Mallorca, since ancient times, has been a strategic point on the most desirable sea in all of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea. For this reason, it has had the presence of various cultures that have left their traces, making it a place of great historical value.
The history of Mallorca is fascinating and we want to share it with you so that you can get to know it and understand, live and feel the most authentic Mallorca. Let’s start from the beginning…
A walk through Mallorca’s prehistory
Historically, Mallorca has been a strategic point in the Mediterranean Sea and, therefore, a place of devotion for many people and cultures that have occupied, settled and transformed the island on many occasions. Today, their traces and legacies are visible throughout the Balearic Islands, culture and gastronomy.
Although at first sight it may not seem so, due to the naturalness of the place and its people, Mallorca holds a multitude of treasures and mysteries, many already discovered and others yet to be discovered.
Beginnings of Mallorca’s history: the Pre-Talayotic period.
The earliest evidence of human presence dates back to 7200 BC, with the presence of hunter-gatherer tribes living in caves and other natural shelters. Their economy was based mainly on cereal farming and the raising of goats and sheep and, to a lesser extent, cows and pigs.
They lived peacefully for 6000 years until around 1200 BC, when the “turbulence” began in Mallorca: the arrival of warrior tribes, probably from Asia Minor, giving rise to the transformation of the island and the beginning of the Talayotic culture.
The Talayotic culture is a cultural period that only developed on Mallorca and other nearby islands, such as the Islet of Porros, the Cave of Sa Font or the island of Sa Dragonera and Menorca, during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The history of Mallorca began to be written in capital letters at that moment.
The fact that this culture was found on the islands of Mallorca and Menorca can be explained by their natural and ecological history.
These are rainier, with abundant, more fertile and varied arboreal vegetation (wild olive trees and holm oaks) and with the presence of mammals; in contrast to the Pitiusas islands (Formentera and Ibiza), which are more arid and lack more fertile vegetation, with only pine trees and junipers occupied by birds.
One of the Talayotic settlements of greatest cultural and archaeological interest, and declared a Historic-Artistic Monument, is located in Capocorb Vell, in the municipality of Llucmajor.
🎁 If you want to delve into the early history of Mallorca, this free downloadable map of the island shows the location of Capocorb Vell and the other settlements that you should not miss.
Land of Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans
The history of Mallorca continues with the Greeks and Phoenicians, which were the first contact with the outside world.
The Carthaginians had tried unsuccessfully, although what they did manage to do was to recruit the (much-loved) slingers from Mallorca and Menorca, using them as mercenaries in the Mediterranean wars to form light troops, which were called gimnetas which in Greek means “naked”, alluding not so much to bodily nudity as to the scarcity of his military equipment.
This is why the classical authors called the island of gymnosperms the Gymnesias.
Later, the Romans would also get these slingers to join Julius Caesar’s troops in the conquest of the territories of Gaul.
The Greek arrival and settlement provided one of the first stable settlements, initiating great political and economic growth.
Arrival of the Romans
The Roman consul, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, who was later nicknamed Balearicus, disembarked in Mallorca in 123 BC. After two years of resistance during which the slingers were unable to attack the armoured ships, as the Roman consul had the brilliant idea of protecting them with thick skins and hides, they fled to the interior of the island where Mallorca was pacified.
Metellus brought 3000 repopulators from the Iberian peninsula and founded two military camps: Palmeira or Palma and Pollentia, wich is located in a strategic position on the isthmus that separates two large bays in the north-east of the island, with Palma and Pollentia becoming the main towns on the island.
The Romans, in Palma, founded a fort on top of a rocky outcrop at the estuary of Sa Riera, where the Palacio de la Almudaina stands today.
The Romans, as well, were the first to start growing grapes in Mallorca and to produce wine. This tradition has been maintained to this day and you can find out more about it and take part in wine tasting events in wine cellars in Mallorca.
Pollentia was the Roman city par excellence and the more important of the two. It was embellished with the erection of buildings, temples and theatres, and these were years of splendour for the Roman economy. Today, Pollentia still conserves this splendour, so if you visit Alcudia, don’t miss a visit to the Roman city.
Origin of the word Baleares
The Romans preferred the Phoenician toponym Baleares to the Greek Gymnesias to designate the administrative unit that the Roman Empire gave to the Gymnesias (Mallorca and Menorca) and Pitiusas (Ibiza and Formentera), with the Latin name Insulae Baliares. This eventually led to the Balearic Islands being associated with the whole archipelago and the term Gymnesia was lost.
Nowadays, the name Gymnesia has been taken up again and the islets of sa Dragonera and Cabrera have been included.
Under the pretext of defending the island from attempted looting by pirates, the Romans settled on the island, although the real intention of the invasion was to secure trade with the Phoenicians.
Byzantine and Islamic Empires
Around the year 425, Mallorca was sacked by a Germanic people who settled on the island until the year 534, when the Byzantine general Belisarius ordered the conquest of the Balearic Islands, once again turning Mallorca’s history upside down.
These were years of darkness due to the lack of political and social stability that prevented economic growth in the Balearic Islands.
In the year 707, the first recorded Muslim landing took place, triggering two centuries of fighting until finally in 903, once again, Mallorca’s history took another turn when the dynasty of the Omeya took power in Majorca with Al-Jaulani at the helm, an Arab nobleman from Al-Ándalus.
The present-day Palma was annexed to the Caliphate of Córdoba, under the name of Medina Mayurqa, becoming a great cultural centre for the whole empire.
The Muslims divided the island into 12 districts, introduced innovative irrigation systems so that the farmhouses prospered and the following century was one of growing splendour for Mallorca, with a population of 35.000 inhabitants on a par with places like Barcelona or London and becoming Medina Mayurqa one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe at the time.
They built the Alcázar or Palace of the Almudaina and the great mosque, a space now occupied by the Cathedral of Santa María of Palma, or La Seu, which you can visit today.
🆓 There are many Arab vestiges and strongholds that you should not miss if you visit Palma. If you are as passionate about history as we are, you can take this free guided tour or one of the many free tours in Palma de Mallorca that are offered and get to know them in more detail.
Christianity and the Catholic Kings
Piracy, which was one of the islands’ main sources of income, led to Muslims being “punished” by Christian expeditions.
In 1114, a bloody campaign between Christians and Muslims began in Majorca that lasted about 10 months and ended with the looting of booty, the liberation of prisoners and Christian slaves.
The Christians decided to return to mainland Spain when they heard that Almoravid ships were sent from North Africa to defend Mallorca.
Jaime I, the Conqueror
After several disputes, Jaime I the Conqueror undertook to take the Balearic Islands and put an end to piracy.
He disembarked in Santa Ponsa and took possession of the island in 1229 after defeating Abu Yahya in the Battle of Portopí, being this monarch a vital element in the Christian evolution and history of Mallorca.
The last Muslim resistance lasted eight years and the Castle of Alaró was the last place to be besieged. Menorca, by then, was still under Muslim sovereignty, but it already paid tribute to the kingdom of Jaime I.
The Conqueror divided the island among his lieutenants and allies. Arabic traces are the toponyms that begin with the word Bini, which means “son of”. Many places took the name of their new owners, preceded by the particle Son or Sa indicating ownership.
In the mind of the new king was the process of Christianisation of the island population, as well as the construction of churches. To this end, he brought in Christian Catalan settlers, mostly from the area around Girona. They imposed their language, customs and beliefs.
The Muslims who decided to stay had to renounce Islam, which was not a good time for them or for the Jews.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria was built in thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary for the Christian victory over the Muslims.
Crown of Aragon
Nevertheless, the independence of the Kingdom of Mallorca was short-lived, as in 1349 it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon and later into the Kingdom of Castile, following the marriage of the Catholic Kings.
With the death of Jaime III, in the battle of Llucmajor, the Kingdom of Mallorca came to an end.
During the War of Secession from the Spanish crown, the Balearic Islands supported Charles of Austria and when they were defeated by the Castilians, the latter occupied the island. After the Nueva Planta decree was approved, the Catalan administration was abolished and Catalan was banned as a language, and Spanish was imposed.
Spanish Civil War
Taking a leap in time and going back to the time of the military coup that took place in 1936, when Mallorca had remained loyal to the Second Republic, the rebels occupied the island and the Pitiuses.
At that time, a fast process of urban expansion began in Palma, as most of its walls were demolished.
Palma did not put up much resistance. Rebel soldiers and militants of the fascist Falange entered the town hall of Cort and kidnapped Emili Darder, a labour mayor who was executed in 1937 along with other politicians.
Mallorca was filled with Italian planes and battalions sent by Franco’s dictatorial ally Mussolini to bomb Barcelona.
Of the nine mayors the city had between 1936 and 1976, four were military and the rest were conservative.
The “tourist boom” in Mallorca
In 1955 the first charter flight landed on the island, marking the beginning of the history of present-day Mallorca, as tourism is still the main economic engine of the whole group of islands.
During the 1960s and 1970s a real urban revolution took place due to the deliberate policy to promote tourism, initiated by General Franco. Buildings were constructed all along the coastal perimeter in the most important areas.
This brought moments of joy but also of depression and anxiety when the summer season did not live up to expectations. The term balearisation was coined to illustrate the wanton destruction of its most precious treasure: its beautiful coastline.
Statute of Self-Government
After the death of General Franco, the country began a process of democratic transition where, in the case of the Balearic Islands, the Balearic Self-government Statute was established in order to defend its historical identity. Among other measures, the dual official status of the Catalan and Spanish languages was granted.
At that time , major democratic advances were made. Social movements began to become more relevant and awareness of the value of tourism and conservation of the island began to grow, which continues to this day.