Mallorca – a paradise in the Mediterranean
What have you got that I’ve not? so sang the German singer Katja Ebstein forty years ago, and that could be exactly what many tourism managers in other European destinations are thinking when they look at the successful history of Mallorca’s tourism. The answer is relatively simple. Europe has many beautiful islands but none of them offer so many positive decision making criteria to consider as Mallorca: more than 300 days of sunshine yearly and overall a pleasant Mediterranean climate; extremely easy to reach, just a two to three-hour flight from all European airports; ideal infrastructure; high security standards; more than 500 km of coastline with pretty beaches and relaxing bays; numerous opportunities for sports and leisure activities, and not just for golfers, as well as a large array of culinary offers and cultural activities. For this reason, Mallorca scores points and receives up to 12 million visitors yearly.
What makes Mallorca attractive to an international audience, has been shaped over 1000’s of years by people who inhabited or conquered the island, made the land arable, cultivated it and created a habitat that enabled people working in agriculture, crafts, commerce and service providers to live a good life. We would like to give visitors of our website an small insight into the 8,000 years of Mallorca’s history, its landscapes and its tourism.
A brief insight into 8,000 years of Mallorca’s history
The first traces of human life in Mallorca go back to the 6th century before Christ. The first inhabitants came by sea and lived in caves, such as those that can be found in Porto Cristo -, Campanet and Arta. They hunted goat and antelope for food and later, they kept pets and built huts made of wood or stone. Between 1500 and 300 BC, the Talayot culture was at its peak and 20 new settlements for several hundred inhabitants were created. The Talayots were originally used as watchtowers, later as dwellings, but also as places of worship. Artefacts have been found in Cala Pi, Arta, Llucmajor, Santa Margalida, Santanyi and Puig de Na Morisca in Santa Ponsa.
Let us move forward in time to the era of the Romans in Mallorca. In the year 123, 3,000 Roman legionaries conquered the island. Until the decline of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, the Romans were in control on the island. They founded cities like Palma, Alcudia and Pollenca and built the port of Soller. Mallorca also benefited from the know-how of Roman builders, as the remains of aqueducts from that period prove. Due to new irrigation systems olive plantations and vineyards were created.
700 years BC the Arabs started to take an interest in Mallorca. They came first as pirates and plundered, not only on Mallorca and Menorca, but also on other Mediterranean islands, such as Sardinia. From the 9th century the period of Arab rule began. Although many Mallorquins still refer to an Arab occupation, Mallorca flourished throughout this period. They introduced irrigation systems, terraced the mountainous landscape and cultivated lemon, orange and almond plantations and also taught the Mallorquins how to build the famous dry walls. Many of the place names in Mallorca also have Arabic roots too. Binissalem, Biniaraix, Felanitx and Fornalutx
The Arabic era ended in 1229 with the conquest of the island by Jaime I of Aragon, who on 12 September 1229 landed with his armada in Santa Ponsa and entered Palma on 31 December 1229. Although Jaime I is mostly highly revered and honoured in annual celebrations, the conquest of the island was a bloody and destructive struggle: Jaime I cleared the city of Palma of looting, and those who did not submit or cooperate, were killed, and most of the monuments of Arab origin were destroyed. Following the death of Jaime I in 1276, his sons, King Pedro II of Aragon and Jaime II, who crowned himself King of Mallorca, fought over the right to rule as king. During the reign of Jaime II some cities were founded or those in existence grew bigger, for example, Algaida, Binissalem, Campos, Felanitx, Sa Pobla, Selva, and Sineu. Jaime II built the Almudaina Palace in Palma as a government seat and began building Castell Bellver on the outskirts of the capital. Pedro’s son, Alfonso III eventually invaded the island but left in 1285 and gave it back to Jaime II after the Pope threatened to excommunicate him. The following decades were marked by ongoing disputes between the two kings, which ended with the Battle of Llucmajor in 1349, and at the same time the end of the Kingdom of Mallorca.
In the following centuries, there were many invasions by pirates, as well as epidemics and periods of famine. The economic situation of the island changed at the start of the 19th century. Agriculture flourished thanks to new export possibilities. Also, handicrafts, particularly the leather industry in Inca, gave people work and a modest income. They took advantage of the possibilities of electricity to commence the construction of the railway line between Palma and Inca. In the middle of the 19th century a new source of income was discovered with the still hesitant tourism. But more on that subject later.
Mallorca’s landscape is characterized by the very different types of landscape. Rugged mountain ranges line up alongside the sea, and sit alongside valleys and plains that are primarily used as agricultural land. Wide stretches of beach and small bays sit beneath a backdrop of an undulating and mountainous landscape. The varying landscapes include the Serra de Tramuntana, Es Raiguer, Pla de Mallorca, Llevant, Migjorn and Palma.
The most well-known is the Serra de Tramuntana, a 15-km long mountain range with 11 peaks running parallel to the northwest coast. The highest peak is the Puig Major with a height of 1,445 metres. Due to its unique landscape, the Serra de Tramuntana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Serra de Tramuntana is characterised by fertile valleys that are irrigated by water from the mountains and there are numerous orange and lemon groves, vineyards and vegetable plantations. The most famous villages are Soller, Estellencs, Banyalbufar, Deia, Valldemossa and in the north Pollenca as well as Calvia in the south west.
In the south-east, the Zone Es Raiguer borders the Serra de Tramuntana zone. As a mountainous transition zone to the Pla de Mallorca, agriculture is difficult here and therefore less pronounced. Consequently, there are no major towns.
In the centre of the island is Pla de Mallorca and is the focal point of the island’s agriculture with vineyards and almond plantations as well as production of food for everyday needs such as potatoes, vegetables, rice and maize. In this region, protected by the mountains, there are up to four crops annually for some products. In addition to agriculture, the population in the north-east of Pla de Mallorca has a good income from tourism, especially in the towns of Alcudia and Can Picafort.
The east or north-east region is known as Llevant. There is also a mountain range here called Serra de Llevant, but with peaks of only 500 metres . Cala Millor, Son Servera, Sa Coma and Cala Ratjada with their beautiful beaches, as well as the three natural caves of Coves del Drac, Coves del Hams and Coves d`Arta are also located in this area. The most important town in Llevant is Manacor, where the artificial pearl and furniture industry has developed vigorously.
The Migjorn area borders the Pla de Mallorca and the Llevant area and livelihoods here are based mainly around agriculture. A visit to Campos’ weekly market is worthwhile. The area of Llevant also includes the coastal strip where the small seaside resort of Colonia de Sant Jordi and the popular beach of Es Trenc are located. The municipality of Campos, however, has little economic benefit from its natural beauty, as building is not allowed on the 6 km long Es Trenc beach all attempts to build holiday resorts here have failed. Campos’ neighbouring communities, namely Llucmajor and Felanitx, fare better as the popular resorts of S’Arenal and Portocolom are located in their catchment area.
The last area is Palma, which is the capital of the island and the smallest of the 52 municipalities of Mallorca, but boasts the largest population with a total of 500,000 inhabitants. The capital of Palma is the undisputed economic and political centre of the island, with the Parliament headquarters, the Balearic government and the island council are located here.
The history of tourism on Mallorca
As mentioned previously, the history of tourism on Mallorca began in the mid-19th century. The most famous tourists during this period were the Polish composer Frederic Chopin and the French writer George Sand (“A Winter in Mallorca”) who spent the winter of 1838 to 1839 on Mallorca and are still providing the charming mountain village of Valldemossa a good income from tourism. A few decades later the Austrian archduke Ludwig Salvator wrote the first great complete guide to Mallorca, “The Balearics in Words and Images”. The Gran Hotel was built around the turn of the century in Palma and opened in 1903 to accommodate a demanding international audience. Today the cultural foundation of the La Caixa bank is housed there. The foundation of the tourism association “Fomento de Turismo” was established in 1905, and shows that the importance of tourism for Mallorca was already being recognised. Until the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), Mallorca attracted some 40,000 foreign tourists every year amongst which there were many writers, painters, actors, existentialists.
The tourism industry in the Balearic Islands was interrupted by the second world war, but already in 1950, Tourism Association statistics showed that almost 100,000 holidaymakers visited the island. With the progressive development of air traffic, a true boom in tourism commenced, which required the construction of a new airport on Mallorca. In 1997, the new airport Son Sant Joan was inaugurated and has been expanded on a regular basis over the years. In 2016 tourism reached its provisional peak with a total of 12 million visitors.