Spain – The Balearic Islands

THE Balearic Islands are attached to the mainland of Spain by a submarine plateau, and are geographically as well as historically a dependency of Valencia and Catalonia. The ranges of hills traversing these islands have the same direction as those of Murcia and Valencia. On the other hand, the peninsula of La Bana, at the mouth of the Ebro, extends beneath the sea in the direction of Ibiza, and from this submarine tongue of land rises a group of volcanic rocks. These are the Columbretes, from the Latin colubraria, signifying ” serpents’ islets.”

The Baleares are small in area, but favoured by climate, productiveness, and natural beauty. They are the ” Happy Islands ” of the ancients, and, compared with many of the coast lands, are indeed a favoured region. War and pestilence have been no strangers to them, but continual troubles have not interfered with their development.

The islands consist of two groups, the Pityuses and the Baleares proper. The name of the latter is said to refer to the expertness of the natives as sling ers; and, when Q. Metellus prepared to land upon them, he took care to shelter his men beneath an awning of hides. The climate is moister and more equable than that of neighbouring Spain. Violent storms occur frequently.

The structures called talayots (watch-towers) prove that the islands were inhabited before the historic epoch. These were built probably by the same race to whom the nuraghi of Sardinia owe their existence ; but the present population is a very mixed one, for every nation of antiquity has successively invaded the island.

The language spoken is a Catalan dialect resembling that of Limousin. The Majorcans are generally small of stature, but well proportioned, and the women of some of the districts are famed for their beauty and expressive features. The peasantry are suspicious and thrifty, but honest and hospitable; and their dress, consisting of loose breeches, a belt, a bright-coloured vest, and a goatskin cloak, is picturesque. Dancing to the music of a guitar or flute is their favourite amusement.

IBIZA (IVIZA), the largest island of the Pityuses, is hardly more than fifty miles from Cabo de la Nao. Its surface is hilly and intersected by numerous torrent beds. Puerto Magno (Pormany, or Grand Port) lies on the west side, and a similar bay, the trysting-place of numerous fishing-smacks, on the south side. On its shore stands the capital of the island, an ancient Carthaginian colony. A chain of islets and rocks, similar to the Adam’s Bridge of Ceylon, joins the southernmost cape of Ibiza to Formentera Island. The climate is said to be so salubrious that neither serpents nor other noxious reptiles can bar it. The population is small, in spite of the fertility of the island. Watch-towers and castles of refuge near every village recall the time when the inhabitants suffered from Moorish pirates. The islanders are happy, for the central Government leaves them pretty much to themselves.

MALLORCA, or MAJORCA, the largest of the group, is the only one which can boast of a regular range of mountains, rising precipitously along the north-western coast, and culminating in the twin peaks of Silk de Torrella (4,940) feet) and Puig Mayor (4,920 feet). These mountains are amongst the most picturesque in all Europe, and from their summits may he enjoyed a magnificent prospect.. The moufflon is said still to haunt their pine woods and recesses. The greater portion of the island consists of a plain lying at an elevation of 150 feet above the sea-level, and dotted over with isolated puigs, or conical peaks, surmounted in many instances by an old church or castle. The eastern extremity of the island is hilly, and the Bec de Farruch (1, 863 feet) still bears its old Arabic name. Near it are the wonderful stalactite caverns of Arta, which extend beneath the sea. The extremities of the most depressed portion of the island open out towards two great bays, one in the north-east, the other in the south-west. Palma, the capital of the island, lies on the former of these, though the other, known as Puerto de Alcudia, would offer greater advantages were it not for the pestilential swamps which surround it. On the iron bound northern coast there are no harbours, but coasting vessels frequent the creek of Soller, whence they export oranges.

The peasants, or pagases,. of Majorca have the reputation of being good agriculturists, but much of the progress made is due to Catalan immigrants. The island produces delicious wines (Benisalem), olive oil, oranges, vegetables, and pigs, all of which find a market at Barcelona or in France. The corn grown is not, however, sufficient for the support of the population, and Majorcans as well as ” “Mahonian ” gardeners are met with in e% cry town of the Mediterranean. Bay-salt is made at Cape Salinas. Shoes, cottons, linens, baskets, and porous vases are produced ; but the manufacture of majolica has ceased. Palma is a busy place of 40,000 inhabitants, and its bastioned walls, castle, cathedral, and amphitheatricully built houses present a fine appearance from the sea. The inhabitants are proud of their public buildings, and assert that their lonja is superior to that of Valencia. The Chuctas, or converted Jews, are a curious element of the population. They occupy a separate quarter, marry amongst themselves, and have preserved their race distinctions and mercantile genius. A large portion of the landed property of the island has passed into their hands. A railway traversing the rich districts of Santa Maria and Benisalem, to the south of the populous towns of Manacor and Felanitx, connects Palma with Alcudia level, its culminating point, Monte Toro, in the centre of the island, only attaining a height of I,lf 1 feet. The strong northerly winds which sweep over its plains cause the trees to turn their branches in the direction of Africa, and orange-trees find shelter only in the barrancas, or ravines, which intersect them. The climate is less pleasant than that of the neighbouring island, and the soil less fertile, for, consisting for the most part of limestone, it rapidly absorbs the rain. There are two ports and two cities, one at each extremity of the island, which from time immemorial have claimed precedence. Ciudadela (7,000 inhabitants) enjoys the advantage of closer proximity to Majorca, but its harbour is bad. Port Mahon (15,000 inhabitants), on the other hand, possess.% an admirable port, and Andreas Doria says with reference to it that ” June, July, and Mahon are the best ports of the Mediterranean.” The English made Mahon a wealthy city, but its trade fell off immediately when they abandoned it in 1802.