Balearic Islands: a Mediterranean paradise
The Balearic Islands are located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, east of the coast of Valencia in Spain, in the Balearic Sea. With their heavenly charms and 300 days of sunshine a year, the isles are a perfect destination for sunny holidays. Enjoy breathtaking sunsets, hike the trails in verdant valleys overlooking magical coastlines or relax in picturesque villages away from the crowds.
Due to their reputation for lively nightlife, the Balearic Islands do not seem, at first glance, to be ideal for a halal-friendly holiday. However Muslims can, with an open mind, discover Islamic remnants and enjoy halal options for a great trip. The secret is to avoid popular tourist spots and let yourself be carried away by the natural currents of the island. Muslim tourists can find Islamic heritage buried in every corner of these multifaceted islands. The islands have a strong Spanish identity, with ties to their motherland and ancient Andalusia.
Which are the Balearic Islands?
The four main islands of the Balearic Islands are Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The island of Cabrera offers a special feature because of its national park.
Apart from these five inhabited islands, the Balearics also include 146 uninhabited islands. To access them, there are several possibilities:
By boat: There are seven major ports on the Balearic Islands. There is a direct ferry crossing between Toulon and Mallorca, or regular lines from Barcelona, Valencia, Denia and Gandia in Spain, which are more frequent during the summer season.
By plane: The islands can be reached in under three hours by plane from major UK cities with affordable tickets and frequent flights. If you add the Balearic Islands to your travel plans in Spain, the flight takes less than an hour.
The history of Islam in the Balearic Islands
History shows that borders have always been points of contention and subject to change. Today the Balearic Islands are part of Spain but that was not always the case. As early as 707, Umayyad troops attempted to dominate the islands with fierce raids. Eventually, in 903, Isam al-Jolani became the first Wali (protector) of the Balearic Islands and the Islamic chapter of the islands began, lasting almost three centuries. Located at a strategic point between Catalan Spain and North Africa, the islands were the ideal base for the expansion of Dar d'Islam (Muslim territories). The benefits were not only military but also commercial and cultural. During Roman rule, the Balearics were poor farmers and even pirates, and the arrival of the Muslims boosted their industries.
It was during the tenth and eleventh century that the Balearic Islands acquired their reputation for being rich in resources. The Arabs, Berbers and Slavs (Saqaliba) of the Balearics improved the economic conditions of the islands, which propelled the islands into a future of trade and culture that can be seen today through cuisine, landscapes and infrastructure. The Muslim inhabitants began to develop modern irrigation systems, which enabled wealth in natural resources. The sale of fruit, olive oil and salt throughout Andalusia, Europe and the Maghreb flourished in the Middle Ages. The breeding mules of Balearic origin were so coveted that they were used by Christians and Muslims for wars and crusades.
The introduction of sophisticated irrigation systems resulted in systematic prosperity across the islands. Today one can trace the Islamic influence through the terminologies of irrigation and several plants and vegetation that have retained their Arabic names in the Catalan language. These words, borrowed from Arabic, are an indication of how Islam has changed the agricultural face of the islands. While it is more difficult to find an obvious Muslim influence in the architecture, the Arab contributions instead spread through the cuisine, language and even the distinct character of the islands.
Modern presence of Islam in the islands
The Balearic Islands have seen their population increase by 1 million in the last century. Mallorca is home to almost 80% of the population of all the islands. In 2017, a census taker reported that 16.7% of the population were non-Spanish citizens and that the most migrants were of Moroccan origin. Although Catholicism is the largest religion, the Muslim presence of Moroccans, Senegalese, Pakistanis and even Spanish converts and second-generation immigrants is growing.
Islamic heritage sites on the islands
Palma, which became the capital of Majorca during the reign of the Muslims, was initially called the Madina Mayurqa and was the bustling centre that united the Balearic Islands. Being the largest island, it has prompted the most exchanges in culture, commerce and intellectual abilities between the metropolis and the Muslim and Christian territories.
Visit the Banys Arabs (Arab Baths), a classic Islamic remnant in its architectural and functional form. While the practice of public baths lost popularity in the West during the Middle Ages, Muslim territories in Europe maintained their importance.
The Diocesa Museum, located in the centre of Palma, is a Christian museum in the former 13th century bishop's palace which displays several Arabic and Mozarabic artefacts (Jews and Muslims who remained after the exile of the Muslim peoples).
The Alfabia Gardens are a fine example of universal nature appreciation. The verdant gardens, overflowing with aromatic flowers in magnificent arrangement, were planned for the Muslim viceroy in the 13th century. When James I of Aragon conquered the Balearic Islands, he gifted the gardens to his uncle, who then sold them to a Moorish family. The Garden has kept its Hispanic and Arabic identity over time.
The Royal Palace of La Almudaina is a fine example of architecture with subtle Christian Gothic and Andalusian Muslim influences. The palace has always had official and political importance. In the 11th century, the Wali of the Balearics lived in the old Muslim fort and today the Spanish royal family uses the palace for getaways. The Paseo de Ronda is an arched entrance to the south of the garden and an ancient remnant of the original Muslim fort.
Galilea, a village located in the Serra de Tramuntana, a UNESCO World Heritage mountain range, still benefits from Moorish technologies and irrigation systems.
Festival “La Patrona” in Pollensa - From May to August, Majorcans take part in festivities that celebrate their culture and identity. The atmosphere is filled with music, fireworks and parades as well as mock battles between the Christians and their enemies the Moorish Muslims.
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Ibiza is rich in history and culture and Islam had a strong presence on the island from 900 AD when it was conquered by the Moors. They brought prosperity and peace and introduced new techniques of irrigation and agriculture, which are still in use today. The Moors ruled Ibiza for over 300 years, until the Catalan conquest in 1235.
The Caves of Can Marçà are one of the most popular and spectacular sites in Ibiza. They take you to an alien world with its conical stalagmite formations and lakes surrounded by spooky nature. The caves have a mysterious history, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance they were used by smugglers and pirates. The Mediterranean Sea has always been an arena of power and intrigue, and during those centuries Muslim and Christian ships would have used these caves to hide their treasures.
Balafia is a timeless capsule on the island of Ibiza, covered in luminescent white against the blue sky, and is one of the oldest villages on the island. The majority of historians accept that the village finds its origins in the Muslim era. It was initially made up of houses, farms and ranches and over the years mills, kilns and wells were added. The Moorish well of Balafia, which has survived until today, was used for all kinds of daily necessities including ablutions (Wudu).
Dalt Vila, which means "upper town", is the fortified Old Town that overlooks the rest of Ibiza city and its port. Dating back to the time of the Phoenicians, the Old Town Vila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and allows visitors to travel back 2,500 years. Every corner is filled with stories, secrets and points of interest. The panoramic view is breathtaking and offers tourists fantastic photo opportunities.
Those interested in the legacy of Islam in Ibiza can visit the Madina Yabisa Information Centre in Dalt Vila, housed by the Casa de la Curia (House of the Curia). The house itself is part of the old Arabic wall and with an incorporation of auditory and visual technology, visitors can experience the history of Muslims on the island.
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Once titled the Medina Menorca by the Moors, the island of Menorca has kept its name as well as sites with an Islamic heritage.
The Ciutadella de Menorca Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church that was built directly after the Christian reconquest of the island from the Muslims. In typical tradition to enforce the new religious power, the new cathedral was erected on the site of the great mosque in the Menorca medina, under the orders of King Alfonso III in 1287. Initially, the cathedral retained structures from the old mosque, but today the minaret is the only Muslim remnant of the church. The Muslim history of the cathedral continues until 1550, when the Turks looted the cathedral, inciting a great fire and destroying several structural and decorative aspects. This attack was part of a larger political plan in the Mediterranean region, in which Muslims and Christians ensured their dominance by threatening precarious territories.
The ruins of the Castle of Santa Águeda are a place that represents the presence of Romans, Arabs and Argonians in Menorca. Located at an altitude of 264 metres in height, the castle is accessible by the old Roman road. It was one of the largest and most important Muslim defenses in Menorca.
Port Mahon is one of the longest natural harbours in the world. Now a dynamic and idyllic site, its history has not always been peaceful, having often been a place of violence and attacks. After the fall of Rome, the Vikings and the Arabs attempted their conquest until the Caliphate of Cordoba took full control of the Balearic Islands. The Pillage of Mahon, led by Captain Barbarossa in 1535, traumatised the island with the kidnapping of almost 6,000 enslaved people.
The port of Sanitja, a natural harbour on the site of the ancient Roman city of Sanisera, was mentioned by Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman author. Archaeological remains demonstrate a diverse population of Mediterranean origin. The Muslim occupation continued to use this port city because of the port's convenient location for trade with Al Andalus. The Antigua De Sanitja Mosque is believed to be the oldest in all the Balearic Islands. Today all that’s left are almost faded ruins, but the rolling fields and views of the crystal clear sea make it a perfect place to pray in nature.
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Formentera is the smallest of the inhabited islands with a population of around 12,000. It is renowned for its charm and relaxing atmosphere with white sand beaches, turquoise waters and beautiful hiking trails in lush nature. From 1403 until the early 18th century, the threat of attacks from barbarian pirates rendered the island uninhabitable. The frequent raids to consolidate their dominance in the Mediterranean led to the exodus of the native population.
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Mosques and places of prayer
Majorca is home to a few mosques or places of worship and its capital, Palma, has the most due to its population. The Abdur-Rahman Mosque in Palma is a popular option with a diverse community and Halal restaurant choices nearby. The Islamic Centre An-Nour in Palma is also a religious centre open at all hours with a warm welcome.
Ibiza hosts the Al Fatih Mosque near Cala Gracio, a popular beach, is a small, well-kept mosque that offers separate spaces for men and women. The Mosque as-Salam and the Mosque Paz Masjed Salam are recognisable by their elaborate gate in Islamic and Maghrebi style.
There is no official mosque in Menorca and Formentera, but speaking with Muslim residents they may be able to direct you to local places of worship. The best way to find mosques in the Balearic Islands is to ask the locals and be sure to use the Spanish word for mosque, mezquita.
Special mention - Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa, Mallorca
The Jumeirah is a company of the UAE, which respects the importance of the five prayers. The Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa in Mallorca has prayer rugs in the rooms and the qibla is marked. The welcome cocktail is replaced with a juice and fruit basket, and the staff can advise on halal options.
Halal food and restaurants in the Balearic Islands
The majority of halal restaurants are found on the island of Majorca with Indian, Turkish, Moroccan and Lebanese choices. The choice is more limited on the island of Ibiza, but Halal restaurants are best found in the Figueretas area of Ibiza Town. On the islands of Menorca and Formentera, due to their geographical size and small population, you will have more opportunity to eat vegetarian or seafood dishes.
Balearic cuisine is closely related to Catalan and Mediterranean cuisine. It is rich in vegetables and grains, perfect for Muslim tourists looking for halal options.
Be sure to taste the following:
Flao: sweet or savoury cheese pie with Arab origins.
Coca: Balearic pizza whose classics are all vegetarian.
Tombet: entirely vegetarian ratatouille from the islands.
Arros de Peix: paella-like dish, with rice and fish stew.
Avoid the Ensaimada, a pastry that looks innocent but is made with pork lard. In fact the name is even derived from the Arabic 'shahim', which means fat. For most dishes they use olive oil but check that it is not substituted with bacon.