When travelling to Majorca, so many tourists come through to Palma airport and rapidly travel to party locations like the holiday resorts Magaluf and Arenal, missing out on the charms this city has to offer. A major city and port, Palma is the capital city of the Baleariac Islands in Spain on the south coast of the Bay of Palma, and its history goes back to Roman times. Tourism has boomed in Majorca of late, with more than nineteen million people passing through the airport in 2001, and another 1.5 million arriving by sea.
Residents in the old quarter are still finding Roman remains in their back gardens even now. People have lived on the island of Mallorca since about 5000 BC and it was occupied by the Romans in 123 BC. Tourists have only been coming to the island since 1952!
So what is there to do in Palma, if you’re not hitting up a nightclub? Explore the history, that’s what. The Cathedral of Santa Maria, known in the area as La Seu, is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral built on the site of a previous mosque. Although construction began on the cathedral in 1229, it wasn’t finished until 1601, and by 1901 it was in need of restoration. The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi became involved, although left the project shortly after having an argument with the constructor, and only cosmetic changes were made. Opposite La Seu is the Almudaina Palace, originally an Arab fortress but now the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family.
The Old City is a maze of streets with a clear Arab influence and is home to many museums and art galleries as well as the Convent of the Cathedral and the Arab Baths, a Byzantine building dating back to the 11th century. It incorporates original Roman columns in its construction, and on the grounds sprawl the gardens of Ca’n Fontirroig which have a wide variety of flowers, ferns and exotic birds. Palma has historically been the seat of Majorca’s elite, which explains the large amount of churches and ancient buildings; considering that flights to Palma’s airport Son Sant Juan run regularly, it makes a much more fascinating destination than the hectic resorts.
The Banys Àrabs, or Arab Baths, one of the few remnants of Palma’s Moorish past, are accessed via the quiet Ca’n Serra street near the Convent of the Cathedral, and include the lush gardens of Ca’n Fontirroig, home to Sardinian warblers, house sparrows, palm trees, and a wide range of flowers and ferns. The small two-roomed brick building that once housed the bath is in fact of Byzantine origin, dating back to the 11th century and possibly once part of the home of a Muslim nobleman. The bath room has a cupola with five oculi which let in radiant light. The twelve columns holding up the small room were pillaged from an earlier Roman construction. The whole room is in a rather dilapadated condition. The other room is a brick cube with a small model of the baths as they once were in the corner. Unfortunately one of the columns in this model has fallen over, as is the case when ruins are left unattended.
Food markets are an excellent way of assessing any city you visit. Among many, Palma boasts the Mercat de S’Olivar which the locals describe as de toda la vida – it’s been there forever. It’s huge, clean and lively, equally split between the lower fish and seafood level and the upper level of produce, meat and cheese. Held Monday to Saturday in the Plaza Olivar, it’s a popular spot with tourists and locals alike, although don’t be afraid to explore other, smaller markets – you never know what you might find. Discovering culture through food is never a bad idea and can give you a better understanding of local produce and what people have been eating in Palma throughout the centuries.
Perhaps you’ll consider Palma as a destination for your next vacation!
*This is a guest post.