Mallorca History | Majorca | Spain
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Mallorca History The resurgence of the Christians - 13th Century
The resurgence of the Christians was inevitable, but it took hundreds of years for the Christian kings and warlords to succeed in subduing the Moors. It was during this time that the Balearics were reconquered.
It was the beginning of the 13th century and the Christian Catalonians, a stone’s throw away on the mainland, were growing in commercial and political importance and dreamt of seizing the islands for themselves. By controlling Mallorca/Majorca they knew they would have the key to all the maritime and commercial traffic in the western Mediterranean. In 1229, led by King James I of Aragon, who was only 20 years old at the time, they set sail with a 150 strong fleet. The first soldiers set foot on the island on 7th September but it wasn’t until almost 4 months later on the 31st of December that the city finally fell. The city was raided and most of its inhabitants were either slaughtered or enslaved.
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The change in culture from the Muslim world to Western European marked a key event in the island’s history because the two were totally different from a social, economic and religious point of view.
The new inhabitants quickly changed the character of the Muslim city and in their blind hatred of the so-called ‘infidels’ eliminated almost every trace of the Arabs. Moorish buildings were either razed to the ground or converted into Christian structures. The language of the island became Catalan, a tongue derived from Latin, and a dialect which is still spoken today.
King James I quickly set about founding the new state of Mallorca/Majorca, publishing the ‘Carta de les franqueses’ which laid down the democratic base of equality, liberty and autonomy. In establishing the powers of government and the foundation of the general council it provided one of the most advanced constitutions of its time. The name of the capital was also changed to Ciutat de Mallorca, meaning ‘city of Mallorca’, which is actually the same name the Muslims used but translated into Catalan.
King James I died in 1276 leaving his son James II to take over the Kingdom of Mallorca. Now began another era of indisputable prosperity, marked by the great civil and religious constructions undertaken at the time: the Cathedral and the Castle of Bellver, amongst others. Around this time too, a man called Ramon Llull was beginning to make a name for himself. Born in Mallorca in 1232, he decided in his mid-30’s to devote his life entirely to ‘the faith’. He was a theologist, philosopher and missionary but above all a writer. He wrote over 250 works in Catalan, Latin and Arabic and is seen as the father of literary Catalan. He has been worshipped as a pious figure in Mallorca since the 16th century. His statue now stands at the entrance to the city – a striking manifestation of the importance Mallorca/Majorca bestows upon him.
In the mid-14th century Ciutat de Mallorca became part of the Kingdom of Aragon and started following the same historical path as Spain. Construction began on Sa Llotja a building highly representative of the Gothic style on the island. This along with the Cathedral projected Mallorca/Majorca as one of the main Gothic art centres of the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile on the mainland, a newly unified Christian Spain was completing the Reconquest taking Granada, the only Moorish enclave left, at the end of the 15th century. At exactly the same time, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and Spain’s attention turned immediately westward, to the New World and beyond.
Mallorca History The Golden Age - 15th to 17th Centuries
The next century and a half of Spain’s history is known as the ‘Golden Age’, but the era carried the seeds of its own decline. Plagued by corruption and incompetence and drained by ill-fated pursuits such as the Armada against England in 1588, Spain was unable to defend her expansive interests. The Balearics were largely forgotten, leaving raiders and pirates to attack their trade routes almost at will.
As a result Mallorca/Majorca began a significant demographic and socioeconomic decline at this time, compounded by successive misfortunes and tragedies. First came the Black Death, which was succeeded by the burning of the Jewish quarter, or ‘the Call’ as it was known, and then the river overflowed, which in itself was responsible for more than 5000 deaths. In the mid-15th century the city suffered constant attacks from its villagers and at the beginning of the 16th, it was the centre of the ‘Germanias’ movement - an anti-monarchist revolt by a brotherhood from the Kingdom of Valencia.
The death of Carlos II, without an heir, at the end of the 17th century initiated the ‘War of Succession’, which saw the main European powers fight for control over Spain. Territories such as Gibraltar and Menorca were seized by Britain during this period.
Towards the end of the war, Mallorca/Majorca, having backed the losing side, became the last territory to be captured in 1715 by the new king Philip V, who was actually of French origin. Once firmly established, he declared the ‘Nova Planta Decree’, meaning ‘New Regime’, which abolished the autonomy the island had enjoyed for centuries, removing its privileges and liberties and creating a new governmental regime, the Municipality of Palma - The city once again regaining its Roman name. The Decree also prohibited the use of the Catalan language, which in one form or another, the people had been speaking in the Balearics for the last seven centuries, making the use of Castellano obligatory.
Around this time, certain Mallorcan nationals were making history in other parts of the globe. Junipero Serra, a deeply pious man, departed for the recently discovered lands of America in 1713, to further spread the word of Jesus. He founded two missions on the coast of California that happened to be the beginning of two of the states most important cities: San Diego and San Francisco.
In Menorca, history was unfolding in a very different way. The British had taken control in 1708, and remained for another 75 years, but in 1756 there was a brief period when the French had control and it was during this time, by complete coincidence, that a condiment made from eggs was discovered. A chef, from the French fleet, discovered the sauce in Mahon (silent h), the capital of Menorca, and took it back to France where it caused an absolute sensation. Reborn in France, it became known as… ‘mayonnaise’.
Mallorca History The 19th Century, Napoleon & Bonaparte
In the 19th century, Spanish history is characterised by a series of uprisings, the loss of her overseas empire, political crisis and virtual anarchy.
Napoleon, supported by the French army, having forcibly replaced the king of Spain with his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, attempted to take over. Spain resisted however, aided by the British, and managed to drive the French out. What the British call the Peninsular War is known in Spain as the War of Independence. But all this had little effect on the Balearic Islands, which remained three independent, administrative entities until a few years after the war when the ‘Balearic Province’ was created uniting the archipelago.
The remainder of the 19th century was a period of great change for Palma: socially, culturally and politically. It transformed into a very different place as it became subject to a policy of urban restructuring that was maintained until the first part of the 20th century. Whilst this era did benefit the city in some aspects, it also meant the loss of irreplaceable heritage such as the tragic demolition of the convent of Sant Domingo.
From then on, Mallorca could have possibly slept its way into the future if it hadn’t been discovered by certain European intelligentsia and aristocracy. Frederick Chopin and his mistress, the writer George Sand, arrived on the island and while Chopin appears to have fallen in love with the place, his mistress cordially loathed it, and its people. What it did do however, was bring the island to the attention of the outside world, notably the Archduke Ludwig of Salvador of Austria, who became the first of many distinguished expatriates.
Mallorca History The 20th Century, Franco & Civil War
With the potential onset of tourism, at the beginning of the 20th century, things were looking good for Mallorca/Majorca but the optimism was short lived as war once again reared its ugly head.
Social and political crisis, assassinations and near anarchy marked the beginning of another century. When the elections of 1931 revealed massive anti-royalist feelings, a new republic was conceived amid an outbreak of strikes and uprisings. In 1936 General Franco staged a coup, supported by the military, which catalyzed the brutal and bitter Spanish Civil War. Many saw it as a contest between democracy and dictatorship; others a battle between order and communist chaos but one thing was certain, around one million Spaniards lost their lives during the 3 years the war lasted.
Curiously, Mallorca and Menorca found themselves on opposing sides as Mallorca/Majorca joined Franco and Madrid. The island ended up playing a decisive role when it was used by Italian aircraft to bomb Barcelona leading to Franco’s eventual victory and installation as Head of State.
The early years of Franco’s regime were marked by severe repression and fear as he sought to impose absolute political control, restricting individual liberties and suppressing challenges to his authority. Martial law was put in effect until 1948, with prison terms being imposed for ‘revolutionary activity’ and even executions being carried out until 1944. He banned civil marriage, made divorce illegal, and made religious education compulsory in schools. Publications were subject to prior censorship, and public meetings required official permission. All native tongues like Basque, Catalan and Mallorcan were actively discouraged leaving Castellano once again as the only recognised language. This oppressive, law-and-order regime gradually isolated Spain, economically and politically, from the rest of the world. In fact, looking at Spain today, it’s hard to imagine the oppressive nature of the dictatorship from which they emerged a little over 40 years ago.
However, when tourism exploded back onto the scene in the sixties, Spain saw an unprecedented economic boom with miracle growth. With regular air travel and a competitive peseta the Balearics became one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. This all helped to ease Franco’s authoritarian control and was instrumental in the future establishment of democracy.
Franco died in 1975 and the monarchy was reinstated returning the country to a democracy and allowing free rein. After years of repression, languages and cultures in many Spanish regions enjoyed a long-sought renaissance. ‘Mallorqui’ for instance was restored as the official language in Mallorca (Majorca).
The islands now enjoy a new political system and institution after the creation of the ‘Autonomous Community of the Balearic Islands’ in 1983. They have their own government, parliament and judicial system, all residing in Palma, which has the privilege of being the capital.
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