Mallorca — History and Culture
Though very touristy and beach orientated, Mallorca has an enviable history that includes input from the Romans, the Moors and the Spanish. There are many reminders of the past around the island, especially in Palma. Mallorca is a part of the autonomous Balearics, with a culture distinct of mainland Spain.
Mallorca's history goes back several thousand years when both the Greeks and Romans had interest here. There are Roman forts, chambers and roads, although the island began to really develop after the Moors’ arrival in the 10th century.
After generations of fighting with Christian invaders, the Moors were eventually routed by Jaime I (of Aragon and Valencia fame) in 1229. He created an independent kingdom and flattened anything the Muslims had created, replaced with Christian structures. Santa Eulalia, known for the famous cross brought by King Jaime, was started at this time, along with Mallorca Cathedral, Le Seu, which wasn’t completed until 1601.
Valldemossa Monastery—famous for hosting Chopin and George Sand in 1838—was built in the 1300's, along with the Castell de Bellver near Palma. The island capital itself dates back to the Bronze Age and was settled by the Romans. The Arabs named it Madina Mayurqa before Jaime took over and quickly built it up. It was passed on to his son, Jaime II, though in 1344 Pedro IV eventually took control on behalf of the Spanish crown.
Mallorca fell into the doldrums in the 1500's bowing to Berber pirates, the Ottoman Turks, and the plague. Fortified churches and watchtowers were built around the coast to prevent further invasions. The War of the Spanish Succession in the early 1700's saw unification with the mainland before Mallorca became part of the autonomous Balearics.
The Napoleonic Wars, famine, drought, and disease on Majorca’s vineyards marred the 1800's, pushing many Mallorcans to the mainland or the Americas. Agriculture was eventually reestablished and the introduction of railways greatly improved conditions.
Another significant event came in the 1930's as the Battle of Majorca, when the Spanish landed in 1936 during the Civil War to reclaim it for the motherland. Aided by Italy, Mallorcan Nationalists prevailed. Mass tourism came in the 1950's and the advent of the jet saw the expansion of villages into full-fledged resorts. Mallorca now attracts about 10 million visitors a year.
Mallorca has a distinct Catalan culture which is different than the mainland. Bullfighting is enjoyed and the autonomous region has its own dialect, customs and dress, best seen during one of the many festivals. Festa de Nostra Senyora de la Victoria in Sóller is an eye-opener. Mallorca churns out a range of crafts unique to the island and the Balearics. Chief among these are ceramics, glass, pearls, and shoes.