Palma, Majorca

Palma, Majorca
—  Municipality  —
Panoramic view of Palma in 2011
Panoramic view of Palma in 2011


Coat of arms
Palma is located in Spain
Location in Spain
Coordinates: 39°34′N 2°39′E / 39.567°N 2.65°E / 39.567; 2.65Coordinates: 39°34′N 2°39′E / 39.567°N 2.65°E / 39.567; 2.65
Country  Spain
Autonomous community  Balearic Islands
Province Balearic Islands
Island Mallorca
Judicial district Palma de Mallorca
Founded 123 BC
 – Mayor Mateu Isern (2011) (PP)
 – Total 208.63 km2 (80.6 sq mi)
Elevation 13 m (43 ft)
Population (2009)
 – Total 401,270
 – Density 1,923.4/km2 (4,981.5/sq mi)
Demonym Palmesanos
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 – Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 070XX
Dialing code 971
Official language(s) Catalan, Spanish
Website Official website

Palma (Catalan: [ˈpaɫmə], Spanish: [ˈpalma]; formerly Palma de Mallorca) is the major city and port on the island of Majorca and capital city of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands in Spain. The names Ciutat de Mallorca (English: City of Majorca) and Ciutat were used before the War of the Spanish Succession and are still used by people in Majorca. However, the official name was Mallorca, the same as the island.[1] It is situated on the south coast of the island on the Bay of Palma. As of the 2009 census, the population of the city of Palma proper was 401,270, and the population of the entire urban area was 517,285, ranking as the twelfth largest urban area of Spain. Almost half of the total population of Majorca live in Palma. The Cabrera Archipelago, though widely separated from Palma proper, is administratively considered part of the municipality. Its airport, Son Sant Joan, serves over 22 million passengers each year. The Marivent Palace was offered by the city to the then Prince Juan Carlos I of Spain. The royals have since spent their summer holidays in Palma.



Palma was founded as a Roman camp upon the remains of a Talaiotic settlement. The turbulent history of the city saw it the subject of several Vandal sackings during the fall of the Roman Empire, then reconquered by the Byzantine, then colonised by the Moors (who called it Medina Mayurqa), and finally established by James I of Aragon.

Roman period

After the conquest of Majorca, it was loosely incorporated into the province of Tarraconensis by 123 BC; the Romans founded two new cities: Palma on the south of the island, and Pollentia in the northeast - on the site of a Phoenician settlement. Whilst Pollentia acted as port to Roman cities on the northwestern Mediterranean Sea, Palma was the port used for destinations in Africa, such as Carthage, and Hispania, such as Saguntum, Gades, and Carthago Nova. Though no visible remains of this period are seen in present day Palma, archaeological discoveries still occur whenever excavating under the city centre.

La Seu, Palma Cathedral, built between 1229 and 1346.

Byzantine period

Though the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Muslim conquest is not well known (due to lack of documents), there is clear evidence of Byzantine presence in the city, as indicated by mosaics found in the oldest parts of the Cathedral, which was in early medieval times a paleo-Christian temple.

Muslim period

Between 902 and 1229, the city was under Islamic control.

Under the Caliphate

The arrival of Moors in the Balearic Islands occurred at the beginning of the 8th century. During this period, the population developed an economy based on self-sufficiency and piracy, and even showed evidence of a relative hierarchy. The dominant groups took advantage of the Byzantine withdrawal due to Islamic expansion, to reinforce their domination upon the rest of the population, thus ensuring their power and the gradual abandonment of Imperial structures.

In 707, a Muslim fleet, under the command of Abd Allgaht ibn Musa, son of the governor of Ifriqiya, Musa ibn Nusayr, stopped at the island. It appears that Abd Allah convinced the factional powers of the city to accept a peace treaty. This treaty granted, in exchange for a tax, respect for social, economic and political structures to the communities that subscribed it, as well as the continuity of their religious beliefs..

After 707, the city was inhabited by Christians who were nominally in allegiance to the sovereignty of the Caliphate of Damascus, yet who, de facto, enjoyed an absolute autonomy. The city, being in Majorca, constituted an enclave between westernChristian and Islamic territories, and this attracted and encouraged increased levels of piracy in the surrounding waters. For wide sectors of the city's population, the sacking of ships (whether Muslim or Christian) which passed through Balearic waters, was the first source of riches during the next fifteen decades. Eventually, the continued piracy in the region lead to retaliation by Al-Andalus which launched its naval power against the city and the whole of the Islands. The Islands were defended by the emperor Charlemagne in 799 from a Saracen pirate incursion.

In 848 (maybe 849), four years after the first Viking incursions had sacked the whole island, an attack from Córdoba forced the authorities to ratify the treaty to which the city had submitted in 707. As the city still occupied an eccentric position regarding the commerce network established by the Caliph in the western Mediterranean, the enclave was not immediately incorporated into Al-Andalus.

While the Caliphate of Córdoba reinforced its influence upon the Mediterranean, the interest of Al-Andalus for the city increased. The logical consequence of this evolution was the substitution of the submission treaty by the effective incorporation of the islands to the Islamic state. This incorporation took place in the last years of the Emirate. a squad under the command of Isam al-Jawlani took advantage of the instability caused by several Viking incursions and disembarked in Majorca, and after destroying any resistance, incorporated Majorca, with Palma as its capital, to the Córdobese dominions.

View of the tower of Porto Pí and the Fortress of Sant Carles in the background.

The incorporation of the city to the Emirate sets the basis for a new social organisation, far more articulated and complex than before. Commerce and manufacture developed in a manner that was unknown previously. This caused a considerable demographic growth, thereby establishing Medina Mayurqa as one of the major ports for trading goods in and out of the Caliphate of Córdoba.

Dénia - Balearic Taifa (1015 - 1087)

Sant Nicolau Church

The Umayyad regime, despite its administrative centralisation, mercenary army and struggle to gain wider social support, could neither harmonise the various ethnic groups inside al-Andalus nor dissolve the old tribal bounds which still organised sporadic ethnic in-fighting. During the 11th century, the Caliphate's control waned considerably. Provinces broke free from the central Córdobese administration, and became effectively sovereign states - taifas - under the same governors that had been named by the last Umayyad Caliphs. According to their origin, these "taifas" can be grouped under three broad categories: Arabian, Berber, or Slavic origin.

Palma was part of the taifa of Dénia. The founder of this state was a client of the Al-Mansur family, Muyahid ibn Yusuf ibn Ali, who could take profit from the progressive crumbling of the Caliphate's superstructure to gain control over the province of Dénia. Subsequently, Muyahid organised a campaign throughout the Balearic Islands to consolidate this district and incorporated them to its "taifa" in early 1015.

During the following years Palma became the main port from where attacks on Christian vessels and coasts could be launched. Palma was the base from where a campaign against Sardinia was launched between 1016 and 1017, which caused the intervention of Pisans and Genoese forces. Later, this intervention set the basis for Italian mercantile penetration of the city.

The Denian dominion lasted until 1087, a period during which the city, as well as the rest of the islands, was relatively peaceful. Their supremacy at sea was still not rivalled by the Italian merchant republics, thus there were few external threats.

The Balearic Taifa (1087 - 1115) and the Western Mediterranean

The Banu Hud conquest of Dénia and the incorporation of this to the Eastern district of the taifa of Zaragoza meant the destruction of the work of Muyahid. The Islands got unbound from peninsular dominion and for a short time, enjoyed independence, during which Medina Mayurqa was the capital.

The economy during this period depended on both agriculture and piracy. In the latter 11th century, Christian commercial powers took the initiative at sea against the Muslims. After centuries of fighting defensively in the face of Islamic pressure, Italians, Catalans and Occitans took offensive action. Consequently, the benefits of piracy diminished causing severe economic stress on the city.

The clearest proof of the new ruling relation of forces, from 1090, is the Crusade organised by the most important mercantile cities of the Christian states against the Islands. This effort was destined to finally eradicate Muslim piracy mainly based in Palma and surrounding havens. In 1115, Palma was sacked and later abandoned by an expedition commanded by Ramon Berenguer III the Great, count of Barcelona and Provence, which comprised Catalans, Pisans and other Italians, and soldiers from Provence, Corsica, and Sardinia, in a struggle to end Almoravid control.

After this, the Islands became part of the Almoravid Caliphate. The inglobement of all the taifa to a larger state helped to re-establish a balance along the frontier that separated western Christian states from the Muslim world.

Santa Eulalia church, in which James II of Majorca was crowned on September 12, 1276.

The period of the Banu Ganiya (1157 - 1203)

The situation changed in the mid-12th century, when the Almoravids, were displaced from al-Andalus and western Maghreb by the Almohad. Almoravid dominions, from 1157 on, were restricted to the Balearic Islands, with Palma again acting as the capital, governed by Muhammad ibn Ganiya. Massive arrival of al-Andalus refugees contributed to reinforce the positions of the last Almoravid legitimatists, the Banu Ganiya, who, conscious of their weakness in the Western Mediterranean context, started to get closer to the growing powers represented by Italian maritime republics. Genoa and Pisans obtained in this period their first commercial concessions in the city and the rest of the islands.

The Banu Ganiya, taking advantage of the great loss suffered by Abu Yuqub Yusuf in the Battle of Santarém (1184), attacked Ifriqiya, where the Almohad dominion had not been consolidated yet, in the same year. However, this attack was repelled and the Almohad authorities encouraged anti-Almoravid revolts in the Islands. The city was captured by the Almohads in 1203.

Christian conquest and late Middle Age

Bellver Castle, was the first circle castle in Europe.
Royal Palace of La Almudaina, built in 1309 over other former castle.
Palma's Silk Exchange, a masterpiece of the Gothic architecture in Majorca. Built between 1420 and 1452.

On December 31, 1229, after three months of siege, the city was conquered by James I of Aragon and was renamed Palma de Mallorca. In addition to being kept as capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, it was given a municipality that comprised the whole island. The governing organ was the University of the City and Kingdom of Majorca. After the death of James I of Aragon, Palma was joint capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, together with Perpignan. His son, James II of Majorca, championed the construction of statues and monuments in the city: Bellver Castle, the churches of St. Francesc and St. Domingo, reformed the Palace of Almudaina and began the construction of the Cathedral of Majorca.

The river that cut through the city gave rise to two distinct areas within the city; "Upper town" and "Lower town", depending upon which side of the river they were situated.

The city's privileged geographical location allowed it to keep extensive commerce with Catalonia, Valencia, Provence, the Maghreb, the Italian republics and the dominions of the Great Turk, which heralded a golden age for the city.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Rebellion of the Brotherhoods (a peasant uprising against Charles V's administration) and the frequent attack of Turkish and Berber pirates caused a reduction of commercial activities and a huge inversion in defensive structures. As a consequence, the city entered a period of decadence that would last till the end of the 17th century.

17th to 19th centuries

The 17th century is characterised by the division of the city in two sides or gangs, named Canamunts and Canavalls (from Majorcan Catalan "the ones from the upper/lower side"), with severe social and economical repercussions. During this period the port became a corsairs haven. During the last quarter of the century, the Inquisition reinforced its prosecution of the Jews, locally named xuetes.

The fall of Barcelona in 1714 meant the end of the Spanish Succession War and the defeat and destruction of the Crown of Aragon, and this was reflected on the Decretos de Nueva Planta, issued by Phillip V of Spain in 1715. This occupation decree changed the government of the island and separated it from the municipality's government of Palma, which became the official city name. By the end of the 19th century, the name Palma de Mallorca was generalised in written Spanish, although it is still colloquially named Ciutat ("city") in Catalan. In the 18th century Charles III of Spain removed interdiction of commerce with Spanish colonies in America and the port and commercial activity of the city grew once again.

City council of Palma

At the beginning of the 19th century, Palma became the refuge of many who had exiled themselves from the Napoleonic occupation of Catalonia and Valencia; during this period freedom flourished, until the absolutist restoration. With the establishing of the contemporary Spanish state administrative organization, Palma became the capital of the new province of Balearic Islands in the 1833 territorial division of Spain. The French occupation of Algeria in the 19th century ended the fear of Maghrebi attacks in Majorca, which favoured the expansion of new maritime lines, and consequently, the economic growth of the city, which suffered a demographic increase, with the birth of new nucleus of population.

Contemporary age

Population of Palma (1900-2006)

Since the 1950s, the advent of mass tourism radically changed the face of both the city and island, transforming it into a centre of attraction for visitors and attracting workers from mainland Spain. This contributed to a huge change in the traditions, the sociolinguistic map, urbanisation and acquisitive power.

The boom in tourism caused Palma to grow significantly, with repercussions on immigration. In 1960, Majorca received 500,000 visitors, in 1997 it received more than 6,739,700. In 2001 more than 19,200,000 people passed through Son Sant Joan airport near Palma, with an additional 1.5 million coming by sea.

In the 21st century, urban redevelopment, by the so-called Pla Mirall (English "Mirror Plan"), attracted important groups of immigrant workers from outside the European Union, especially from Africa and South America.


Palma is the major city and seaport geographically located in the south-west of Majorca. The city lies on the larger coastal Bay of Palma in the western Mediterranean Sea. The land area of the city is about 21.355 km² with an altitude of 13 metres.

Palma is bordered by rocky inlets and marinas on the south side, whilst many of the tourist resorts are positioned towards the east side of the city. The central zone that extends from Palma is generally a flat fertile plain known as Es Pla. There are two uninhabited islands, which are located southeast of Palma and Dragonera which is west of Palma. [2]


Climate data for Palma de Mallorca (Satelitte view)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 15.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 11.7
Average low °C (°F) 8.3
Precipitation mm (inches) 43
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1 mm) 5 5 4 6 4 2 1 1 4 7 6 6 52
Sunshine hours 165 168 204 231 280 307 342 313 228 204 165 154 2,763
Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología[3]

Main sights

Bus tour of the city
"Palma City Sightseeing"

Plaça d'Espanya

The Plaça d'Espanya is the transport hub of Palma. The Estació Intermodal caters for buses and trains (the latter controlled by TIB). The two old buildings home to the tourist information and several cafés sit either side of the two large escalators which lead into the Estació, which interestingly enough sits underneath a large and popular park. On the lawns are several glass boxes, which let in light and ventilation to the station below ground. There are also train-themed playing structures, each one shaped like a train carriage and named after towns along the line of the Ferrocarril de Sóller, a railway dating back to 1911 which has its Palma Station right next to the park. Just down the street from here a new bus station is under construction.

The Cathedral Area

Palma is famous for La Seu, its vast cathedral originally built on a previous mosque. Although construction began in 1229, it did not finish until 1601 and local architect Antoni Gaudí was drafted in during a restoration project in 1901. The Parc de la Mar (Park of the Sea) lies just south overlooked by the great building which sits above it on the city's stone foundations. Between these two are the town walls. Here there is a vast blue and yellow canopy strung over a lower area, shading rows of wooden benches.

The Old City

El Pueblo Español
Old streets in Palma

The Old City (in the south-east area of Palma behind the Cathedral) is a fascinating maze of streets clearly hinting towards an Arab past. With the exception of a few streets and squares which allow traffic and are more populated with tourists most of the time, the walkways of this city quarter are fairly narrow, quiet streets, surrounded by a diverse range of interesting buildings, the architecture of which can easily be compared with those in streets of cities such as Florence (Italy), for example. The majority are private houses, some of which are open to the public as discreet museums or galleries. The tall structures, characteristic window boxes, detailed metal carvings and overhanging eaves of these buildings make a stark contrast with the view of the bay that is obtained by stepping out of the shady alleyways next to the cathedral and onto the old city walls. The Old City is also home to the Ajuntament (or Town Hall), the Convent of the Cathedral and the Banys Àrabs.

Banys Àrabs

Colom street
View of the ancient mills of El Jonquet

The Banys Àrabs, or Arab Baths, one of the few remnants of Palma's Moorish past, are accessed via the quiet Ca'n Serra street near the Convent of the Cathedral, and include the lush gardens of Ca'n Fontirroig, home to Sardinian warblers, house sparrows, cacti, palm trees, and a wide range of flowers and ferns. The small two-roomed brick building that once housed the bath is in fact of Byzantine origin, dating back to the 11th century and possibly once part of the home of a Muslim nobleman. The bath room has a cupola with five oculi which let in dazzling light. The twelve columns holding up the small room were pillaged from an earlier Roman construction. The floor over the hypocaust has been worn away by people standing in the centre, mainly to photograph the entrance and the garden beyond it. The whole room is in a rather disreputable condition. The other room is a brick cube with a small model of the baths as they once were in the corner. Unfortunately one of the columns in this model has fallen over.

Rubbish containers

Harbour of Palma with the Castle of Bellver in the background

Rather more modern additions to the old parts of the city are the attractive and discreet bronze rubbish collecting bins. They operate under the simple method of putting one's refuse into the cylinder at the top of the machine and turning a handle which then revolves the cylinder, tipping it into the lower area of the bin.


Football is the most important sport on the island, led by the Primera División football league team Real Mallorca with its stadium placed at Palma. Segunda División B team CD Atlético Baleares also play in Palma at the 18,000 capacity Estadi Balear.

Because of its island condition all the sea sports have also a big presence in Palma. Maybe the most important event is the Trofeo Ciutat de Palma.

Road cycling is very popular in Mallorca, with many enthusiasts from northern European countries coming to enjoy the relatively pleasant weather in winter and spring, as well as the opportunity to tackle several fine mountain climbs in the north of the island. An international race for professional cyclists, the Vuelta a Mallorca, is held in February, the first day of which consists of a circuit race around the streets of Palma.

Palma was the host of the tennis event Battle of Surfaces.

Platja de Palma in El Arenal


Correfocs in Palma

See also


External links

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