The Balearic Islands – of which Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera are popular tourist destinations – have formed an autonomous region since 1983. There are also a number of smaller islands, including particularly Cabrera, which is a National Park. Palma De Mallorca is the administrative, judicial and ecclesiastical centre of the region, as well as being by far the largest city.
The Balearic Islands have long been amongst the most popular tourist destinations for British and other Northern Europeans but they have largely managed to maintain their individual identities and, during recent years, have attracted visitors who had previously ignored the islands because of their ‘sun, sand and sangria’ reputation.
Geography of the Balearic Islands
Although this archipelago between 50 and 200 miles away from the Spanish mainland is always categorised as ‘The Balearic Islands’, there are, in fact, two separate groups. The Balearics ‘proper’ consists of the eastern, largest islands of Majorca and Menorca, along with Cabrera. These islands are often referred to as the Gymnesian Islands, from the Greek word for naked – the explanations for which are numerous. The westerly islands, including Ibiza and Formentera, are known as the Pitiusas, or the Pine Islands. Geologically, the islands can be seen as an extension of the sub-Baetic mountains of Spain, being linked by a sill near Cape Nao, which is at the southern tip of the Bay of Valencia. On the whole, the islands have undulating hills, plateaux and lowlands although there are extended plains in Menorca.
Map of the Balearic Islands
Anyone driving from the airport in Menorca to the resorts in the west of the island will not fail to see evidence that the island has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Approaching Ciutadela one passes the Naveta des Tudoms, the biggest and best preserved of the monumental stone constructions that have led to the island being referred to as an ‘open air prehistoric museum’. However, the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthagineans, Byzanthinians and Moors all left their marks in the Balearics. From 1229, Jaime I began the Christian reconquest and Mallorca and Menorca soon became part of the kingdom of Aragón.
As part of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, however, Menorca was handed over to the British, as can be witnessed by much of the architecture in Mahón. It was returned to Spain in 1802, by the Treaty of Amiens. During the times of the great seafaring ‘pirates’, the smaller islands were often used as bases, even resulting, at one stage, in the entire population of Formentera abandoning the island because of Barbary pirates there. The Balearic Islands were established as a Spanish Province in 1833 and, although there was a nationalist movement at the end of the 19th Century, it never emerged as a powerful force. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil war, both Majorca and Ibiza were taken by Franco’s forces – Mallorca becoming the base for the Italian fleet during the conflict. Menorca, however, remained a Republican stronghold right up to 1939.
Language of the Balearic Islands
Catalan and Castilian Spanish are both recognised as co-official languages in the islands and it has been estimated that over 700,000 of the population can speak Catalan fluently and many more understand it. The local Catalan dialects are known as Mallorquí, Menorquí and Eivessenc and there are significant differences between them and the Catalan spoken on the mainland. Many inhabitants are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish and many, the young especially, can be expected to speak either German or English because of the tourist influx of the past forty years.
Obviously tourism dominates the economy of the Balearics, with over 4 million visitors every year. Although there are many visitors during the autumn and winter, much of the employment arising from tourism is still seasonal, leading to greater unemployment at ‘off peak’ times. Citrus fruits, grapes, olives, figs, almonds, wheat are the main products grown and pigs, cattle and sheep are also farmed. The leading exports are majolica ware pottery, leather goods – especially shoes, silver filigree and the famous Mallorcan pearls. There is a small industry producing fine lace and embroidery for tourists.
Climate of the Balearic Islands
The climate of the Balearic Islands is typically Mediterranean, with many sunny days throughout the year. Winters are mild and usually dry, with most of the rainfall during the autumn and winter. Annual precipitation, though, is usually around 450 mm to 600 mm each year. Summer temperatures are not as oppressive as on parts of the mainland because of the prevalent sea breezes, with a maximum in August of around 28° (82°). In January, the visitor can expect maximum daily temperatures of around 13°, with a minimum of 4° occasionally – but still, on average, about 5 hours of sunshine per day.
See also: Balearic Islands Tourism