The Balearic Isles
( Originally Published 1904 )
WE have left the Azores and are passing through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. That great yellow rock on the left, with the guns frowning out of its fortifications, is Gibraltar. It belongs to the English, and is a part of the continent of Europe. The ragged, rocky mountains on our right are in Morocco, on the continent of Africa. The sea in front of us reaches on and on for more than two thousand miles, separating these continents, forming the highways of travel between them.
How bright the sun is, and how beautiful and blue is the water ! It is rippling under the wind, and thousands of black porpoises are leaping and racing at the front, back, and sides of our vessel. They stay with us for hours. We move slowly eastward, and then, turning north, call at the Balearic (bal-e-ar'ik) Islands belonging to Spain.
The Balearic Archipelago consists of four principal islands and several smaller ones, formed by the highest parts of a subterranean ridge which here extends far out from the continent. The islands, all told, have an area not much greater than half that of Puerto Rico. The first two we pass are Formentera(for-men-tatra) and Iviza (e-ve'tha). They are small and low, but are covered with orchards and vineyards. Farther on is Majorca, the largest of the group, about the size of Rhode Island, and farther still, Minorca, which is next in size. Both are rugged and mountainous, and both are of importance to trade, although not so much so now as in the past.
The Balearic Isles were famous in the days of old Rome. They were noted for their slingers, and one Roman general had to put skins over his boats to protect his men from missiles thrown by the natives. During the Middle Ages these islands were among the chief markets of Europe. They traded with France, Spain, Italy, and Africa; and ships from Asia, loaded with goods brought by caravans from the interior, came across the Mediterranean Sea to Majorca, and there transferred their freight to other vessels bound for the European countries near by. When the Cape of Good Hope was discovered, Asiatic products were sent south around Africa, and the islands lost this trade. They are now chiefly dependent upon the coasts nearest them. They export oil, almonds, oranges, lemons, and capers to Marseilles, and wine, pigs, and vegetables to Barcelona, and also to Algiers and Italy.
Our first stopping place is in the beautiful harbor of Palma, the capital of the archipelago. It is a Spanish city of more than sixty thousand people, lying right on the sea, and extending up the hills at the back. Not far from the shore is a great cathedral built centuries ago, and on the hills above we can see windmills which remind us of Holland. Here and there palm trees are waving over the houses.
The streets are narrow, and the houses not unlike those of Madeira. The people are polite, and we enjoy their quaint costumes, which resemble those of the peasants of some parts of Spain.
We gallop on donkeys out into the country through roads lined with thorny cochineal plants and other cacti. There are many orange trees, gnarly olive orchards, smooth-leaved fig trees, and also pomegranates.
Much of Majorca is kept like a garden. The soil is as rich as that of California; single orange trees have produced more than two thousand oranges in one season, and grapes grow in such luxuriance that one bunch would furnish a lunch for a. class of schoolboys. There are also apples, cherries, and peaches, and indeed almost every kind of fruit.