King James I of Aragon initiated the construction of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Palma, above, in 1229, after wrestling Majorca from the Moors. The cathedral sits on top of Madina Mayurqa’s old mosque
“For a lovely city, Palma, aka Palma de Mallorca, has a dizzying yo-yo history
where its name is concerned”
by Rose Maramba
Though the Germans, the British and the French know it as Palma de Mallorca, this most famous city of the Balearic Island of Majorca changes its name almost from habit down the centuries. And tourists had better watch out because, true to form, it’s about to change its name again!
Forget the earlier years for the moment; think of the last decade. With every new political party in power, the Majorcan city gets renamed. Prior to 2007, it was known as Palma de Mallorca. That was during the rule of the conservative Popular Party. But after that, it occurred to Socialist Party Mayor Alma Calvo (2007-2011) to give it back its short old name and the city was officially called Palma, only to lose the name when the Popular Party returned to power and Mayor Mateu Isern re-shifted to Palma de Mallorca. Now, with a coalition of leftist parties headed up by Mayor Jose Hila Vargas predominating in the regional parliament, the city will again be taking the name of Palma!
Majorcans who are in favor of calling the beautiful city Palma invoke the historical fact that the baptismal name given by the Romans when they founded the city in 123 BC was that.
However, it must be noted that when the Arabs overran Iberia and conquered the Island of Majorca (Mallorca in Spanish) in the 900’s, they changed the name of the city to Madina Mayurqa (Mayurqa is derived from the Latin insula maior, i.e.,larger island, relative to Minorca which is smaller). James I, the Christian King of Aragon who wrestled the city from the Arabs in 1229, kept the name: Ciutat Mallorca. It was only after the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) that the city recovered its founding name, Palma, thanks to Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain.
And it wasn’t until well into the 19th century that Palma became Palma de Mallorca which combines the Roman and the Arab names of the city. Records show, though, that the name was never made official. The Registry of Local Entities under the Ministry of Public Administration (Registro de Entidades Locales del Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas) had always referred to the city as Palma.
It must therefore be concluded that Palma had remained the official name of the city despite being popularly referred to as Palma de Mallorca. The Palma name would be popularly and officially reinstated by Socialist Mayor Calvo.
For a lovely city, Palma, aka Palma de Mallorca, has a dizzying yo-yo history where its name is concerned.
Today many locals favor the simple name of Palma, saying their city doesn’t need a surname (“de Mallorca”). Others, inclined to prioritize tourism, the city’s biggest money-making industry, claim that foreign visitors who come to the city assiduously won’t recognize the place if you gave it its short name, that they’ll confuse it with other popular tourist destinations, not least La Palma, the northwesterly island of the Canary archipelago, and especially the superpopular Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, capital of — what else? — the Canary Islands’ Gran Canaria.
All we can say is that if you’re planning to spend your Christmas on the island of Majorca, don’t be surprised if you suddenly saw you’ve landed at Palma, and not Palma de Mallorca, airport!
Featured image by SBA73 via Flickr, CC BY-SA2.0
“Palma” by Jesus Dehesa via Flickr, CC BY-ND2.0
Cruise ship by Julie, Dave & Family via Flickr, CC BY-SA2.0
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