Palma de Mallorca Courtyards (Majorca)
The Mallorca courtyard is as Mediterranean as the siesta and olive oil!
These singular architectural spaces, scattered amongst the windy, narrow streets of the old quarter hold an aesthetic beauty and unique individuality that cannot be found elsewhere. And it is why Palma, above all, is a city of courtyards.
History of the Mallorca Courtyard Origin
The Romans built their villas around their courtyards, or atrium as they called them, providing them with a shaded area and enabling them to indulge in a fundamental requirement of Mediterranean life – remaining outdoors without being on view to the outside world. The Romans made no exception when they came to Palma. And when the Arabs conquered the island in 902, it was already a strong feature in the Mallorcan way of life. With the arrival of the Christians in the 13th century, Palma came under the influence of western civilisation and the city’s design slowly conformed to the Gothic taste for narrow and dark streets. Neighbourhood life could not realistically unfold on these streets, so the residents began to arrange their houses around these central areas.
In the 15th and 16th century the courtyards and facades became influenced by the Renaissance but never lost their original Gothic character. It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th century that there was a radical transformation in this type of architecture. Palma de Mallorca had become affluent from its trade with Italy and with this came a new desire for ostentation. Houses became outward signs of social prestige and there were fierce but unspoken competitions between neighbours to erect the most beautiful and most lavishly ornamented houses. The Mallorca courtyards were transformed in step with these changes becoming larger and more ornate. The greatest change was seen in the staircase, which gained in size and sophistication – ornate stone yielding to skilfully made banisters of wrought iron.
In the 20th century, the old quarter of town entered into a period of decline. Some of these mansions were subdivided into smaller flats and many were turned into offices that are not open to the public. However, most of the Palma de Mallorca courtyards bear the weight of their years with dignity, allowing us a glimpse of what life, during these times, was like.
History of the Mallorca Courtyard Function
Socially, in these early days, the Mallorca courtyard was an integral part of the city’s social life – neighbours would use it freely without the need for the owner’s permission. It offered water and shade in the summer, protection against the rain in the winter and served as a place for games, gossiping and flirting, as well as a market place for the sale of goods.
However, if the door to the courtyard was closed, less one panel left ajar, it was to convey the death of a member of the household. This was how news of this kind was spread and the custom lasted up to the end of the 18th century. If, on the other hand, the doors were left open wide and decorated with flowers, it signalled the birth of a child and whoever passed by had the right to enter the house to celebrate, honouring a deep-rooted tradition lasting until the beginning of the 19th century.
It is worth noting, because it is sometimes misunderstood, the construction of all the beautiful courtyards is not owed solely to the noble families. Half of them were built by the aristocracy but the rest belonged to merchant families, jurists, privateers and fortune-seekers.
Palma de Mallorca Courtyard Tour Routes
Official 'Balearic Cultural Tour' routes:
Official Council of Mallorca tour route:
My Courtyard tour route: