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Balearic Islands

General Data

Official Names: Comunitat Autònoma de les Illes Balears / Comunidad Autónoma de las Islas Baleares
Capital: Palma de Mallorca
Official Languages: Catalan and Spanish
Area: 4.992 km²
Population: 916.968 inhabitants
Pop. Density: 183,69/km²

Summary

Is an autonomus spanish community that encompasses the islands of the Balearic Archipielago, located in the Mediterranean sea by the eastern coast of the iberian Peninsula.
The archipielago is composed by two kind of islands
* The Gimnesias: Minorca, Majorca, Cabrera and some nearby small islands (such as Dragonera or the isla del aire).
* The Pitiusas: Ibiza y Formentera and the small islands around them.

History

The islands have been populated since the antiquity. The first recorded inhabitants are from the fifth century B.C. although there are remains much older than these. The hold of Greeks, Phoenicians, Cartaginens and Romans were feeble.

The muslims were the first civilization to create a true society in these islands, living in them for centuries.

Currently the Balearic Islands are populated by Catalan speaking people as they were mostly colonised after the Reconquista by the payeses of Rosellon, Girona and Barcelona. Spanish is also spoken and in the turist areas, German and English.

The Kingdom of Aragon expanded during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries into the Mediterranean, which eventually took them up to the Balearic Islands. King Jaime I the Conqueror, led a fleet that landed in Majorca at the end of the summer of 1229. After long fights that extended for months, the king took the capital at the end of that year. This war was followed by an indiscriminate slaugter that ended with most of the population. The few muslim survivors organised the resistance at the mountains until two years later they were either killed or slaved.

All these destruction debilitated as well the Jaime's army to the point that when Minorca asked to join the Kingdom as an autonomous entity, it was conceded. This way, Minorca became an autonomus Taifa where both the muslim religion and culture were kept for half a century. In 1287 the fleet of Alfonso II el Franco reached the port of Mahon and the nobles arranged to leave from the aragonese in exchange for the slavery of the rest of its inhabitants.

Ibiza was also taken by Jaime I in 1236, and its inhabitants enslaved and their wealth taken.

Minorca was a British possesion between 1708 and 1802.

Administration and Politics

The Balearic Islands are an Autonomus Comunity of the Spanish State, governed by the Statue of Autonomy of the Balearic Islands. There are three Insular Councils, in Majorca, Minorca and the archipielago of the Pitiusas. Majorca has also counties, that although not oficially recognised, are accepted by the geography.

The capital of the Balearic Islands and the island of Majorca is the city of Palma, also known as Ciutat in Majorca. Palma is the seat of the Balearic Government and the Insular Council of Majorca.

The islands have 878,627 inhabitants (2001), of which 545,739 are native, 240,955 come from the rest of Spain and 91,933 are born elsewhere. The foreigners that linve in the islands have doubled between 1996 and 2001. (Source: Institut Balear)

Etimology

Although for a long time it was thought that "Balearic" came from the greek word ballein "to throw", lately this has been dismissed. The greek used the word "Gimnesias" to refer at the islands of Minorca and Majorca. Instead, cartagineses and romans prefered the word "Baleares" for Minorca and Majorca. All them called both Ibiza and Formentera "Pitiusas".

The origin of the name "Baleares" is not greek but punic and means "those who throw stones" or the "master throwers". These master throwers actually inhabit the islands. Clasic authors such as Plinius or Diodorus wrote about them.

This fame and probably an excess of population made that several of these stone throwers ended in the cartaginese army, and later the roman one.

This tradition was not forgotten until the twentieth century. Not so long ago, in Minorca, to get into certain guilds, the candidate had to throw stones and not miss anyone, eight empty spaces between two bars.

Natural History

Paleogeography
Gimnesias and Pitiusas had a different geographic history. During the last ice age, the sea level was much lower than today. Minorca and Majorca were united into a larger island as Ibiza and Formentera did. Therefore the flora and fauna of each group is similar.

Flora
In the past, Gimnesias and Pitiusas had different ecosystems. The Gimnesias had oak forests in the inside and in the coastal plains large groups of boj balear (Buxus balearica), which can be sporadically found in Majorca. The Pitiusas were practically barren of trees and had mainly nitrophile grasses, due to the dejections of the large number of bird colonies established there.

Fauna
In the past, the fauna of the Gimnesias and the Pitiusas was very distinct. It looks as if, with the exception of the flying species (birds, bats and flying insects) they didn't share any terrestrial specie either vegetable or animal.

Economy

Tourism has changed the kind of industry of the islands. More than 70% of the population is involved with services, with other textiles, leather and shoes accounting for the rest.

Art

The islands still keep some relics from the megalithic, amongst them the talayots, navetas and taulas, all built between 1800 and 1500 b. C. Only a few examples from the muslim domination remain. Palma's cathedral, the lonja and the Bellver castle are clear examples of gothic art. Both in Ciudadela and Palma architectural examples from the eighteenth century may be found.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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