This August I went to Palma, Mallorca for holiday – one of the reasons – nice beaches in the vicinity of the city, another reason – to practice my Spanish and tour the largest city. I was pleased to discover that Palma is a vibrant city with interesting history and culture. Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic archipelago and has a history dating to 2800 BC – it was once Roman and the Moorish settlement, and then an independent kingdom before being incorporated into Spain in the fourteen century. Below are some of my cultural highlights from the trip (apart from the vintage travel posters below, all photos in this post are mine).
I. Cathedral – La Seu
This cathedral is considered to be one of Spain’s most impressive and largest Gothic structures. The works on it began in the early 1300, and it took over 300 years to complete. The cathedral, built on the site of an ancient mosque, was renovated numerous times, but it still remains one of the most durable examples of Spain’s Gothic architecture. Its central nave and giant rose windows are absolutely beautiful. Numerous artists and architects left their mark on the cathedral (its design), too, including Antoni Gaudi and Miquel Barcelo.
II. Museum of Mallorca (Museu de Mallorca)
I was impressed by this museum and did not expect it to be that large – containing several thousand exhibits – or that well organised (for an entry price of €2.40). The museum is housed in a medieval building (dating to 1630) and first opened in 1968. It has a great collection of art (both medieval and modern), archaeological discoveries and relics. Arab jewellery and Roman figurines are also on display. The museum’s most prized painting on display is probably magnificent Paris i Helena (on the right), dating to about 1665. Painted by an Italian artist Mattia Preti, it depicts Helena and Paris who are fleeing Sparta to reach Troy.
Another amazing piece of art is the Altarpiece of St Bernardo, dating to 1325 (on the left). This work is of an unknown artist and is considered to be “the first known monumental depiction of St Bernardo” (in the iconography cycle). St Bernardo Tolomei was an Italian theologian who claimed his eyesight was restored by the Virgin Mary, and who also saw other visions, subsequently becoming a reclusive monk devoted to religious life and founding the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto in Italy.
III. Bellver Castle (Castell de Bellver)
The Bellver Castle is located two kilometres away from the centre of Palma, and this trip is worth making. This circular Gothic structure was built by Pere Selva between 1300 and 1311 under the rule of King James (Jaume) II of Mallorca. It was both a military fortress and a royal residence. The castle was built on a high hill to enable the visual overview of the sea and the surrounding land to spot easily an enemy’s approach. From the eighteen century, the castle was a prison, especially for political prisoners who were kept there in total isolation until 1915, when the castle stopped functioning in that capacity. The castle is surrounded by a dense pine forest and visitors have an opportunity to climb hundreds of steps to the castle and thereby imagine how people in past times would have come to the castle and experienced its mysterious, isolated nature for the first time. Currently, one part of the castle also functions as a museum, showcasing archaeological finds from the Etruscan and Roman periods.
What to buy: All sorts of ceramics, leather goods (especially traditional leather sandals) and all sorts of wickerwork (especially hats and bags) are great buys in Mallorca, and these also make for nice souvenirs. Herb and almond liqueurs (a common brand is “Tunel”, dating to 1898), as well as olive oil and a sobrassada sausage are other great buys.