People have been living in Binissalem area, in the shadow of the Tramuntana Mountains, is now since the Talayotic era as the settlements at Can Cabrit, Can Macià and Claper del Moros illustrate. The soil and climate make the upper slope perfect for growing olives trees while the lower areas are perfect for vines. The Romans introduced grape growing to Mallorca after they took control of the island in 123 B.C and Binissalem wines were soon being exported across the Empire. The village has been associated with wine production for hundreds of years
Although the vineyards were neglected after the Romans left, the arrival of the Moors in the 10th Century rejuvenated vine-growing and area's fortunes. They dug wells and channels to tap the streams flowing down from the mountains and built huge new terraces to make the most of the land. Many of them are still being used. Although Islam banned the drinking of alcohol, grapes and raisons were part of the Moorish diet. Even the village name stems from the Arabic words for Sálim's Children (Banu Ssálim) or Sons' of Peace (Banu Ssálum).
After the conquest in 1229, the Catalans continued working on the vineyards but it is believed that the medieval Mallorcan wines did not have a good reputation and most of it was consumed on the island. Although only a small amount was exported to the mainland some barrels made their way to the courts of Aragon and Castile. Even today many wine stores are known as the Can Vinagre , or the vinegar house.
The village was founded by Jaime II in 1300 as one of the many markets across the island and plots of land were sold to encourage people to settle in the area. The first houses and shops were built around Quartera Square where the church now stands but over the years the village spread south as far as the main road between Palma and Inca.
By the start of the 15th Century wine production was reaching a new zenith but there were problems and slaves were given 50 lashes if they were caught stealing grapes.
Immigrants were tempted from the mainland to the island with offers of cash, livestock and land but many had little idea about agriculture. They let their livestock roam freely, causing damage to the vineyards, and in 1419 a law was passed banning livestock vineyards.
In the 1870s Century Binissalem's reputation for producing wine spread across Europe. The vine pest has devastated European vineyards and Mallorca's isolated position meant that it was immune for around 15 years. Prices rocketed and bottles were sold before the crops had been harvested; however, the deadly pest reached Mallorca in 1890 and the village's vineyards were devastated almost overnight. Read the Wine Route webpage to find out more about Mallorca's wine industry, both past and present.
Binissalem grew fast in the 18th and 19th Centuries and the focal point of the village is the Church of Nostra Senora de Robines. Work started on the original building immediately after the Conquest and it was dedicated to the Assumption, or the end of the Virgin Mary's life and ascent into Heaven. The church we see today was built in the 18th Century while the tall spire, (an unusual sight in Mallorca) was added at the beginning of the 20th Century. There are also statues celebrating the area's two main industries, the vineyards and the quarries, in front of the church. The village's second Church and Convent of Incarnation are tucked away off Carrer del Reg, south of Quartera Square.
Quartera Square was originally the village cemetery and it was depressing site. At the beginning of the 19th Century a new law banned further burials in churchyards and Binissalem took the opportunity to move the bodies to the new cemetery on the outskirts. The square took several years to complete, but the townspeople had created a new focal point which could be used as a large open area for fiestas. Joan Amengual was the main instigator and his family house overlooks the square. Binissalem is an interesting place at harvest time when the fields and farmyards are full of activity. Every September the town holds La Festa des Vernar, the annual wine festival with parades, live music, wine tasting, grape-crushing The Binissalem giants and the messy grape battle are the highlights of the two day event.
During the boom years vineyard owners built new houses with their riches. The huge Can Gilabert is on Carrer de Portella, south of Quartera Square, while Can Tiró de ses Bolles is to the east. The rectory across the road from the church's ornate door and the town hall just down the street are two more outstanding 19th Century buildings. If you make a short walk around the streets surrounding the church you will discover a diverse selection of 19th Century Baroque houses.
Two writers lived in the village, Llorenç Villalonga and Llorenç Moyà. You can visit Villalonga's house on Carrer de Bonaire (Tuesday to Saturday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons).
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