• The dark centuries and Moslem rule (454 - 1229) The dark centuries and Moslem rule (454 - 1229)

    The looting of Mallorca by Vandals in 454 represented the end of Roman domination of the island and the beginning of a long period of which little or nothing is known. The virtual disappearance of the island's two Roman cities and a notable drop in human pressure on the environment due to the declining population are the most significant features of this period. The only thing that is known, in the pre-Islamic period, is the use of castles built in mountainous locations, used subsequently by Mo [...]

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The Christian conquest and modern era (13th to 18th centuries)


The Christian conquest of Mallorca in 1229, with the arrival of King Jaime I of Aragon (the Conqueror), led to the introduction of a European feudal system in the Moslem countryside and an end to the fragmented possession of farm holdings. Instead agricultural land became concentrated in the hands of the aristocracy, with the creation of rural estates called possessions. Once the island had been conquered, its land and properties were shared out among all the participants in the conquest: King Jaime I, the Crown of Aragon's important feudal lords, more minor nobles or knights, and the Church, leading to new forms of spatial and social organization.

Because the island bordered Moslem territories, a network of fortifications had to be built in the form of watchtowers and castles along the mountain range. In this way the island's most important fortifications, which the Moslems had already transformed into major strongholds, were consolidated: Castillo del Rey (Pollença), Alaró Castle in the Tramuntana Mountains, and Santueri Castle (Felanitx) in the eastern mountains. Another medieval fortification in the Tramuntana Mountains that is now in ruins, with barely visible remains, is El Teix Castle, built in 1309, known as the casetes del rei Sanxo. These castles, perched on rocks, were used by followers of King Jaime III of Mallorca to defend themselves during the island's invasion by King Pedro IV of Aragon, which led to the reincorporation of the independent island kingdom (1271-1343) into the Catalan-Aragonese confederation.

The increasing commercial strength of the island's capital (called Ciutat de Mallorca up until 1715) generated increasing pressure on the rest of the island, which was divided into estates whose owners lived in the city and chose the main crops to be grown according to their potential commercial benefits. Compared with Moslem agriculture, which was mainly based on orchards, this feudal society and economy promoted the introduction of non-irrigated crops, primarily wheat, olives and vines. This move from a Moslem agricultural system of small tribes that each revolved around an irrigation network and self-sufficient supplies to a feudal one brought about big changes to the landscape of the Tramuntana area.

At the same time, from the Catalan conquest, olive growing became more widespread, especially in the northern and southern areas of the Tramuntana area, with the central focus being the municipalities of Esporles, Bunyola, Valldemossa, Deià and Sóller. Taking advantage of the extraordinary aptitude of these trees to grow on mountain slopes and the technique of hillside terraces shored up by dry-stone walls introduced in Moslem times to create irrigated land, a large amount of woodland was ploughed up to free new land. The old Moslem olives of some farms, like those of Biniatzar in Bunyola, acted as a core. With the passing of the centuries, olive-growing spread throughout the entire Tramuntana area and, in this way, new terraces of olive groves were added to existing ones and to Moslem irrigated hillside terraces.

Feudal lords and owners of big estates mainly levied taxes for peasants to pay on less easily perishable non-irrigated agricultural produce. This new system put peasants under the control of feudal lords in the city and thus favoured the city-based growth of the latter's power over the rest of the island's rural land, symbolized by its rural estates. Unlike the Islamic farms and small farm holdings, these estates grew, increasing their surfaces areas of cultivated land. Extensive livestock farming became decreasingly important and estates specialized more and more in crop-growing alone. From the 16th and 17th centuries, in parallel with different crises in subsistence caused by successive increases in the population, olive growing was extended, reaching higher altitudes and covering more and more land. Given how steep the land was, it might have seemed impossible to grow olives there, but for the use of hillside terraces.

The late medieval and modern ages represented a golden age for the local landowning nobility and estates, whose houses played a key role in the island's traditional agricultural and livestock farming economy. They underwent functional changes over the centuries to meet defensive needs or the desires of their owners to have a large rural mansion. This led to different types of buildings, some of a fortified nature, like Son Marroig (in Deià), while others were authentic baroque palaces, like Alfàbia (Bunyola) or La Granja (Esporles) or neo-classic ones, as is the case of Raixa (Bunyola).

In parallel, during the Modern Age, an organized, coordinated defensive system was introduced to deal with pirate raids, under which the island was divided into three parts: the mountains, plain and coastal section. Some towns in the Tramuntana area or close to it were expected to offer assistance to ones closer to the coast. For instance, the towns of Santa María, Bunyola and Alaró had to assist Sóller in the event of a pirate attack.

From the 16th century, this system was intensified with the construction of watchtowers in the mountains, combining to form a complex, effective network of coastal surveillance, covering the whole of Mallorca. The towers could communicate with one another by smoke signals, so that in just a few hours the whole island could be warned of an attack. Worthy of special mention are the defensive towers and watchtowers of Cala En Basset (in Andratx), la Trinitat (Valldemossa), la Pedrissa (Deià), la Torre Picada (Sóller), Na Seca (Escorca) and Aubercutx (Pollença).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly during the reign of King Felipe II (1558-1598), Mallorca was constantly besieged by pirates, with the Turkish empire generally leading them in attempts to weaken the Spanish monarchy's hold over Mediterranean areas. The people who lived in the Tramuntana Mountains were the most isolated and found it most difficult to find reinforcements when needed, and so some attacks were devastating, like those on Banyalbufar and Estellencs in 1546. The townspeople of Pollença defeated the fearsome pirate Dragut in 1550 at a well-known battle, and much looting was recorded in Alcúdia (1551), Valldemossa (1552) and Andratx (1553). Nevertheless, the town of Sóller suffered from one of the worst pirate attacks of the century. In May 1561, the population was attacked by a small Turkish/Algerian fleet commanded by Euldj Alí, Dragut's second-in-command. Sources speak of almost 1700 pirates landing, intending to loot the town, but they were met by the townsfolk, with reinforcements from Alaró, Bunyola and Santa Maria, who stood up to the invaders and forced them to retreat, following much destruction and pillaging.