There are over 150 archaeological sites in the Santanyí area, including the Pre-Talayotic caves at Cala Santanyí and Es Pontàs and the Talayotic settlements of Son Danús Vell northwest of the village and Ses Talaies de Can Jordi to the northeast. There are few Roman remains in the area but during the Moorish era there was a mosque, houses and farms in the district known as Adia.
The area came under Nuño Sancho's control after the Catalan conquest in 1229. The first settlers called their village Santanyí, a shortened version of Santi Annini , or the Lamb of God , and the first church was built between 1248 and 1265. However, Santanyí's boost came after 1300 when King Jaime II gave a mandate for a new market to encourage immigrants from the mainland.
Santanyí is close to the coast and it was vulnerable to attack by pirates who sometimes used Cabrera Island as a base. As early as 1380 the town leaders were discussing building fortifications and in 1386 Governor Sagarriga ordered the church to be fortified to protect the people. It was too little too late because on the night of 25 April 1388 pirates landed at Ses Salinas and headed for the Santanyí. Although the church bells sounded the alarm, the pirates sacked the town and took most of the townspeople slaves.
The Church was immediately fortified and many people took to sleeping inside the locked building during the night. This original building still stands on the north side of the church and is known as El Roser.
The nearby rectory is a palace style building built around a courtyard where the tithe wheat was stored in the attic. Work also started on building walls, using Mares stone dug from the local quarries, and while the houses and storerooms were strengthened, the Porta Murdada was one of the few entrances into the fortified town. You can find it northwest of Plaza Mayor and the guardhouse was used as a prison for many years.
Even so, on 3 October 1531 the Moorish pirates sacked the town a second time before the work was complete. They captured a large number of townspeople and around forty families abandoned Santanyí soon afterwards, setting the town back years. The mayor pleaded for Palma to fortify the town before it died forever. While the walls were improved the pirates were still a constant threat and in 1546 they captured 36 townspeople. They were returned after the payment of a large ransom but they were lucky because most captives were sold into slavery; while the men worked in quarries or served on galleys, women ended up in harems or domestic service.
There were further attacks in 1571 and 1587 but the defence tower Sa Torre Vella could warn the inhabitants, Cala Llonga fort could counter attacks while Cala Figuera Tower and Na Gosta Tower strengthened the town walls. The Portopetro fortress and Torre Nova helped to secure this section of the coast.
Pirate attacks came to an end by the start of the 18th century and for the first time buildings could be built without having to worry about fortifying them. Masons found the soft local Mares limestone easy to work and many houses have decorative door and window surroundings, including the local speciality, star-shaped openings.
Rafel Verger i Suau was born in a peaceful Santanyí in 1722 and at the age of 12 he entered the Convent of Jesus in Palma. In 1747 he was awarded a licence to preach and soon after he felt the calling to get involved in missionary work. He left for Mexico in 1749 and was based at San Fernando Propaganda Fide College for the next 33 years, working with Friar Juníper Serra, a fellow Mallorcan missionary from Petra. Father Rafel was appointed bishop of the New Kingdom of León in 1783 and ordered a new plan for Monterrey city. He died in 1790 aged 68. Santanyí Municipal Council named Father Rafel an "illustrious son" in 1949 and the local school was named after him in 1961.
The 13th Century Church of Sant Andrew the Apostle was also given a makeover starting in 1786; it took 25 years to build. The 13th Century Chapel of the Rosary has not changed; the keystones are carved with Palma's coat of arms and Santanyi's Lamb of God. The church also has a famous organ which was originally built by Jordi Bosch for the Dominican Monastery in Palma. Santanyí Town Hall bought the organ when the building was seized by the government in 1837 and it was broken up, carried by boat to Cala Figuera and then moved by carts to Santanyi. The building was altered to make room but only two of the three original keyboards could be installed. The church bell tower was finally added in 1850.
The population grew quickly during the first half of the 19th century but by the middle of the century it stagnated as people started to move to more profitable areas of Mallorca or Menorca; some also left for Algeria. Those who stayed behind were far from happy as Santanyí became one of the island's poorest areas. Rising taxes and poor crops led to poverty and hunger and the townspeople eventually could take no more, staging a revolt against the town hall in 1868 in which the town's archives were burnt. A new town hall was built between 1879 and 1902 in the Plaza Mayor.
The town watering troughs are on Carrer de Cal Reiet, east of Plaza Mayor and while the sheltered water tanks would have been a place for meeting and talking, the nearby S'Aberaudor, or watering place, was built in 1820 for their animals. The stone trough was known as Sa Sínia, or the waterwheel because a donkey powered water wheel was used to extract water.
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