Balearic Islands (Baleáres), an archipelago of four large and eleven small islands in the Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of Spain, of which country it forms a province. Pop. (1900) 311,649; area, 1935 sq. m. The archipelago, which lies between 38° 40′ and 40° 5′ N., and between 1° and 5° E., comprises two distinct groups. The eastern and larger group, corresponding with the ancient Insulae Baleares, comprises the two principal members of the archipelago, Majorca (Spanish, Mallorca) and Minorca (Spanish, Menorca), with seven islets: - Aire, Aucanada, Botafoch, Cabrera, Dragonera, Pinto and El Rey. The western group, corresponding with the ancient Pityusae or Pine Islands, also comprises two relatively large islands, Iviza (Spanish, Ibiza or, formerly, Ivica) and Formentera, with the islets of Ahorcados, Conejera, Pou and Espalmador. Majorca, Minorca and Iviza are described in separate articles. Formentera is described with Iviza. The total population of the eleven islets only amounted to 171 in 1900, but all were inhabited. None of them is of any importance except Cabrera, which is full of caverns, and was formerly used as a place of banishment.
In 1808 a large body of Frenchmen were landed here by their Spanish captors, and allowed almost to perish of starvation.
The origin of the name Baleáres is a mere matter of conjecture; it is obvious, however, that the modern Majorca and Minorca are obtained from the Latin Major and Minor, through the Byzantine forms μαιορικά and μινορικά; while Iviza is plainly the older Ebusus, a name probably of Carthaginian origin. The Ophiusa of the Greeks (Colubraria of the Romans) is now known as Formentera.
The strata which form the Balearic Isles fall naturally into two divisions. There is an older series, ranging from the Devonian to the Cretaceous, which is folded and faulted and forms all the higher hills, and there is a newer series of Tertiary age, which lies nearly horizontal and rests unconformably upon the older beds. The direction of the folds in the older series is in Iviza nearly west to east, in Majorca south-west to north-east, and in Minorca south to north, thus forming an arc convex towards the south-east. The Devonian is visible only in Minorca, the Trias being the oldest system represented in the other islands. The higher part of the Cretaceous is absent, and it appears to have been during this period that the principal folding of the older beds took place. The Eocene beds are nummulitic. There is a lacustrine group which has usually been placed in the Lower Eocene, but the discovery of Anthracotherium magnum in the interbedded lignites proves it to be Oligocene, in part at least.
The Miocene included a limestone with Clypeaster. Pliocene beds also occur.
The climate of the archipelago, though generally mild, healthy and favourable to plant life, is by no means uniform, owing to the differences of altitude and shelter from wind in different islands. The fauna and flora resemble those of the Mediterranean coasts of Spain or France.