing their foes, while at other times there was bloodshed. A series of uprisings in the 16th century were caused by popular discontent against the nobility. Meanwhile, plague was rampaging through Europe, decimating populations, including thousands of Majorca (Mallorca)ns.

War of SuccessionSpain's first civil war took place in the following century. Called the 'War of Succession' because it would determine who would succeed the heirless king, it had great repercussions on Majorca (Mallorca). Until this point the Austrian dynasty, the Habsburgs, had allowed Majorca (Mallorca) a state of semi-autonomy. The possibility of a French Bourbon king acceding, with ideas of an 'absolute' monarchy; divided the population of the island to such an extent that even now historians aren't sure exactly who supported whom.

However, when, in 1700, Felipe V finally ascended to the Spanish throne, the Majorca (Mallorca)ns gave him their approval. The Grand and General Council was replaced Felipe Vby an 'Audience' supervised by a Captain General of the King's troops, and the use of Castilian (the Spanish language) was made obligatory for all public and official transactions.

The next chapter in Majorca (Mallorca)'s history was, if not fun, at least romantic. The island lived in constant fear of pirate attacks from North Africa. In response, several generations of notable Majorca (Mallorca)n sailors were given permission by the king to 'defend' their homeland. Needless to say, the license - the patente de corso - proved enormously beneficial.

The most famous of the corsairs (named after this license) was Captain Antoni Barcelo, who eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant General of the Spanish Armada by such acts as renting ships to the navy whenever it was short of sea power.

Another famous personage from the same era was the Majorca (Mallorca)Fray Junipero Serran missionary Fray Junipero Serra. Born in the tiny island village of Petra, Serra travelled considerably further than Barcelo. In fact, without the Majorca (Mallorca)n missionary, San Francisco and many other Californian cities might not exist today

The Napoleonic wars, at the beginning of the 19th century. put a damper on the heady days of previous decades. Catalan refugees poured into Majorca (Mallorca), causing both social and economic unrest among the islanders. But the same century also saw the birth of the bourgeoisie and its impulse for social change. Communications with the peninsula were installed. shipping lines to exploit trade with the Indies were established, the broad, marshy plain near Palma was pumped dry and the land reclaimed for agricultural purposes. the railway was built and a timid regionalism emerged with the renewed use of the Catalan language.

But the end of the century saw another falling of local economic fortunes. The phylloxera did away with the island's booming wine business and the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as colonies put an abrupt halt to much of the local shipbuilding. Many of the islanders, seeing the writing on the wall (and the lack of food in the pantry), emigrated to the peninsula and America.Antoni Maura

The first half of the 2Oth century on Majorca (Mallorca) was dominated by two men, the politician Antoni Maura and the financier Joan March. Maura, the leader of the conservative party, spent all of his political life in Madrid. but never lost the loyal support of his fellow islanders.

Joan MarchThe life of Joan March Ordinas was the archetypal 'from rags to riches' story. Born in a Majorca (Mallorca)n village at a time of strong class prejudices on the part of the ruling elite, he became not only the richest man in Spain, but was considered the third richest man in the world (after John Paul Getty and Howard Hughes)Franco

The Majorca (Mallorca)ns continued into the third decade of this century much as they had left the 1800s - provincial, extremely religious and politically conservative With the governing classes firmly on the side of Francisco. Franco from the very beginning, the islands saw little violence during the Spanish Civil War. During the dictatorship, the political situation in the islands was the same as that on the peninsula. It wasn't until the 1960s and the arrival of tourism that Majorca (Mallorca) began to dismantle her traditional way of life. In 1975, with the death of Franco. the island began the work of recovering it's autonomy and cultural identity In 1978, the new Spanish Constitution sanctioned the creation of the provincial government which exists today.

The language Issue

CatalanBeing islanders, the Majorca (Mallorca)ns have withstood a long history of invasions by nearly everyone who could reach their coastline. As the result of invasions they have become defensive and nationalistic. But they have also learned the advantages of trade. Trade has made them a little Phoenician themselves. They have learned to accommodate their 'visitors' while accommodating themselves.

In regards to their language, Majorca (Mallorca)ns divide themselves into three groups: pro-Catalan, anti-Catalan and the so-called 'No/NRs' (No Opinion/No Response ). The third group is by far the largest (and obviously the most reticent). The pro-Catalanists seem to want a tight union with Catalunya, with which they share their Language. Many among them spent time either in jail or in exile during the Franco years.

They express their wishes at linguistic conferences, demanding more T.V programming in the Catalan language and providing funds for events which promote their language and its culture. The opposition the - anti-Catalanists- have little power to respond; they have resorted to vandalizing Catalan signs and, recently, blowing up the receiving station for the Catalan language TV3.

Because the Calalan language was banned for many years, virtually everyone on Majorca (Mallorca) speaks Castilian. In fact, many of those who did their schooling under Franco's rule have difficulty reading and writing in the local language. Consequently, none of Majorca (Mallorca)'s five daily newspapers is written in Catalan.Catalan

Although the Majorca (Mallorca)ns in general are in agreement regarding the necessity of using and promoting their language, they are deeply divided over what to do about the exploitation of another resource - the island itself. Again, the 'silent majority' is, by far, the largest player in the arena. The others are polarised between maintaining the incredible pace of growth which Majorca (Mallorca) has enjoined over the past 20 years, or facing the reality that times are changing and the goose that laid the golden egg is being squeezed too hard. The big money is on 'continuing growth' while the ecologists are on the other side of the ring. The people who have been enticed to Majorca (Mallorca) are realising that those who attracted them are turning 'La lsla de la Calma' into a jungle of noise and concrete. At the moment there is a stalemate.


Compared to the French or the English, Majorca (Mallorca)ns appear extremely sociable. They are quite happy to chat with a stranger in a bar. They will greet everyone upon entering and bid everyone goodbye when they leave. They are answered by a chorus of 'Bon dia !' from everyone within hearing range. They seem genuinely delighted if a foreigner speaks to them in either of their two languages. But to really get to know one is quite difficult.

Tourism in MajorcaA tradition of hospitality has developed from literally centuries of subjection to all races of invaders and, now, to tourists. But the Majorca (Mallorca)ns expect something in return for this hospitality. They want to make a living.

Where is Majorca (Mallorca) going from here? For the first time in recent history almost everyone agrees that growth cannot continue at its present rate. People talk about 'high-class tourism' without mention of the areas beyond repair. And since it is far easier to build on Majorca (Mallorca) than to tear down, the island may end up with ghost towns bleaching in the summer sun. Our bet is that the island will go on much the way it is today. The worst of the construction will fall into disuse (and hopefully be torn down), expansion will trickle to a halt and everyone will have time to take a long hard look at the island's recent past for guidance to its future.

Historical Highlights

  • 1300-1000 BC  - Height of the Talayuiic culture Warring tribes carry on primitive trade around the eastern Mediterranean.
  • 700-145 - Baleares dominated by Phoentians then Carthaginians.
  • 123 - Majorca (Mallorca) conquered by Quinto Cecilio Metelo, the Baleares join the Roman Empire. The islands are Christianised in the 2nd century AD.
  • 426 AD - Vandals devastate the islands and persecute Christians.
  • 534 - The Christian religion is restored by the Byzantines.
  • 707 - First Muslim attack on the Baleares.
  • 902 - The Baleares are annexed to the Emirate of Cordoba.
  • 1015 - Majorca (Mallorca) is annexed to another Muslim 'kingdom', the 'Taifa of Denia'.
  • 1087-1114 - Majorca (Mallorca) becomes an independent taifa.
  • 1114 - A group of Pisa-Catalans manage to conquer Eivissa and Majorca (Mallorca). The siege of Palma lasts eight months. After the city is defeated and sacked, the invaders go home.
  • 1115-1203 - The Almoravides, a tribe from North Africa, arrive to help the Majorca (Mallorca)n Muslims and stay on to occupy the island. The island experiences a period of prosperity. The Almoravides' dominion extends to all of the island and to Tunisia and Tripolitania.
  • 1203-1229 - The Baleares fall into the hands of Almohadian tribes from Algeria and Denia. Political instability allows the reconquest of MalIorca by the Catalans.
  • 1229 - Catalan King Jaume I of Aragon occupies and conquers Majorca (Mallorca) on 31 Dccember, after three months of fighting.
  • 1235-1315 - Life of Majorca (Mallorca)n philosopher and scientist. Ramon Llull.
  • 1276 - Death of Jaume I and creation of the independent Kingdom of Majorca (Mallorca), ruled by, Jaume II.
  • 1285 - First attempt by the Catalans to recover the Kingdom of Majorca (Mallorca) by force. Later expedition returned by order of the Pope. Two years later Menorca is incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon by King Alfons III.
  • 1291 - Jaume II of Aragon returns the Baleares, including Menorca, to his uncle, Jaume II of Majorca (Mallorca).
  • 1312-24 - Reign of King Sanc, son of Jaume II of Majorca (Mallorca).
  • 1324-44 - Reign of King Jaume III of Majorca (Mallorca), bringing economic prosperity. Palma is one of the richest cities in the Mediterranean.
  • 1344 - Troops of Pere IV of Aragon invade and reincorporate the three islands into the Kingdom of Aragon.
  • 1349 - Jaume III tries to recover the Kingdom of Majorca (Mallorca) and dies in the Battle of Llucmajor.
  • 1479 - Kingdom of Espana formed by uniting the Kingdom of Castilla and the Kingdom of Aragon, including Majorca (Mallorca).
  • 1700 - Felipe de Bourb6n ascends to the throne. Beginning of the War of Succession.
  • 1715 - Troops loyal to Felipe V arrive. The law of the Nueva Planta is decreed. Three years later the Gran i General Consell is dissolved.
  • 1713-84 - Life and times of Fray Junipero Serra, founder of the missions of California.
  • 1785 - Treaty of Algiers signed, ending piracy while establishing the Majorca (Mallorca)n 'corsairs'.
  • 1808-13 - The War of Independence against the invading troops of Napoleon. Many refugees arrive on Majorca (Mallorca), provoking social tension.
  • 1820-22 - Massive emigration to Algeria and South America.
  • 1837 - First regular steamship line between Majorca (Mallorca) and the peninsula.
  • 1879-98 - The years of the 'gold fever'. Period of prosperity thank to the wine and almond trade. Ends with arrival of the phylloxera and loss of Spain`s last colonies.
  • 1935-9 - Spanish Civil War.
  • 1939-75 - Dictatorship of Franco.
  • 1978 - Approval of new Spanish Constitution, which opens the doorway to the creation of 'autonomies'.
  • 1983 - Approval of the Statutes of Autonomy for the Baleares; First election held shortly thereafter.

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