Spanish: Islas Baleares.
Archipelago in the western Mediterranean Sea. It
forms an autonomous community (comunidad autónoma) of Spain
(coextensive with the Spanish provincia of the same name) which
was established by the statute of autonomy in 1983.
Palma is the capital as well as the military, judicial,
and ecclesiastical centre of the autonomous community. The government encompasses
the insular councils of Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza-Formentera.
The archipelago lies 80 to 300 km (50 to 190 miles)
east of the Spanish mainland. There are two groups of islands. The eastern
and larger forms the Balearics proper and includes the principal islands
of Majorca (Spanish: Mallorca) and Minorca (Menorca) and the small island
of Cabrera. The western group is known as the Pitiusas and includes the
islands of Ibiza and Formentera. The archipelago is an extension of the
sub-Baetic mountains of peninsular Spain, and the two are linked by a sill
near Cape Nao in the province of Alicante. The Balearics exhibit a varied
terrain, with undulating hills, plateaus, and lowlands. Minorca has extensive
plains. Annual precipitation is low, rarely exceeding 450 mm, and occurs
mainly in the autumn and spring.
Area: 5,014 square km (1,936 square miles).
The raids of Barbary pirates discouraged settlement
along the coast until the 19th century. The spread of tourism since the
mid-19th century has led to the concentration of the population along the
coastal areas and the depopulation of the hinterland. The population of
Majorca and Minorca is heavily concentrated in the larger cities, while
that of the islands of Ibiza and Formentera tends to be dispersed.
Population: 702,770 (1991 prelim.).
Farmland is often subdivided into minifundios (small
landholdings), the number of
latifundios (large landholdings) having
declined sharply since 1920 as the emigration from the hinterland has reduced
the agricultural workforce in the islands. The traditional Mediterranean
crops of wheat, grapes, and olives predominated until 1830, when improved
transport allowed new cash crops to be taken to more distant markets. These
include almonds, peaches, apricots, carob, and tomatoes. Dry farming predominates,
though the waterwheels and windmills that were introduced by the Muslims
for irrigation persist. Sir Richard Kane, governor of Minorca between 1712
and 1736, introduced cattle and sheep from North Africa and pigs from Sardinia;
these breeds continue to be raised.
Manufacturing is of relatively little importance,
and most establishments have fewer than five employees. Manufactures include
shoes, furniture, and textiles. Fine lace and embroidery are made for tourists.
Tourism, which dominates the economy, offers only seasonal employment,
with much of the workforce idle during the winter.
Varied civilizations have left their marks on the islands,
and, although the prehistoric talayotic civilization (so termed from its
characteristic rough stone towers called talayots) seems to have continued
without much modification, the focal position of the islands in the Mediterranean
laid them open to continued influence from civilizations centred farther
to the east, as many archaeological finds attest. Important discoveries
of bronze swords and single and double axes, antennae swords, and heads
and figures of bulls and other animals all bear witness to foreign influence
over long periods of time. Pottery, mostly of the native talayotic types,
seems to have persisted with little change until the Roman occupation.
Historical evidence points to at least 2,600 years of settlement, for the
islands were successively ruled by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Moors,
and Spaniards, all of whom have left their mark.
The Balearics were conquered by the Vandals in 526
and fell to the Byzantines in 534. The Muslim occupation of the islands
was complete by 903. James I of Aragon conquered the islands of Majorca
and Ibiza between 1229 and 1235, and Minorca fell to his descendant, Alfonso
III, in 1287. The Balearics were established as an autonomous kingdom in
1298 and rejoined Aragon in 1349. The British captured Mahón in
1708, and the Treaties of Utrecht in 1713 ceded Minorca to the British,
who occupied it until 1802. The Balearics were established as a Spanish
province in 1833.
A regionalist movement emerged in the late 19th century
but failed to consolidate. A statute of autonomy was proposed in 1931,
but not until the Organic Law of 25 February 1983, was one finally enacted.
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