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Balearic Islands - History

Balearic Islands History

Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on the Balearics as early as 5000 BC, though it's likely people enjoyed those sandy beaches even earlier. 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 civilization. Menorca in particular boasts impressive remnants of these ancient peoples. 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.

The Balearics were regular ports of call for ancient Phoenician traders. The Carthaginians founded Ibiza City in 654 BC and made it one of the Mediterranean's major trading ports. 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 islander's culture, from their traditional dress to architectural styles.

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

After an initial boom as trading centres and Catalan colonies, the islands fell on hard times in the 15th century. 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. Ibiza added fortifications and managed to fight off the Turks, but Formentera fell completely.

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 in 1715. Menorca, on the other hand, was granted to the British along with Gibraltar in 1713 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.

During the Spanish Civil War, Mallorca was repeatedly bombed by Nationalist forces. Peace has been much better to the sunny isles. With the postwar stability of the 1950s, 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.

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