Within the old quarter of Palma de Mallallorca there are stately homes from the old Mallorcan nobility, and these are a testimony to times gone by in which the noblemen, who owned vast tracts of agricultural land, lived in the city from the income generated by their land, which was often rented to the farmers which worked on it. This social structure remained in place until the beginning of the 1960s, when tourism transformed a society and economic model based on agriculture into one based on a service economy. The majority of these stately homes were constructed between the 15th and 16th century; there was a lot of contact between Italy and Mallorca at this time due to maritime transit and trade, and it is for this reason that the architecture has Italian influences. Wandering round the old quarter it is possible to admire the paved courtyards of these houses, which are often embellished with plants and have a cistern at the entrance to collect rainwater. The interior decoration tends to be sober and of high quality, with noble materials, sparse furniture and contiguous rooms with no corridors.
At number 9 Carrer de l´Almudaina is Can Bordils – one of the oldest ancestral homes in Palma. In the 13th century it was reconstructed on the foundations which remained from the Moorish period. In 1554 it underwent extensive reforms, and from these we see the renaissance windows of the façade, above which we can see the coats of arms of the families of Sureda-Sanglada and Sureda-Moyà, who were the old owners of the building. In the 19th century a renaissance portal and the coat of arms of the Vilallonga family were added to the stairway; these elements were taken from a house which had been demolished. The courtyard is square with arches supported by hexagonal pillars, and the hall has a Mudejar panelled ceiling. Since 1982 the building has belonged to Palma City Council and houses the municipal archive.
The ancestral home of Can Oleo is located at number 4 Carrer de l´Almudaina; this was the property of the Oleo family, from Menorca, who owned it well into the 20th century. Later it became the headquarters of the Lul·liana Archaeological Society and it now belongs to the University of the Balearic Islands. Of particular note is the Gothic stairway in the courtyard, which is one of the few examples of its kind remaining in Palma. It has a unique stair rail, made up of ten panels with circular ogival-style rose windows. The entire courtyard maintains its Gothic concept and the façade is plain and simple, without ornamentation.
Can Marquès is situated at 2A Carrer Sanglada and it is open to visitors from 10.00 until 15.00, except weekends and public holidays. This building provides a good opportunity to see the inside of a stately home, with its baroque rooms and a private oratory. The decoration of the courtyard and the stairway conserve details from the Catalan art nouveau style.
Can Ordines d´Almadrà is located at number 8 Carrer Morei and is also known as Can Alabern; it has four floors and dates back to the 16th century. The window on the left on the ground floor is one of the best examples of renaissance style on Mallorca. On the first floor, the Gothic window between the two balconies is particularly noteworthy. The porch has keel windows and a corbel projection with mouldings at the top. The monstrously ugly face situated at the corner with Carrer de l´Almudaina grabs the attention of visitors. Inside the house, the hall has a wood-panelled ceiling, and the left portal is a renaissance structure and the right portal is Gothic, with the latter embellished by two female figures with their index fingers over their lips and the inscription ´Tu nube atque tace. Donant arcana cylindros´ (Marry and be quiet. Silence will bring you jewels). Below the gallery, on the wall there is a Roman tombstone known as ´Ara Manlia´ – this is one of the few remnants of the Palma´s Roman necropolis and was found in the 1940s during the renovation work which provided the house with its gallery and stairway.
Can Olesa is located at number 9 Carrer d´en Morei. This building, which was constructed in the 16th century, has one of the most famous courtyards in the city and harmoniously integrates various architectural elements and artistic styles. The façade is divided into three storeys and is richly ornamented in renaissance style.
Ca la Gran Cristiana, which houses the Museum of Mallorca and which is one of the most outstanding examples of large ancestral homes in Palma, stands at number 5 Carrer de la Portella. In 1634 the first Count of Aiamans had this house built on top of some older houses, of which signs of the arches, windows and portals can be seen in the façade. The balconies on the façade have baroque ironwork railings and the porch in the upper section his windows which take their inspiration from the Gothic style. The basement conserves part of a house of Moorish origins dating from the 12th century; the Gothic houses on which the current house was built were built on the remains of this Moorish building.
La Posada de la Cartoixa, or Cal Comte d´Espanya as it is also known, is located at number 12 Carrer de la Portella and is a building of Gothic origins, though it underwent significant renovations in 1732. From 1626 until the 19th century it belonged to the Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa. The building is austere and simple in style, with the baroque portal being particularly noteworthy; the portal is crowned by an image of Saint Bru, the founder of the Carthusian order, and underneath this we see the emblem of the Carthusians. An iron chain hangs from the portal, reminding us that this building has been used as a royal residence.
A bit further down, at number 14 Carrer Portella, we see Ca la Torre, whose façade is on the harbour side of the old town and which is now the headquarters of the College of Architects of the Balearic Islands. It was constructed in 1696 on an old building from the 15th century. The courtyard isn´t located in the centre of the building but is protected by high walls with battlements which form part of the city´s medieval walls.
The building of Can Catlar, at number 7 Carrer del Sol, is also known as Cal Marquès del Palmer or Can Descatlar; from 1442 onwards this housed La Seca, which was the mint for the old Mallorcan currency. It is Gothic in origin, though its current renaissance look is due to renovations carried out in the middle of the 16th century. The stairway of the courtyard dates from the 19th century and the rococo-style interior decoration comes from the 18th century. The window on the right on the ground floor includes an enigmatic relief of a female figure plunging a sword into her body, probably in reference to the Roman legend of Lucrecia.
Can Vivot, or Can Sureda as it´s also known, is located at number 6 Carrer Can Savellà. In 1690 this building was completely renovated and neighbouring houses were added, such as La Gabella de la Sal d´en Catlar, which was a salt store which still has lancet arches from the 13th century. The oldest remains from this complex of buildings are the cellars, which date back to the Moorish period. The façade is sparsely ornamented, in contrast to the building´s interior, which is accessed via a vestibule leading through to the main courtyard, which is rectangular and which has red-marble columns. A narrow stairway leads up to the first floor, where three semi-circular arches stand out. The interior has a stucco decoration with fresco paintings of mythological themes, and there is also a rich series of tapestries and damasks, as well as a library with an important collection of works.
The building of the Sa Nostra Cultural Centre, at number 12 Carrer Concepció, is a four-storey baroque ancestral home which is open to visitors. Another mansion which can be visited is Casal Balaguer, which is located at number 3 Carrer Unió, which joins Passeig Des Born with La Rambla. It was given to Palma City Council by the musician Josep Balaguer i Valls and it now houses the Cercle de Belles Arts, which puts on temporary exhibitions.
The Pelaires Contemporary Culture Centre, at number 3 Carrer Can Verí, is housed in a medieval ancestral home which was reformed in the 16th century and which was a school run by Trinitarian nuns. The Pelaires centre opened its doors in 1990 and since then it has held temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
The large, baroque mansion of Can Solleric, which was built in 1763, is located at number 27 Carrer del Born. It now belongs to Palma City Council and functions as an exhibition centre. The building elegantly combines traditional Mallorcan architecture with decoration from the European baroque style. The courtyard is rectangular and surrounded by columns, and the first floor is accessed from here. The façade is decorated in polychrome stucco, with a gallery with 5 arches and iron railings on the first floor. There is a café on the ground floor.
The medieval mansion of Can Sales Menor is found at number 8 Carrer de Sant Feliu. This building´s renaissance-style façade is a result of the numerous renovations it has undergone, and it also includes mannerist elements, such as the figures at the main portal, which represent Adam and Eve with the serpent.
The ancestral home of Les Carasses, also known as Can Pavesi or Can Belloto, is found at number 10 Carrer Sant Feliu. Its origins are medieval, though its current façade is mannerist in style, with Genovese influences due to the fact a former owner, who carried out important renovations in the 17th century, came from this Italian city. Of particular note are the grotesque masks and a face with its tongue sticking out; it is these features which gave rise to the popular name of Les Caresses (Grotesque Faces), which is used for both the house and the street of Carrer de Sant Feliu. Above the main grotesque face is the inscription ´Eundo´, which means ´For whatever happens´.