Majorca’s history has been defined by its position as a Mediterranean island. Today
this means it lures the tourist hordes in their millions and fuels development
across the island; in years gone by it was invaders and marauders that were
attracted to the island as well as traders and seafarers.
The island of Majorca is thought to have been created
around 150 million years ago, rising from the oceans and tearing away from the
peninsula. The first inhabitants are thought to have arrived maybe as long ago
as 6000BC, though more conservative estimates suggest it was more likely to be
3000BC. Remains of forts and burial grounds found on the island are believed to
date to this period. The early inhabitants were probably primitive cave
examples of Talayots found on the island (though they are more prevalent on its
smaller neighbour Menorca). These date to the
first millennium BC, when local inhabitants constructed a series of cone-shaped
stone towers. It is also thought that the islanders at the time had mastered
some form of metal work.
Arrival of the Romans:
that during tthe first few centuries BC inhabitants were visited by, and had trading relations
with, the Carthaginians and the Romans. Majorcan fighters of the time, famous
in the region for their ‘stone slinging’, are thought to have fought with the
Carthaginians against the Romans in the Punic Wars. Indeed there is a theory
that the name ‘Balearic’ comes from the Greek word ‘ballein’ (meaning ‘to
throw’) as Greek traders of the time came to here of these exploits.
eventually won the long lasting war, and soon after arrived to conquer and
settle Majorca. Quintus Caecilius Metellus
arrived in 123BC and the island became part of the Roman
Empire for the next five centuries. Two main centres on the island
were founded: Pollentia (next to what is now Alcudia) and Palmaria (what is now
island flourished under Roman rule, with the economy driven by olives, wine and
salt mining. The Romans constructed roads and towns on the island, and
introduced Christianity. They respected the Majorcan warriors for their famous
stone slinging and drafted them to fight with their Roman Legions.
Vandals, Byzantines and Moors:
Roman Empire came into decline and eventually fell, Majorca
once again changed hands. This time it was the Vandals, a tribe of East
Germanic origin, who took over in 425. They destroyed all the early Christian
buildings built by the Romans, and also took over many other parts of the Roman Empire.
century later, however, they lost control of Majorca
to the Byzantines. They were probably avenging the Vandals invasion on the
Romans and attacks on Christianity. Christian churches were once again built
across the island.
This was a
turbulent period in Majorca’s history and soon
after the Moors began raiding the island. By 902, they had control over Majorca and the island was under the control of the
Emirate of Cordoba. The Moors were a Muslim tribe from the Iberian
Peninsula and North Africa.
They remained for 300 years
and the island prospered as new agricultural techniques were introduced. The
island’s language and cuisine were substantially influenced by the Moors during
their rein on the island. There were, however, a number of skirmishes between
Muslims and Christians during the period.
The Spanish arrive:
In 1229, King
Jaime I of Aragon
laid siege to the island. King Jaime invaded the island due its economic
prosperity and in revenge that the Moors had stolen some of his ships. He
arrived with 15,000 men and 500 horses. The siege of Palma took 3 months, after which the rest of
the island quickly fell under his control. Many of the Moorish buildings were
destroyed during the invasion and subsequent years. Christianity once again
returned to the island.
King Jaime I passed away, dividing his kingdom between his two sons Pedro and Jaime
II. It was the younger brother, Jaime II, who inherited the newly created Kingdom of Majorca. This was the start of a golden
age of Majorca with agriculture, industry and
shipping all flourishing.
The next few
centuries saw a succession of battles over control of the island. In 1344 the
Catalans, envious of Majorca’s independent success, arrived with force to
return the island into the Kingdom
of Aragon. 1479 saw the
joining of the two crowns, Aragon
and Castile, into a dynastic
union, of which Majorca became a part. This union
was formed by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella from the respective crowns
of Aragon and Castile. It was Ferdinand and Isabella who, in 1481, set up the Spanish Inquisition.
This led to troubled times for the Jews and Muslims on Majorca,
who were persecuted, executed, exiled or forced into Catholicism.
As well, there were uprisings against the nobility on the island.
At the time
Majorca was also under constant threat from
pirate attack and forts were built across the island. Although the island’s
position in the Mediterranean made it vulnerable to attack, it did also mean
that Majorca saw a good deal of sea trade.
This declined, however, in the early 16th century as new sea routes
to India opened up and
Turkish and Moorish raiders caused trouble in the Mediterranean.
The plague also came to the island, and Majorca’s
In 1701 the
Spanish War of Succession began and by its end in 1714 the Spanish Monarchy was
formed and Majorca became part of the Spanish
province of ‘Baleares’. Pirate attacks continued to plague the island until
1785 when Majorcan ‘corsairs’ were granted permission to combat the pirates however
they wished, without fear of punishment for piracy.
century also saw the lifetime of the famous Majorcan missionary Fray Junipero
Serra. He led the first missions to California
and was responsible for helping found cities such as San Francisco.
Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century caused an influx of refugees to
the island, sparking social and economic unrest. Later in the century the wine
business was devastated by phylloxera, almond trade diminished and the loss of
Spanish colonies such as Cuba
and Puerto Rico hit local shipbuilding hard.
Drought and disease compounded the problems. The result was mass emigration to
North Africa and South America. The century
was not quite all doom and gloom, however, as communications with the mainland
increased and 1837 saw the first regular steamship sail between Majorca and the mainland.
The Tourist Boom:
Majorca escaped most of the troubles during the Spanish Civil War mainly due to
its ruling classes being in support of Franco from the start. The loss of civil
and political freedom during Franco’s dictatorship had an effect, but by the
1960s the tourist trade began to bloom.
death in 1975 saw the return to democracy for Spain. The Spanish Constitution in
1978 opened the door for autonomy for Majorca,
which was realised three years later when the Balearics became an autonomous
rule left over a language issue which still bothers many on the island. The
original local language is Mallorquin, a dialect of Catalan, which was banned
during his rule. Although many locals continued to use Mallorquin (and still
do), those growing up during Franco’s years were prevented from learning the
language at school. Nowadays Catalan has made a comeback: you will hear both
languages and most residents speak both, though they typically converse amongst
themselves in Mallorquin.
It is the
tourist trade that has shaped Majorca’s
history since the middle of the 20th century, and it continues to
dictate much of what the island is about. The advent of cheap air travel and
package holidays has seen millions visit the island. Once sleepy villages have
been transformed by the concrete mixers as hotels, bars and restaurants spring
up all over the island to accommodate visitors wanting to enjoy Majorca’s beauty and climate.
1960s Majorca was receiving roughly half a million tourists a year; today it sees
over 7 million (of which British make up almost a third) which is roughly a 15%
share of all Spain’s
tourists. Local population has grown with the visitors as the tourist dollar
has lured workers and businesses to the island. The population of Palma has more than
doubled since 1960, and the island’s population is now over 750,000.
inevitable debate in Majorca concerning the
booming tourism trade. While being of obvious importance to the economy, there
is concern over the undesirable aspects that arise through mass tourism. Majorca
is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and residents enjoy one of
the country’s highest standards of living, yet growth of high rise hotels and
the like has diminished much of the island’s natural beauty. Local environment
and wildlife is threatened as well the danger of local traditions being lost. Is
it a delicate issue but perhaps the most important facing Majorcans today.