MALLORCA. Backdrop of Mediterranean landscapes


The main theory upheld since the 1970s until the present day has been that the first human occupation of Mallorca dated back to around the year 4000 BC. It was argued that small communities lived on the island and hunted the so-called Myotragus balearicus (Balearic cave goat). Recently however, this hypothesis has been challenged and the new, alternative theory recognises the first occupation at around just 2700-2500 BC.

The Pre-Talayotic period took place in the Balearic Islands between 2500 and 1400 BC. The population consisted of groups of men who inhabited caves and rudimentary constructions, practising agriculture and rearing cattle. The most distinguishing feature of this period are the artificial burial caves. The Talayotic period is placed between 1400 and 123 BC. The most representative element, known as talayot, is a cyclopean construction that varied in style and was used for differing purposes. It was around 1000 BC when the Talayotic settlements appeared - great sites that could encompass several talayots and many rooms. Shortly before the year 800 BC, the first iron and Punic ceramic objects could be found demonstrating the presence of a relationship between the closest, advanced Mediterranean cultures.

The final centuries of the Talayotic period are characterised by an increase in trade with the powers of the Mediterranean. This is particularly discernible in the findings of classic ceramics and the participation of the Balearic honderos (catapulters) as mercenaries in the Carthaginian armies.


Classic History and the Early Middle Ages

The Roman period in the Balearic Islands started with the expedition of Quinto Cecilio Metelo, the Roman general who conquered Mallorca and Menorca in the year 123 BC. The main known Mallorcan towns would have been Pol·lentia and Palma.

Christianity was consolidated throughout the 4th century and it was then that the dioceses of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza were created. With the crisis and subsequent disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, Mallorca passed to the hands of the Vandals in the year 455. This period did not endure, given that in 534, the Islands became part of the Byzantine Empire. But this new phase did not consolidate either, and as of 624, when Byzantine possessions were lost to Hispania Baetica, the Islands constituted a marginal territory that was difficult to defend.

The Muslim conquest took place in 902. An expedition under the orders of Isam al-Jawlani took control of the Balearic Islands and they became part of the political and administrative structures of the Emirate and later the Caliphate of Córdoba. It brought the urban area together and the old Roman Palma was reconstructed under the name Madina Mayurqa. With the fall of the Caliphate, the Balearic Islands went on to depend on the Taifa kingdom of Denia (1010-1077) for the majority of the 11th century. When Denia lost its power, the Islands formed a sovereign taifa (muslim-ruled independent principality). This short independent period would end with the Pisan-Catalan expedition in 1114-1115.

The following period was characterised by the power and expansionism of the Banu Ghaniya indigenous dynasty, which managed to control a part of North Africa against the emerging power of the Almohads. The Almohads defeated and dominated the Islands in 1203. Nevertheless, their defeat at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) marked the start of the Islamic decline which would become definitive in the Islands with the Catalan conquest by James I, the King of Aragon and the Count of Barcelona.

Medieval history

The Catalan conquest and afforestation resulted in the establishment of the feudal system, Christian religion and Catalan language and culture. The conquest process began with the integration of Mallorca into the Catalan-Aragonese Crown in the years 1229-1230 under the direction of James I and the main Catalan magnates. The change brought about by the conquest was colossal. The Muslim population left Mallorca or were enslaved. The distribution of conquered land created the organisation of a feudal hierarchy, with the king and his magnates in the leading ranks.

1249 witnessed the creation of one of the fundamental institutions of medieval Mallorca: The University of the City and the Kingdom of Mallorca, an important organisation in local administration. When James I died in 1276, the Crown of Aragon was divided between the Conquerer's two sons, and the Kingdom of Mallorca was created, with James II of Mallorca as the reigning king. As well as the Islands, his reign also covered the north-Catalan counties, the most significant of which were Roussillon and Cerdanya, together with the lordship of Montpellier and other, smaller possessions.

In 1279, as a result of the unrest created by this division, James II of Mallorca had to submit to the fiefdom of his brother, Peter the Great, King of Aragon. In 1285 his son Alfonso the Liberal incorporated Mallorca into the Catalan-Aragonese Crown. In 1298 King James II of Aragon returned the islands he owned in the Kingdom of Mallorca to his uncle James II of Mallorca. In 1315 King Sancho, the son and successor of James II of Mallorca, consolidated the Gran i General Consell (Great and General Council) , Mallorca's representative assembly.

The Kingdom of Mallorca disappeared between 1343 and 1349. In 1343 the King of Aragon, Peter the Ceremonious, assumed power of the Balearic Islands and subsequently annexed possessions on the mainland. In 1349, James III of Mallorca sold the Lordship of Montpellier to the French to create an army and invade Mallorca. The expedition was a failure and the Mallorcan king died fighting in the Battle of Llucmajor.

In the Late Middle Ages, Mallorca was shaken by significant uprisings. The first took place in 1391, with the storming of the Call, the Jewish quarter of Palma, in a wave of anti-Semitism that would eventually lead to the forced conversion of the Mallorcan Jewish community to Christianity in 1435. The second came in the form of the Aixecament Forà (peasant uprising) between 1450 and 1452, a milestone in the fight of the rural population against the city's centralism and tax abuses. But the most important social uprising witnessed in Mallorca was that of the Germanies (Brotherhoods), between 1521 and 1523: artisans and rural folk fought together to abolish the huge tax burden imposed on the working classes. They held the power in Mallorca until their defeat by the armies of Charles V.

During the 16th century, raids by Turkish and Barbarian corsairs would pose a constant threat. The coastal watchtowers constituted one of the most spectacular vestiges of the defence plan of this period and later centuries.

Recent history

The 17th century represented the culmination of the reacción señorial (noble reaction) that confirmed the privileges and wealth of the landowning nobility. It was also a century with serious struggles between the different sides that fought for power. The Baroque period prevails as an architectural and artistic style with important buildings, particularly churches and houses belonging to the nobility or wealthier classes.

In 1652, Mallorca suffered a terrible epidemic of the bubonic plague which would upset the balance of the population. The Inquisition enforced several acts of faith, the hardest of which took place in 1691, when 37 people were sentenced to death, accused of professing the Jewish faith.

The 18th century began with the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1715). War broke out amongst the supporters of the Archduke Charles of Austria and Phillip of Anjou, and Phillip triumphed to become Phillip V of Spain. An important consequence was the enactment of the Nueva Planta Decree in 1715, removing the secular institutions of the Kingdom of Mallorca and regulating a new centralised, institutional and administrative regime, as well as establishing the official use of Castilian Spanish. At the turn of the century, the opening of trade with America and the creation of the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País (Economic Societies of Friends of the Country) (1778) an Enlightenment organisation that promoted the introduction of new crops and plans, would revitalise the island's economy.

The Spanish War of Independence (1808-14) resulted in the arrival of large numbers of men exiled from the peninsular lands, and a huge contingent of French prisoners who suffered terribly on the island of Cabrera. The enactment of the Constitution of Cádiz stimulated disputes between absolutists and liberals. One of the consequences of these disputes was the shaping of Carlism, the most fundamentalist option, deeply-rooted in the Islands' rural areas. In 1833, the province of the Balearic Islands was created and the name "the Kingdom of Mallorca" would disappear forever.

The 19th century witnessed a degree of modernisation in the island society and significant economic changes took place. Foreign trade started operating when new markets opened and domestic trade improved with the creation of new transport links, such as the opening of the first railway line in 1875, between Palma and Inca. This budding industrialisation affected the agricultural processing, fabric and shoe industries.

It also represented a time when a substantial number of workers came to own their own property, due to the division process of the large landowner's estates. The workers movement, in its embryonic phase, was founded during the Glorious Revolution (1868-74) and the start of this era witnessed the fall of the monarch Isabella II. The Bourbon Restoration of 1875 brought with it a period of strong despotism and saw the shifting back and forth of power between the conservatives and liberals. Economic activism declined at the end of the century, with the grapevine phylloxera crisis and the disappearance of colonial markets (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines).

The structure of the economy during the first half of the 20th century was diversified, but it was still dominated by the primary sector which generated a meagre level of income. The lack of expectation and the progressively increasing population caused migratory movement that would continue until the fifties. At the same time, new doors were being opened: in 1903, the Grand Hotel was unveiled in Palma, a true modernist gem, and in 1905, the Mallorca Tourist Board was established, precursors of the first wave of tourists.

The Second Spanish Republic, enacted in 1931, brought about a far-reaching restructure of political forces and the rise of the workers' movement. Proceedings to achieve a certain level of self-government were weak and only one Statute of Autonomy project was approved. The military uprising against the Republic on 19 July 1936, triumphed in Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The Spanish Civil War broke up the left-wing forces and the workers movement, applying a hard-hitting repression. The institutional and public use of the Catalan language was also forbidden.

After the first post-war years had passed by in hard and isolated conditions, the markets returned to the pre-1936 level. At the end of the 50s and early 60s, the tourist boom broke out and what would become known as balearización or excessive and unplanned urban development began. Tourism went on to constitute one of the greatest socio-economic phenomena in the history of Mallorca.

The democratic restoration of the Spanish state following the death of General Franco in 1975 led to the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. This new democratic legal framework enabled the approval of the Statute of Autonomy of the Balearic Islands in 1983. The Balearic Islands constitute an autonomous region that forms part of the Spanish state, and has the corresponding self-governing regional institutions: the Balearic Parliament and the Government of the Balearic Islands. The Island Councils are responsible for governing each island, whilst the municipalities are governed by the town halls.

PATRIMONI A LES ILLES BALEARS Agència de Turisme de les Illes Balears (ATB), Conselleria de Turisme i Esports Illes Balears Institut d'Estudis Balearics Illes Balears