Mallorca and the Balearic Isles


Chuck Doswell

Last update: 01 October 2004: some additions and revisions.

I have discovered the beauty and pleasure of Mallorca (sometimes written "Majorca" by Anglos)! This incredible island packs a lot of varied topography into a small package, with rugged mountains, fertile plains, dazzling beaches, picturesque villages, all on an island roughly 100 km by 60 km. I found the people to be as warm and friendly as Mediterraneans are advertised to be, and really forgiving of my "pidgin Spanish" as I explored the countryside. Some "samples" of the beauty of the island can be found here and here. And I missed the entire regular tourist season!! During the time from mid-April to mid-September, about 6 million tourists visit Mallorca, mostly to party on the sunny beaches and sample the nightlife. Since the island's permanent population is about 500,000 souls (with 300,000 packed into Palma), this puts a huge strain on the island's carrying capacity, but represents their major source of income. Mallorcans have the standard love-hate relationship with their tourists, but manage to tolerate the tourists with the legendary Mediterranean human warmth. A large infrastructure devoted to tourists (hotels, bars, discotheques, etc.) sits idle during the off-season.

Mallorca is an island at roughly 39 degrees north latitude. It is decidedly not tropical, but the warm Mediterranean moderates its winters, the Alps keep the Russian Arctic airmasses at bay, and the resulting mild climate is ideal for citrus fruits, almonds, olives ... and tourists. The Serra Tramuntana range ("Serra" is Catalan, while the somewhat more familiar [to Anglos] "Sierra" is Castilian Spanish - see below) runs along the island's north coast, with its tallest peak, Puig Major, at 1450 m rising abruptly from the sea. Some smaller mountains can be found along the southeastern side of the island, but they are nowhere near as impressive. Most of the island's rather modest rain falls in the mountains, as is true in many parts of the world. Sea breezes moderate the summer's heat somewhat. The skies are spectacular, with sunrises and sunsets often setting the sky ablaze with color. Flowers bloom year-around and parts of the island bulge with orange and lemon trees. In late January and into mid-February, the almond trees burst into bloom ... almond groves often have a lush green ground cover that sheep also feast on. With many thousands of years of human habitation on a small island, the hand of Man is heavy on the landscape over most of the island. Most of the mountain's foothills have been terraced for agriculture, notably almonds and olives. Nevertheless, the population is pretty sparse between Soller and Pollensa.

There are other, smaller islands in the Balearics: Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera, and many even smaller isles ... the Balearics are an archipelago, after all. Strictly speaking, Ibiza and Formentera are part of a separate chain, but they are often lumped with the Balearics. The islands are essentially the tops of drowned mountains. My knowledge of the geology is limited, but most of the surface and near-surface rock is sedimentary, being mostly calcareous (limestone) and sandstones.

The Balearics have a long, rich, often violent history. They have been swept by various Mediterranean "waves": Greeks, Romans, Arabs, pirates, English, and the "jet set." Much of the culture of the islands is a blend of the cultures of their invaders. They now are part of Spain, but the individual Balearic islands have "belonged" to various nations in the past. Each of them has its own unique mixture of conquerors and absorbed culture. Mallorca's dominant wave of settlement began in the 12th century: the Catalonian Spanish (whose cultural center is Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia), who swept the Arabs from most of the Balearics over an extended period. Thus, the language of the Balearics is Catalan, not Castilian Spanish; virtually everyone speaks Castilian, though. Each island has a slightly different dialect of Catalan, with the version on Mallorca referred to as " Mallorquín," naturally. Mallorca is a melange of the two different languages, with signs appearing arbitrarily in either. English is not widespread but growing in its influence; everyone in the Physics Department was more or less fluent in English. German is spoken in many "enclaves" where German-speaking tourists congregate in the tourist season.

The University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) is primarily a "commuter" university. It is the only university I have ever visited that did not have a parking problem! They have spacious parking lots to accomodate the students, many of whom have jobs and can only attend class late in the evening. Only students from other Balearic islands and foreigners (like me!) live in the "Residence" (what we would call a "dormitory"). I never thought I would live in a dorm again ... but that's just what I did during my extended stay in 1995/1996. It was interesting and I got to know a number of the students. Dorm life was exactly as I remembered it as a student ... indifferent food, lots of late-night noise in the halls, etc. But my student friends more than made up for the inconvenience. I wish them the best of success in their careers! There were 3 exchange students from the University of Texas (Austin) living there and, my OU Sooner heritage notwithstanding, I enjoyed interacting with them and wish them well.

In case you missed the first link, I have a number of images here from my 1995/1996 and 1997 trips and here from my 2003/2004 visit, showing some of the beautiful scenes to be seen on Mallorca.