From getting to know my wonderful Foodie Cycling clients last year, I realise that many of you are interested in Mallorca’s history. After all, many have left their mark on this culture-rich Balearic isle way back to ancient Neolithic times through Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish rule. Let me tell you a little more about some of the significant buildings on the island…although I have to say, nothing beats seeing them in the flesh!
Palma Cathedral & Old Town
Also known as the Le Seu, Palma’s imposing cathedral with its ornate buttresses is hard to miss. A masterpiece in Gothic architecture, it presides over the centre of Palma, glowing in golden sandstone. The story goes that James I of Aragon encountered a stormy crossing to Mallorca and with gratitude of his safe passage, he promised to build a cathedral to the Virgin Mary. After he died, construction began in 1229, on the hallowed ruins of both a Moorish Mosque and a former Roman citadel. Taking 400 years to finish, 20th century additions include Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí touches. Inside, 61 stained glass windows including an ethereal central rose window shed rainbow-hued patterns with the passage of the sun, including a bi-annual event when the light creates a hovering number eight.
You’ll find the cathedral amid Palma’s Old Town or ‘El Casco Antiguo’, a tangle of streets, squares and lofty buildings that all show the patina of history including a Roman palace, Baroque churches, Arab baths and 17th century stately homes (some of which are now beautifully restored hotels). Another Old Town hotspot is La Lonja, which today thrives with life and is a great place to head to for drinks or dinner. Once the heart of the maritime trade exchange, you can admire the sculpture of the Guardian Angel of Commerce and the Gothic architecture.
Clasped by dense pine forests and found on a hillside, Bellver Castle is a 14th century royal fortress, a fine example and beautifully preserved. Meaning ‘lovely view’ in Catalan, the vista speaks for itself, overlooking the stunning panorama of Palma, the harbour and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. But what’s really rather splendid about Bellver is its perfectly circular construction, commissioned by King Jaume II in 1300 and built by architect Pere Salvà, who also designed the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, located in Palma. Bellver is Spain’s only round castle, and has had a variety of purpose over the centuries including a royal summer residence and a prison; today its lofty presence makes a wonderful venue for a concert. Stroll around and take in the imposing features including the moat, drawbridge, three defence towers and a chapel. The castle’s cultural museum will help you get to grips with Mallorca’s history with artefacts from Roman, Arab and Spanish periods of history.
Pont Romà in Pollensa
A point of some contention and historical mystery, the stone bridge known as the Pont Romà, which was built over the river, is said to be one of the best-preserved remains of Roman rule. Allegedly it was constructed as part of an aqueduct when the Romans established the town of Pollenca, in 123 BC, led by Quintus Caecilius Metellus. However, historians and fellow Mallorquins are divisive on this matter. Some say that it couldn’t be dated back to Roman times, because Pollença itself wasn’t put on the map until the 13th century, thereby dating the bridge to medieval times. Either way, the bridge formed a vital link and safe crossing point across the sometimes treacherous Torrente de Sant Jordi river. You can make up your own mind when you come and see the construction for yourself, it forms part of a lovely walking tail in the area and makes a great photo opportunity, which I’m sure was exactly what the Romans had in mind!
Real Cartuja de Valldemossa
Many of my cycling itineraries will pass through Valldemossa and for good reason – the hilltop idyll has a lost-in-time feel with the stone village clasped in greenery and backed by the dramatic Tramuntana peaks. You may find yourself in a cafe sampling the delicious pastry coca de potato, dipped in hot chocolate, but there is more to Valldemossa than this! Pay a visit to the Real Cartuja (Royal Carthusian Monastery), a royal residence and monastery which comes with a church, cloisters, monk’s cells and an old pharmacy. Built by King Jaume II for his son Sancho in 1399, it was thereafter given over to Carthusian monks. It was also famously where Chopin and George Sand spent the winter of 1838-9. Today you can explore the fascinating building, which also has artwork gracing the walls from Picasso and Miro. See Chopin’s cell then listen to a local piano recital – from Chopin, of course.
Hopefully this will tempt you to come to Mallorca and see these historical wonders for yourself on a Foodie Cycling holiday!