The Balearic Islands, lie in the western Mediterranean between latitude 38° and 40° N and between longitude 1° and 4° E, off the south-east coast of the Spanish mainland, consist of the Balearics proper (Islas Baleares), with the two principal islands of Majorca (1405 sq. miles) and Minorca (270 sq. miles), the Islas Pityusas, with Ibiza (221 sq. miles) and Formentera (40 sq. miles), together with some 150 smaller islands, including Cabrera (6 sq. miles), and numbers of rocky islets, some of them serving military or nautical purposes, others completely unused.
The islands constitute the Spanish Province and Autonomous Region of the Balearics (Comunidad Autonoma de las Islas Baleares), with a total area of 5014 sq. km (1936 sq. miles), the capital of which is Palma de Mallorca.
The Balearics were granted autonomy on 22 February 1983 under the Spanish policy of decentralisation. The organ of government is the Interinsular Council-General of the Balearic Islands (Conseil General Interinsular de les Illes Balears). Autonomy has also had an effect on language. While formerly Spanish (Castilian) was officially favoured as the written and generally accepted language, the local idioms, Majorcan and Minorcan, which are forms of Catalan, are increasingly gaining ground. Many place-names have two forms, and where road signs do not give both forms they are frequently amended with the aid of aerosol paint.
The origin of the name Balearics is not known with certainty. There may be a connection with the Greek word ballein, “throw”, possibly referring to the islanders’ reputation in ancient times for their skill with the sling
The Balearics are the continuation of the folded Andalusian mountains which extend from Gibraltar by way of the Sierra Nevada to Cabo de la Nau, separated from the Iberian peninsula in the Late Tertiary era by tectonic movements which led to massive subsidence and submersions. The archipelago is now separated from the Spanish mainland by a submarine trench up to 1500 m (5000 ft) deep. Both the Balearics proper and the Islas Pityusas have their own continental shelf.
Majorca is made up of three markedly different zones of relief. Running parallel to the north-west coast is the Sierra del Norte, a 90 km (55 mile) long range of wooded hills with clusters of bizarrely shaped rocks, reaching a height of 1443 m (4734 ft) in Puig Mayor and falling steeply down to the sea in much-indented cliffs which form picturesque little coves and creeks (calas).
In the south-east of the island are the ridges of hills which form the Serrania de Levante, rising to 509 m (1670 ft) at San Salvador, with a number of stalactite caves. Here, too, the coast is broken up into innumerable ca/as.
Between these two upland regions, in which Mesozoic lime stones predominate, the large bays of Alcudia and Pollensa to the north-east and Palma to the south-west cut deep into the Llanura del Centro, a fertile plain given up to intensive agriculture (arable, fruit-growing , vines), with isolated hills of some size such as the Puig de Randa (542 m) and the Puig de Santa Magdalena (304 m).
The north-west of Minorca consists of a gently rolling upland region, reaching a height of 357 m in Monte Toro, with fjord-like inlets reaching in from the north-west coast. In the south-west is an extensive area of low-lying land, fringed by cliffs enclosing small rocky coves.