The old quarter from Palma, with a medieval layout of narrow winding streets, is the most interesting part of the city for visitors and is where most of Palma´s monuments are concentrated. It is separated from the area of the Eixampla by the avingudes – wide streets which occupy the space where the city walls stood, which were built in the renaissance period and which were knocked down at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some remains of these walls can be seen at the part of the old town nearest the sea – at Baluard del Príncep, in front of the Cathedral of La Seu and the Baluard de Sant Pere – and there is also a small fragment on view at the underground car park of Via Roma. It is in this part of the city where the Mallorcan nobility used to live, residing in homes which are genuine palaces and which, along with the churches and convents, stand out within the layout of the city.
La Plaça d´Espanya and the Parc de les Estacions join the older and more modern parts of the city, forming the nerve centre of the island´s transport network, from where buses and trains depart for the towns and tourist resorts on the island.
The monuments of the cathedral of La Seu and the Almudaina Palace are reflected in the waters of the lake of the Parc de la Mar. In the past the sea came in as far as the bottom of the walls, but land has since been reclaimed and there is now a park and road where there was once water. Within the Parc de la Mar, the ceramic mural by Joan Miró is particularly noteworthy, along with other works of art. At the top section of one of the wall´s portals, on the park side, there is a relief drawing of a railway, as this was the entrance to the tunnel which linked Plaça d´Espanya with this spot, which was where the passenger ferries came in. Between the street of Carrer de la Portella and the Parc de la Mar we find the medieval Portella (a portella is a small gateway) , which has a slightly lowered arch with a keystone and the four stripes of the flag of Catalonia and Aragon. This gateway formed part of the Moorish city and its name comes from its reduced size. Moving a few metres further on towards Parc de la Mar, we find the modern gateway, which is integrated into Palma´s fortified renaissance complex and which dates back to 1785.
At the foot of the cathedral of La Seu we find Ses Voltes (The Vaults) – an area with a central courtyard surrounded by walls, with some rooms with a barrel-vault ceiling, which is where the name for this area was derived. Over the two centuries since its construction, which took place between 1774 and 1801, this area has been used for various military purposes. It is currently an open-air theatre and an exhibition centre; it hosts various temporary exhibitions and also houses a permanent collection of Mallorcan painting from the 19th and 20th centuries, with works by Joan O´Neille, Antoni Ribas, Joan Bauçà, Ricard Anckermann, Antoni Gelabert, Santiago Rusiñol, Hermenegild Anglada Camarassa, and many more artists.
Behind the cathedral of La Seu, in the square of Plaça del Mirador, we find the Palau Episcopal (Episcopal Palace), which was constructed immediately after the creation of the Mallorcan diocesis in 1238. It is Gothic in conception, though it has undergone many significant renovations over the years. The building is rectangular in form, surrounding a cloister which is dominated by a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the same square, located at the corner with the Palau Episcopal, is the Oratori de Sant Pau, which is a Gothic construction from the 15th century. On the street of Carrer de Sant Bernat, we find the Hospital de Sant Pere i Sant Bernat – a building which was designated as a hospital for poor clergymen in 1475. The façade has three large baroque portals which could be defined as rococo.
On the street of Carrer de l´Almudaina, we find the gateway of Porta de l´Almudaina, which was one of the gateways of the Roman walls. During the period of Moorish reign, this was an access point to the residential area of al-Mudayna, which is where the name originates from. It is highly probable that the essential features of its structure come from a reconstruction carried out in the 5th century, though it also contains elements which can be attributed to the Moorish period and some Gothic additions.
At the foot of the royal Almudaina Palace, on the western side of Avinguda d´Antoni Maura, we find the Hort del Rei (King´s Garden). Since time immemorial this was the garden of the royal palace, hence the name. It is now an open space with magnificent gardens with various sculptures from artists such as Subirachs (Jònica) and Joan Miró (Dona). Within the same area is the archway of the Arc de la Drassana, which has an 18m span and which has a slightly elliptical semicircular form. This was the entrance to the Moorish royal boatyard, which provided Mallorcan emirs with a port below the walls of their residence. This is a testimony to the naval power that Medina Mayurca, as the city was known at the time, possessed during the Moorish era.
The Passeig del Born is an outstanding area of the city. It combines features from traditional city planning with classical and romantic elements, with the large baroque house of Can Solleric, which is now an exhibition hall, being a particularly outstanding example of the architecture to be found here. The name ´Born´ refers to the jousting tournaments held here. The land this area occupies was formerly a narrow cove where the river of La Riera flowed out to sea. In 1613 the river was diverted to its current location – Passeig Mallorca – to avoid the deaths which occurred when it burst its banks, which has happened many times throughout history, such as during the rains of 1403, known as Lo Diluvi, which swept away 1,500 homes and resulted in 5,000 victims. In 1833 major reforms were carried out, and it is these which give the area its current shape. It was at this time that the sphinxes, popularly known as lions, were put in place. At the centre of the square of Plaça Joan Carles I we find the Font de les Tortugues (Fountain of the Tortoises), which was constructed to commemorate the taking of the oath of the future queen Isabel II. It has a circular basin and an obelisk made of Santanyí stone, crowned with a bronze bat, which is the heraldic emblem of the city, and supported by four bronze tortoises. It is here that football fans congregate to celebrate victories.
The Avinguda de Jaume III was the first wide street to run through the old city and it connected this part of the city with the newer area of the Eixampla, which lies to the west. It follows a straight, uniform route, with portal arches and homogenous façades. It is one of Palma´s busiest and most exclusive shopping streets. On the street of Carrer Concepció, which runs perpendicular to Avinguda Jaume III, in front of the Sa Nostra cultural centre, we see the Fountain of Sant Sepulcre, which conserves the neck of the Moorish fountain of the 10th century and a shrine from the 13th century.
The avenue of La Rambla, now known as the Rambla dels Ducs de Palma de Mallorca, was created when the route of the stream of La Riera was diverted in 1613, in accordance with the construction project for the fortified area and the renaissance walls. It is about 300 metres long and has a rectangular layout, with a fountain at the upper section and, at the lower section, there is the sculpture Lugar de encuentro V by Eduardo Chillida, next to two statues of Roman emperors which were erected in 1937 in homage to fascist Italy. All along La Rambla there are many stalls selling flowers. In 1841 the Saturday market moved here; prior to this, ever since the Middle Ages the market had been held at the nearby Plaça del Mercat (Market Square), which is where the Moorish souk was located. The Saturday market is now held around Avinguda Gabriel Alomar i Villalonga.
At number 33 Plaça Weyler is the Gran Hotel – a luxury establishment which was a forerunner of Mallorcan tourism. It is now a cultural centre – the headquarters of the La Caixa Foundation on Mallorca. It has a permanent pictorial exhibition dedicated to Anglada Camarassa. The building was completed in 1903 and is one of the most important examples of the Catalan art nouveau style on Mallorca, with a façade which is beautifully decorated with pieces of sculpture and ceramics. On the other side of the square is the bakery of the Forn del Teatre, which is a commercial premises in the Catalan art nouveau style. A bit further down, at numbers 13 and 14 of the Plaça del Mercat, there are two symmetrical buildings – the Pensió Menorquina and the Edifici Casasayas – which are also examples of Catalan art nouveau architecture on Mallorca.
The building of La Misericòrdia – a charitable institution providing shelter to the poor and needy – is situated within the grounds of the old cemetery of Camp Roig and was begun around the year 1677, though works continued through to the 19th century. It now belongs to the Government of Mallorca and houses the offices of the Departments of Culture and Sports, a cultural centre, the Artisan Culture Library and the Lluís Alemany i Vic Library. The building can be accessed from the garden, where there are sculptures by contemporary artists, or from the street of Via Roma, or from the square of Plaça de l´Hospital, which is where the Hospital General is situated. This building, which still functions as a hospital today, was constructed in the 15th century, in accordance with the trend of the time to centralise all hospitals in the same place. The building has a complex and heterogeneous structure due to the numerous modifications it has undergone through the centuries. Within the same area we find the church of Església de la Sang, with a sculpture of Sant Crist de la Sang (Christ of the Blood), which is an object of great devotion on Mallorca.
La Plaça Major (Main Square) is the nerve centre of the old quarter, where the main pedestrian shopping streets converge, such as the streets of Carrer de Sant Miquel, Jaume II and Carrer del Sindicat, which runs as far as the shopping area of Avinguda Alexandre Rosselló in the area of the Eixampla. The square stands on the former site of the convent of Sant Felip Neri and some adjacent houses, as well as taking in what was the headquarters of The Inquisition – the Casa Negre – which was abolished in 1820 and demolished in 1823. The square is rectangular and has a porched perimeter above which three and four storey buildings are constructed. Once the headquarters of The Inquisition had been knocked down, 10 years passed before work started on the first wing, which was finished in 1838. Works continued until well into the 20th century, with an underground car park and shopping galleries being added. Leaving the square in the direction of Plaça del Marquès del Palmer, at number 1, we find the Edifici de l´Àguila, which shares the metallic lower part of its structure with Can Rei; these two buildings from the beginning of the 20th century were built in the Catalan art nouveau style, with the highly decorated façades and the polychromed ceramics from the Mallorcan factory of La Roqueta being particularly noteworthy.
The square of Plaça de Cort takes its name from the numerous courts in this area – from jurisdictional domains and various magistracies, which were abolished by the Courts of Cadiz in 1811. This is where the Palma City Hall is now located. This building was originally the Hospital of Sant Andreu, which was founded in 1230 by Nunyó Sanç, and from 1249 it was the Universitat de la Ciutat i del Regne de Mallorca – the institution which governed the city from the middle of the 13th century, until the Nova Planta Decree replaced this body with the Ajuntament (city council) in 1716. The construction of the current City Hall building, which is in the style of a traditional three-storey Mallorcan manor house, began in 1649 and continued until the middle of the 18th century. The ground floor has two side portals with baroque coats of arms and a central gallery with the popular bench of banc dels vagos or banc de Sinofos, which comes from the expression si no fos per…(if it weren´t for…), which the vagos (layabouts) of the city used to say as an excuse not to work. At the top of the façade there is a clock which is popularly known as En Figuera. Inside the building on the ground floor we see the Gothic portal of the old Hospital of Sant Andreu and the stairway which leads up to the first floor. Here we find Tòfol and Francinaina – the two giants of the City Hall.
Next to the City Hall, on the street of Carrer del Palau Reial, is the central building of the Consell de Mallorca (Government of Mallorca); work began on this building in 1882 and it represents one of the best examples of the Mallorcan neo-Gothic style. A bit further down, towards Passeig del Born, at number 11 Carrer Conquistador, is the old premises of the Círculo Mallorquín, which is now the headquarters of the Parliament of the Balearic Islands. This building occupies the site once occupied by the Gothic convent of Sant Domingo, which was demolished in 1837 following the disentailment of Mendizábal. On the same road is the Palau March – the current headquarters of the Bartomeu March Servera Fundation – which contains a Neapolitan nativity scene from the 18th century and a series of contemporary sculptures.
The neighbourhood of La Gerraria used to be a an important centre for traditional crafts, with the guilds of potters and blacksmiths located here, along with many workshops corresponding to these trades. The area has recently been reconstructed, with the construction of the Court of First Instance and the creation of the Passeig de l´Artesania in the area around the square of Plaça de l´Artesania, where craft shops and workshops have become established. At number 9 Plaça de Quadrado we find the Catalan art nouveau building of Can Barceló, whose polychromed ceramics from the La Roqueta factory create a bourgeois feel. In the same neighbourhood is the square of Plaça de la Quartera, where, from at least as far back as the 15th century, the building used for storing grain in the city was located. This was an essential institution in times of crisis created by bad harvests on the island, as this was when the island depended on wheat imports, which were known as “sea wheat”. Here the product was stored, guarded, sifted and distributed. On the western side of the square, on the street of Carrer de la Corderia, is the esparto factory of Ca la Seu, which was founded in 1510 and is one of the oldest establishments in the city.
Call Major, which was the Jewish quarter from the end of the 13th century to the 15th century, occupied an extensive part of the south-eastern sector of the old city, between El Temple, Sant Francesc and La Calatrava (however, during the period of Moorish rule and for most of the 13th century, the Jewish quarter was next to the Almudaina, in the area of what is now the street of Carrer del Palau Reial). The residents lived in what was a separate part of the city, which was surrounded by a wall. There were two synagogues: one was built at the beginning of the 14th century and was located on the site of what is now the church of Monti-sion, and the other, which was next to the Hebrew schools, was situated where the Seminari Vell now stands. In 1435 Mallorca´s Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, and this was the year in which Judaism formally ended on the island. The descendents of some of these converted Jews known as ´Xuetes´, who are marked by a series of family names which they took from their godparents at their baptism and who were generally Christian merchants and nobles, were marginalized by Mallorcan society until the 1960s; the treatment of Jews is one of the darkest points in Mallorcan history. The network of narrow streets and alleyways here make it one of the most emblematic areas of Palma de Mallorca.
El Puig de Sant Pere is the old neighbourhood in the west end of the city, between Baluard de Sant Pere, La Drassana and the church of Santa Creu. This is one of the oldest and most typical neighbourhoods of the city and for centuries it has been a centre for fishermen, sailors and craftsmen working in trades connected to the activities of the boatyard. It maintains the street layout from the period of Moorish rule. The building of the guild of fishermen stood at number 25 Carrer Sant Pere, but only the renaissance portal of the chapel remains. El Baluard de Sant Pere is one of the most important parts of the renaissance walls and is now home to the Palma Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It conserves the remains of the hydraulic system which provided water to the boats anchored in the port, such as the arches of the water channel and the large cistern, and there is also a square tower of Moorish origin. In this neighbourhood we also find the buildings of La Llonja and the Consolat de la Mar, an institution which is representative of the maritime and commercial activities of times gone by and which is now the building of the Government of the Balearic Islands. On Passeig Guillem Sagrera we find the La porta Vella del Moll (Old Gateway to the Dock), which was at the end of the street of Carrer de la Mar and which was the main access point to the city from the sea. Now only the entry arch remains, as this was transferred to its current location when the walls were torn down. Between the street of Carrer de la Mar and La Plaça de la Reina it is possible to view the arch of Gabella de la Sal (Salt Store), which formed part of the fourth walled enclosure, which dates back to the 12th century, when the city was still ruled by the Moors.