Exploring Palma's rich culture that reflects a diverse history embracing the Bronze Age, Roman, Moorish and Christian periods is a joy. From palaces and castles to museums Palma has it all...
Striking a pose above Parc de Mar is La Seu Cathedral, the jewel in the crown of Palma. This colossal Gothic masterpiece that began life at the time of the Catalan conquest, endured eight centuries of reformation under the direction of master architects such as Antoni Gaudi in the 20th century. Once a Moorish settlement, the cathedral is now home to precious Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque works of art. Highlights include the play of light from the ancient rosette window, the decorative canopy above the altar and the re-design of St Peter’s chapel, fashioned from terracotta by contemporary Mallorcan artist, Miquel Barceló.
The Cathedral’s closest neighbour is Almudaina Palace, another striking example of Gothic architecture. Developed from the 13th-century on the site of a former Moorish alcazar, the Royal residence was home to King Jaume I and his descendants. Today, visit the historic royal apartments, grand Gothic hall and picturesque courtyard of the King and marvel at the 14th-century chapel of Saint Anna with its decorative columns displaying fantastical animals. Why not catch your breath in the peaceful S’Hort del Rei gardens, meaning the King’s garden, with its lovely fountains and sculptures?
With its concrete and glass façade and warren of walkways, balconies and ramparts, Es Baluard museum of modern art is an architectural delight. Hugging an eyrie close to the ancient city walls, the former medieval fortification includes contemporary sculptures and a café in its grounds. The gallery contains permanent and temporary collections from the 19th-century and is also a venue for lively cultural events. Browse the 700 works of artists from the Baleares and oeuvres by luminaries, Picasso, Miró and Tapies and Dali.
Only three kilometres west of Palma, perched on a wooded hill is the circular 14th-century Bellver Castle which is unique in Spain. Step across the imposing drawbridge and moat into the airy central courtyard surrounded by Gothic arches. You can clamber up to the towers and walk along the battlements or simply relish a step back in time, discovering local historic gems contained in the castle’s museum.
The erstwhile home of prolific Catalan painter, Joan Miró, is just a five-minute taxi ride from Palma in Cala Major. Situated on a hill and set in tranquil grounds, the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation houses 6,000 works by the maestro including sculptures and ceramics. Browse the artist’s colourful paintings and envisage him hard at work in the re-imagined studio. Explore Son Boter, the 18th-century villa where Miró lived, and whose internal walls are graffitied with his charcoal sketches.
The understated Arab Baths, squirreled away in a modest street in Calatrava, are all that remain of the 10th-century Muslim kingdom of Medina Mayurka. Stroll around the shady bath house and hammam created largely from capitals pillaged from the city’s Roman ruins. Sip a freshly squeezed orange juice in the peaceful courtyard and admire the palm trees and cacti while listening to birdsong.
Stroll around the sandstone Basilica of Sant Francesc with its formal Baroque façade. In front of the church is a statue of Juniper Serra, the Mallorcan Franciscan friar, whose religious zeal saw him converting thousands of indigenous people in Las Californias of New Spain during the 18th-century. Inside, there are eight side chapels and a central nave that leads to an ornate altar. Visit the alabaster tomb, sculpted in 1487, of 13th-century mystic and philosopher, Ramon Llull. Not to be missed are the quiet Gothic cloisters with pristine garden of citrus and palm trees.
The capital’s undisputed king of modernism is Caixa Forum, previously known as ‘Gran Hotel’, which in 1903, was the island’s first luxury establishment for visitors. The brainchild of Catalan architect, Lluis Domènech i Montaner, the building now serves as a cultural centre and includes a permanent exhibition by Catalan artist, Hermen Anglada Camarasa. You can browse its many international temporary exhibitions and savour a coffee or lunch in the elegant grand café at the entrance.
The eye-catching La Lonja building, one of the city’s most emblematic monuments, borders the palm-flanked Paseo Marítimo in a lively pedestrianised square. Constructed in the 15th-century, the rectangular building with ornate white façade has an octagonal tower on each corner and includes ten smaller towers. Once a lively market place for merchants plying their trade, the building also served as an ammunitions store and later, a gallery. Take a stroll inside the vast, light-filled space and marvel at the intricate rib vaulting and spiraling pillars that resemble elaborate candy twists. When you’ve had your fill, pop into a bar in the square and enjoy a glass of wine and tapas with views to the promenade and sea
Can Balaguer, a recently restored 18th century mansion close to La Rambla, offers a fascinating insight to the life of Josep Balaguer, a Mallorcan musician, entrepreneur and patron of the arts. Step off the street through a gigantic arched wooden doorway into an exquisitely preserved vaulted stone patio. On the upper level are the plush, recreated living quarters of the businessman who resided here during the 1900’s. Pay a visit to the grand salons with their lofty ceilings, tapestries, artworks and crystal chandeliers and pop by the reception hall with its gilt and crimson liveried chairs. Don’t miss the star attraction, an original Walcker pipe organ which takes up an entire wall of a room. It’s a short visit but nonetheless an excellent opportunity to peer into an authentic Mallorcan home of the period.
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