Palma harbour has always been a working area, with a mixture of commercial ships and fisherman making their living from the sea. Now it is filled with yachts of all sizes and designs but there are many reminders of the past if you take a walk along the sea front.
The walk covers the water front extent of the 16th Century city walls and takes about an hour.
We start at the Bar Cuba on Avenida Argentina at the west corner of the old wall. The ornate building was completed in 1904 and it was a centre of tobacco smuggling in the past. Across the road we find Fascine Park (Parc de la Fexina) which was once a parade ground and a firing range. The name refers to the firing butts where the soldiers practised shooting.
Crossing the old bridge we find ourselves at the foot of Es Baluard bastion, which was built at the end of the 1500’s and was connected to the city walls in the 1640s. A large water tank (now empty) is deep inside and an aqueduct filled it with fresh water which could be sold to ships. Just behind the walls is Gunpowder Street where the explosives for the city’s cannons were stored. Es Baluard is now home to an art gallery and the area behind is known as Saint Peter’s, after the patron saint of fishermen.
As we walk along the harbour front we must remember that the area has changed considerably. The sea once came close to the foot of the wall and fisherman mended their nets on the shoreline. This section was removed 100 years ago to make trading easier. The six-lane Paseo Maritimo was added in the 1950s.
We soon find the bust of the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario in front of an 18th Century harbour administration building. Behind is Dockyard Square (Drassana Plaza), where ships were built for 250 years. Everything from the hulls to masts and rigging to barrels were made in the surrounding streets. A statue of the 14th Century navigator, James Ferrer, is in the centre and he explored the west coast of Africa in 1346, travelling as far south as Cape Verde.
The next building on the front is the Consulate of the Sea (Consulat del Mar) and it was finished in 1634. The harbour master was based downstairs while the Merchants Association met upstairs. It is now the headquarters of the Balearics Government. The merchants used a small church at the back of the building while the sailors used the Chapel of Saint Elm, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, across the road. The fisherman’s market is on the quay behind the chapel seamen’s.
We pass the Roman style archway called the Sea Gate (Puerta del Mar) which once stood at the other end of the Market Hall and it let sea captains pass from the quayside into the building. The Market Hall (La Llotja) was designed by Guillem Sagrera and it took twenty years to build. Spiralled fluted columns support the vaulted ceiling while large windows let the buyers view the goods on display.
The city merchants lived in the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) district, behind the Market Hall. Mallorca was on the trade routes between Spain, France, Italy and North Africa and Palma prospered from the taxes raised from the sale of cash crops to cloth and slaves to spices.
Next along the front is the statue of the philosopher and writer Ramon Llull. It has inscriptions in Arabic, Latin and Catalan because he taught preachers languages so they could convert Muslims to Christianity. There are a number of important buildings around the busy junction, including the Ministry of Interior headquarters and Port Authority buildings. A river once ran through the city and it discharged into the sea at this point until it was rerouted at the beginning of the 1600s.
We next come to the Almudaina Palace, so take the staircase up through the wall to get a closer look at the building. Note the King’s Orchard (Hort del Rei) to the west of the palace, a replica of what the private garden which once stood on the river bank. The first feature we see if a large 10th Century arch which was the entrance to a private harbour. The mooring silted up in the 1500’s and work began on a quayside which jutted out into the sea.
The Moors built the first palace and the name Almudaina comes from Al-Medina which is Arabic for city. King James the Conqueror of Aragon captured the fortress on 31 December 1229, following a three-month siege. His son, James II, strengthened it at the beginning of the 1300’s, adding a great hall, apartments, chapels and offices. The King’s servants lived on the ground floor, the king lived on the second floor and treasury was on the top floor. Prisoners were held in the Angel Tower, so called because of weather vane shaped like Archangel St Gabriel on top. The king entertained in the adjacent great hall.
Next door is Palma Cathedral. King James I promised to build a huge cathedral to thank God for his victory over the Moors in 1229 but it took nearly 400 years to complete. The original, austere, west wall collapsed during an earthquake in 1851 and new, elaborate, one includes buttresses so it does not fall again.
Continuing along the lower level wall you can see the infantry barracks, known as the Vaults (Ses Voltes) below. The east end of the cathedral was built as a royal mausoleum but only King James II and King James III of Mallorca were buried here.
Continuing east, we pass Gate Street (Carrer de la Portella) and can see the home of the Marques de la Torre, which is now home to the College of Architects. The huge house up the street, on the right, was the home of Ramon Zafortesa, nicknamed the Evil Count because he murdered tenant farmers rebelling against rising taxes.
The southeast district of the city is known as the Calatrava after a military style religious orderwhich took part in the conquest Mallorca in 1229. Continue to Berard’s Bastion, a large flat area built for cannons, which was named after the military engineer Jeroni Berard. Next we pass the birthplace of Antoni Maura, Prime Minister of Spain on five occasions between 1903 and 1922.
Passing Sea Gate Street (Calle Portella del Mar) we come to the Prince’s Bastion with its recently reformed walls, gun platform and watchtower. It was nicknamed the RedBullet Bastion because it had a furnace which cast cannon balls.
So there we have it, the changing face of Palma’s waterfront over the centuries. You may want to walk through the park at the foot of the walls to see a different view, as you make your way back to harbour.
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