Balearic Islands Travel Guide

The four main Balearic islands - Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera - have maintained their individuality. Beyond the 24-hour parties are Gothic cathedrals, Stone Age ruins, fishing villages and endless orchards of oranges and olives.

The Balearic Islands offer fine beaches, relentless sunshine, good food and wild nightlife.Every year are invaded every summer by a massive multinational force of hedonistic party animals and sun seekers.

Facts in a glance

Full country name: Balearic Islands
Area: 5,040 sq km
Population: 785,000


5000 BC: Prehistoric relics like pottery, tools, jewellery and ruins show that agriculture and animal husbandry freed many a hand for more esoteric pursuits - the hallmark of a successful civilisation. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on the Balearics, though it's likely people enjoyed those sandy beaches even earlier. Enormous slabs of rocks arranged in specific formations litter the island: navetas, caves built with large stones; talayots, mounds of stone perhaps used as watchtowers; and taulus, stone tablets balanced in the shape of a 'T', are all much in evidence. Menorca in particular boasts impressive remnants of these ancient peoples.

The Carthaginians founded Ibiza City in 654 BC and made it one of the Mediterranean's major trading ports. The Balearics were regular ports of call for ancient Phoenician traders. Next came the Romans, who were eclipsed by the Visigoths, who were followed by Muslims in the 8th century AD. Muslim domination, which lasted longer than three centuries, left a lasting impression on the islanders' culture, from their architectural styles to traditional dress.

1229: The Christian Reconquista, led by Jaume I of Catalunya, scored its first major victory in the island chain: Palma de Mallorca. Ibiza and Formentera followed six years later.

1287: Menorca held fast, when Alfonso III finished incorporating the islands into the Catalan world.

15th century: After an initial boom as trading centres and Catalan colonies, the islands fell on hard times. Ibiza added fortifications and managed to fight off the Turks, but Formentera fell completely. Isolation from the mainland, famine and frequent raids by pirates made life difficult. Adding insult to injury, Menorca's two major towns were virtually destroyed by Turkish forces during the 16th century.

1715: The Balearics fared poorly in warfare. After backing the Hapsburgs in the Spanish War of Succession, Mallorca and Ibiza were occupied by the victorious Bourbon monarchy.

1713: Menorca, on the other hand, was granted to the British along with Gibraltar under the Treaty of Ultrecht. British rule lasted until 1802, with the exception of the Seven Years War (1756-63), during which Menorca was occupied by the French.

In the Spanish Civil War, Mallorca was repeatedly bombed by Nationalist forces. Peace has been much better to the sunny isles.

1950: With the postwar stability of thes, the Balearics discovered tourism, and the tourists discovered the islands' vast unspoiled beaches. It was a match made in heaven, and the economy got a jumpstart that locals are still enjoying today.

Many of the islanders of today are among the wealthiest citizens of the country, but there have been downsides - construction and hotel mafias have made a killing while inland villages are suffering from depopulation. In recent years islanders have grappled with the challenge of maintaining the prosperity without losing the island's natural beauty to concrete.

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