Majorca, sometimes written Mallorca, is a sun-soaked Spanish island in the Balearics of the Mediterranean Sea. While many would first and foremost associate Majorca with its sandy beaches and modern holiday resorts, it’s actually an island dripping with history.
Occupied by the Romans and later the Moors, before falling under Catalan control, Majorca has witnessed more than its fair share of conflict and change. Thankfully, the island has tired to preserve its rich heritage, and today a visit there offers access to everything from medieval Arab bathhouses to the ruins of the Roman town of Pollentia.
Here are 10 of the best historic sites to visit in Majorca.
Palma Cathedral, known as “La Seu” or the “Cathedral of the Sea”, is a vast and imposing Gothic cathedral in Majorca’s capital. Construction of Palma Cathedral is said to have been ordered by King Jaume I in 1230. The process of erecting Palma Cathedral lasted around three hundred years, stretching from 1301 to the 17th century, with renovations and additions still undertaken from time to time.
Today, the Palma Cathedral retains much of its medieval charm as well as featuring modern additions, such as the refored Chapel of the Holy Sacrament by Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló. There is a small museum on site, housing earlier parts of Palma Cathedral, while the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel houses the tombs of Kings Jaume II and III. Audio guides are available for a fee.
The Alcudia City Walls in Majorca date back to the 14th century, following the Spanish conquest of the island of Majorca. To protect the town, King Jaume II of Aragon designed a protection system involving the construction of these steep city walls. Building was initiated at the end of the 13th century and finished in 1362. The Alcudia City Walls were declared an Artistic Historical Site in 1974, together with the remains of Roman city of Pollentia.
Today, you can walk around the walls in no longer than an hour, taking the Street “Cami de Ronda” immediately behind the uppermost exterior wall or battlement along the parapet walk, admiring the views on the right-hand side of La Victoria Peninsula. A market also runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays by the Porta del Moll o de Xara gate, which connected Alcudia to the 18th-century harbour.
Castell de Bellver or Bellver Castle is a striking, completely round, 14th-century citadel near Palma in Majorca. Construction of Castell de Bellver began in 1300 under the rule of King Jaume II, who commanded a tower built on the hill known as Puig de Sa Mesquida. The lower levels of Castell de Bellver acted as a prison from 1717 and were subsequently used as such during the Wars of Spanish Succession, Napoleonic Wars and Spanish Civil War.
Set high atop the bay of Palma on a wooded hill, it comes as little surprise that the Catalan name Castell de Bellver translates as ‘the castle with a lovely view’. Visitors can walk around the moat before climbing to the roof of Castell de Bellver to look down into the beautiful round and arched courtyard or across Palma to the sea. Castell de Bellver also houses a museum (Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat), displaying everything from ancient Roman artefacts to Arab pottery.
La Almudaina Royal Palace in Palma, also known as Palau de l’Almudaina, was a Muslim citadel turned into a Majorcan palace. This transformation occurred in around 1281, after which it was used by monarchs of Majorca. Even today, the king of Spain uses La Almudaina Royal Palace as a summer residence.
Inside La Almudaina Royal Palace, visitors can see various displays including a variety of Flemish tapestries and tour the palace as a whole, including the king’s and queen’s rooms, the royal chapel, and the impressive gothic hall. The Capilla de Santa Ana (Saint Anne Chapel) is noteworthy for its Pyrenean marble portal, a rare example on the island of the Romanesque style.
Pollentia is an archaeological site in Alcúdia, Majorca, housing the remains of an ancient Roman city established in either the 1st or 2nd century BC. From the time Pollentia was founded by the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus to around 70 BC, the settlement was a Roman castrum (military camp). It grew into a rich and thriving city by the 2nd century AD.
Sadly, Pollentia has suffered significant looting over the centuries, but there are still several ancient monuments to see. The most significant of these is Pollentia’s 1st century AD Roman Theatre: Spain’s smallest surviving Ancient Roman theatre that is still used for shows today. Visitors can also make out the foundations of the forum of Pollentia, including some temples and shops.
The House of Robert Graves in Mallorca is a small museum dedicated to the life of author Robert Graves and is located in the home in which he lived. Sometimes called Ca n’Alluny, the writer Robert Graves moved to Deia in 1929 and had this house built 3 years later. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he entrusted the house to the care of local friends and fled the country, only returning to Deia after the close of World War Two.
Today, the house is preserved as though Graves and his family have simply left for the day – everything looks lived in. There are beautiful gardens, mostly laid out by Graves himself, which contain citrus groves and a grotto. Visitors can take a tour of the property, which begins with a 15-minute video outlining Graves’s life and work, especially his most famous books I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Graves is buried in the graveyard at the local church, which is a steep walk from the village.
The Banys Arabs or ‘Arab Baths’ in Palma are a small site containing one of the sole surviving examples of Islamic architecture in Majorca. Dating back to the 11th century, the Banys Arabs would probably have been part of the home of an affluent Moorish resident. They are virtually all that remain of the Arab city of Medina Mayurqa (now known as Palma) and were architecturally inspired by and built using materials from former Muslim, Byzantine and Roman buildings.
Today, visitors to the Banys Arabs can see the two rooms of the remaining Arab baths. Interestingly, parts of the Banys Arabs are dated older than the site itself; for instance, some of the columns are from ancient Rome. It’s also worth spending some time in the former orchard of Can Fontitroig manor house and imagining the role that the baths would have played as part of the nobleman’s house.
8. Jardines de Alfabia
Located in Bunjola, in Majorca’s Tramuntana Mountain Range, are the magnificent Jardines de Alfabia. The estate itself has a rich medieval and early modern heritage, and is home to a grand house, orchards and gardens. The site is home to a whole host of architectural styles, ranging from Hispano-Arabic to Baroque and Rococo. The estate was declared a cultural monument by the government in 1954, in recognition of its much-lauded history and beauty.
Visitors can take a peaceful stroll around the gardens, where they’ll find quaint lakes, ornate pergolas and a whole host of lush plants and flowers. Inside the house, you’ll find artefacts and decorations from several centuries of the site’s history.
9. Son Marroig
Son Marroig in Majorca is both a picturesque traditional estate and a functioning museum dedicated to the late Austrian Archduke, Ludwig Salvator. Salvator purchased the property in 1863 – though it dates back to the 17th century – after he fell in love with the region and the island of Majorca as a whole. From Son Marroig, Salvator documented, preserved and championed Majorca’s wildlife and traditions, which he adored. Eventually, Son Marroig became a museum dedicated to Salvator.
Today, visitors can access the estate and museum for a small fee. You can explore documents relating to his studies of the island, as well as peruse his former bedroom and living spaces. The grounds also boast spectacular views of the coastline and the site’s mountainous setting.
10. Drach Caves
Drach Caves, on Majorca’s east coast and known locally as Cuevas del Drach, is a complex of four large caverns. Formed by erosion of the rock by the Mediterranean Sea, the Drach Caves are colossal, stretching some 4 kilometres and descending some 25 metres underground.
Guided tours of the caves can be taken for a fee, sometimes ending in a classical performance made all the more magnificent by the remarkable setting and acoustics. Be sure to pay a visit to Martel Lake which, at more than 100 metres in length, is thought to be one of the largest underground lakes anywhere on Earth.