Discover Spain: Five hidden gems that reveal Palma de Mallorca's past

Michael Stuchbery
Michael Stuchbery - [email protected]
Discover Spain: Five hidden gems that reveal Palma de Mallorca's past
Lines for the cathedral and palace too long? Here's how to get away from the crowds of tourists. Photo: Max Harlynking/Unsplash

There’s a lot more to the Balearic island’s capital than the postcard sights and the hordes of tourists. Here are five lesser-known places off the main strips where you can discover the city’s rich past for yourself.


Successive waves of migration and conquest have been drawn to the island of Mallorca over thousands of years, due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean and fertile soils.

Before the arrival of a large Aragonese army in the 13th century, it was home to Arabs of several different dynastic groups. Back then, the city was known as Medina Mayurqa.

READ ALSO: 'What did the Moors ever do for us?' How Spain was shaped by Arab culture

Banys Arab

There’s precious little that you can find of the Arab city, but if you’re willing to explore the maze of lanes behind the city’s cathedral, you’ll find the Banys Arab. These are the remains of a bathing complex used by the Arab inhabitants of the city, built sometime between the tenth and twelfth centuries using earlier Roman materials. The remains include a hammam and a steam room, that have been preserved and worked into the beautiful gardens of a city mansion. It’s a wonderful place to take a break and enjoy a cool drink on a hot day.

Banys Arab offers an insight into Mallorca's Moorish past. Photo: Michael Stuchbery/The Local

Following the Aragonese conquest of Jaume I, the city of Palma grew at an astonishing rate. Literally built atop the Arab city, and often reusing materials, everything needed for a prosperous trading hub was established. One of the children of the new settlers was a man named Ramon Llull, who would become the island’s most celebrated son - after Rafael Nadal!

Llull was a mystic, a poet, and an author and in his quest to create a universal system of dialogue between religions, he created something like the world’s first logic algorithms. As a matter of fact, he’s often been credited as the great-grandfather of computer science. If you listen to the stories, he was also a playboy in his youth - and probably has a few living local descendants.


Basilica de San Francesc

Llull was buried in the Basilica of San Francesc (San Francisco in Spanish), the largest church in the Balearic Islands after the city’s cathedral. His tomb, created in the 15th century, shows him lying in repose, and a modern installation projects quotes and images related to his work across his effigy. Quite a striking sight!

Ramón Llull was born in Palma in 1232. Photo: Michael Stuchbery/The Local

Convento de Santa Clara

For something a little more down to earth, head to the Convent of Santa Clara, home to local legends. Founded by royal command soon after the conquest by Aragón, it has been a local institution for centuries.

Father Junipero Serra, one of America’s founding fathers, used to preach there from the pulpit before he travelled to California to establish missions. There’s also a wonderfully gruesome story about thieves trying to rob the tomb of a rich benefactor being prepared for burial. Apparently, one of them dropped dead from fright when she woke up with them trying to bite a ring from her finger!

For the real insider tip, to the right of the church there’s a door - go through the door, ring the bell and select from the list of delicious biscuits next to the turnstile. An unseen nun will then ask you what you want, and once you’ve selected and paid, will slide your choice around. The nuns of the convent have been baking for years and their produce is famous across the island.

Don't forget to buy biscuits from the nuns at Santa Clara. Photo: Michael Stuchbery/The Local


La Lonja

Throughout the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries, Palma thrived as a trading centre, despite pirate attacks and wars raging across the Mediterranean. La Lonja (Llotja in Majorcan) is the magnificent guildhall that the early merchants built, where loud and boisterous negotiations would take place within sight of the ocean. It’s a tremendous space, distinct due to the rib vaulting and columns. It’s often used as a space for exhibitions and again, it’s a great place to cool off from the heat of the midday sun.

La Lonja was built between 1420 and 1452. Photo: Michael Stuchbery/The Local



Can Balaguer

Finally, if you’re wondering what the merchants did with all their profits? Can Balaguer is the lovingly-preserved mansion of the Balaguer family, presented in such a way that visitors are taken from the 17th century to the present, showcasing period art and decoration along the way. Don’t miss the small exhibit at the bottom showcasing some of the archaeological finds from the site, discovered during renovation. One of my favourites is the tile demonstrating a charging knight on horseback, still bright with vivid colours.

Can Balaguer in Palma's old quarter is well worth a visit. Photo: Derbrauni/Wikipedia (CC BY 4.0)



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