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A walk around the municipality of Santanyí enables you to contemplate at first hand the remains of the passage of time and the time spent on this land by prehistoric peoples. More than a hundred and fifty archaeological sites have been found. There are Pre-talayotic caves, like those at Cala Santanyí or Es Pontàs, and others from the Talayotic period, among which we could highlight the caves of El Rei, Can Simonet, N'Ebrí, Es Loret Vell, Es Rafal des Porcs and Son Rossinyol. Special attention should be paid to the walled Talayotic villages of Son Danús Nou or Ses Talaies de Can Jordi, which preserves a circular talayot and a fragment of wall.
The Romans also left their mark on Santanyí. So, remains have been found with various types of figures and pottery in the funereal cave of Sa Madona, at Cas Traginer and at Son Cosme Ponç, where the Roman town was probably sited. The archaeological studies indicate that there were possibly two agricultural divisions of land, one in the area of Son Danús and another in the Calonge area.
In the Islamic period, Santanyí formed part of the district of Manacor, under the name of Adia. A mosque is documented in S'Alqueria Blanca and Saracen-style houses were spoken of in Santanyí in the last quarter of the 13th century. Even today, some place names are preserved, such as Albocora, S'Almunia, Benilassar (Son Danús), Binigebidi (Es Rafal des Porcs) or Mandalmar (Es Llombards).
The Catalan conquest
When the land was divided up after the Catalan conquest by King Jaume I, in 1229, Santanyí belonged to Nunó Sanç, count of Rosellón and Cerdeña, and on his death fell into the hands of the king. In 1242, reference was made to the municipality and to the parish of Santanyí. It is thought that the first church was built between 1248 and 1265. A few years later, in 1300, King Jaume II issued the Orders to found the town and, by doing so, specified how the town should be built.
The municipal administration was consolidated in the 14th century. The king's representative was the royal mayor and the first who appears documented is Ramon Albert, in 1311. Santanyí had a representative on the council covering Mallorca outside Palma and on the island's Great and General Council. In 1329, the population of Santanyí was 570 inhabitants, together with some slaves, who in 1427 made up 4.8% of the population.
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the coast of Santanyí was the scene of many pirate attacks by corsairs from North Africa, who took refuge on Cabrera. To face up to them, defence was organised through watchtowers, defence towers and watchmen, especially between the months of April and September, when the raids were more frequent. In the case of danger, smoke and fire signals were given from the watchtowers. The inland towns, like Porreres, Montuïri and Felanitx, also contributed to defending the coast, as they felt equally threatened. Among the many attacks, the one that took place on 3 October 1531 should be highlighted, when, after the Muslims sacked the town and captured a large number of its inhabitants, about forty families decided to abandon the municipality. A few years later, in 1546, pirates captured 36 people, who were returned to their families after payment of 2,050 escudos. The fear of sea-borne raids continued even in the 17th century, and it was decided to build the Cala Llonga fort in order to take on the attacks more securely.
The 19th century
During the 19th century, the period of local despots, the miserable living conditions of the population gave rise to a popular revolt against the municipal treasury in 1868, which ended with the burning of the municipal archives.
During the first half of the 19th century, the population grew considerably, moving from 4,436 inhabitants in 1825 to 5,439 by 1845. In the middle of the century, it stagnated, though. During this century, there were serious demographic crises and, from 1860 onwards, considerable emigration began to Algeria, to inland Mallorca and even to Menorca. The reason was that, at that time, Santanyí was a very poor municipality.
In 1897, the construction of the current Town Hall was approved, although it has since expanded with the purchase of a neighbouring house.
The 20th century
In the 20th century, the trend of emigration by the inhabitants of Santanyí continued. In 1900, the population reached 6,692 inhabitants, but this figure fell rapidly in the first few years of the century, as a process of emigration by many residents of the municipality to Argentina, Cuba and Algeria began. This fall was accentuated by the fatal effects of a serious flu epidemic. In 1925, the population suffered another serious drop, although this time as a consequence of the separation of Ses Salines, which became an independent municipality.
Everything changed from the second half of the 20th century, with the coming of tourism. The first visitors started appearing from 1950 onwards. Tourism changed the entire demographic structures of the municipality, which moved from being a source of emigration to being a receiver of immigrants. These were people from the Iberian Peninsula, especially from the south, who arrived attracted by the jobs generated by this industry.
This population increase accentuated from the ‘80s onwards. It is an increase based on the need for labour to cope with the tourist industry and all the economic activity generated around it.