History of Majorca

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Tomorrow - 26th July 2024

Sunrise 06:42


Sunset 21:08

23°C (72°F)
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Updated at 22:01 GMT

Early History:

Majorcaâs 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 dwellers.

There are 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:

Evidence suggests 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 âstone slingingâ, are thought to have fought with the Carthaginians against the Romans in the Punic Wars. Indeed there is a theory that the name âBalearicâ comes from the Greek word âballeinâ (meaning âto throwâ) as Greek traders of the time came to here of these exploits.

The Romans 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 Palma). The 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:

As the 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.

Only a 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 Majorcaâs 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 islandâs 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.

In 1276 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 Majorcaâs 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 islandâs 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 Majorcaâs economy struggled.

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 âBalearesâ. Pirate attacks continued to plague the island until 1785 when Majorcan âcorsairsâ were granted permission to combat the pirates however they wished, without fear of punishment for piracy.

The 18th 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.

The 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 Francoâs dictatorship had an effect, but by the 1960s the tourist trade began to bloom.

Francoâs 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 state.

Francoâs 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 Francoâs 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 Majorcaâs 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 Majorcaâs beauty and climate.

In the 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 Spainâs 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 islandâs population is now over 750,000.

There is 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 countryâs highest standards of living, yet growth of high rise hotels and the like has diminished much of the islandâs 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.