Museum of Mallorca
At number 5 on calle La Portella is ‘Ca la Gran Cristiana’, but now better known as the Museum of Mallorca.
Museum of Mallorca History
The site itself is special because it was the first place remains of a building from the Islamic period were found, a building that is thought to have been constructed during the Almoravid period, between 1116 and 1203. On top of these were found the remains of three houses from the Gothic period and it was on these that the current building which houses the Museum of Mallorca was built in the 17th century.
This house was first inhabited by the Count of Ayamans and his wife, Margalida Despuig, through an arranged marriage. The relationship wasn’t overly successful by all accounts, and due to the harsh treatment she received at the hands of the Count, she upped and fled to a nearby convent. Unfortunately the escape was in vain, because the Count, supplied with ladders and accompanied by armed men, broke into the convent and stole her back. However, this was not the last cruel trick life would play on this unfortunate woman, as she ended up being murdered by bandits in 1651!
The house passed through the ownership of the Desbrull family until in the 19th century it became known as Ca la Gran Cristiana after a nickname by which its new owner was called. She was a lady noted for her piety and her support for certain causes had created enemies in high places. She ended up being arrested for her beliefs (during the reign of Isabel II) and was confined to her lands on the west coast of the island – not such a harsh punishment in my opinion!
During this time, some reforms on the house were undertaken: the main staircase was modified incorporating the neo-Gothic balusters, and various rooms in the interior were changed to conform with Queen Isabel’s tastes. It wasn’t until 1961 that the foundation of the museum was approved with the idea of combining two important collections to create one combined display of more than 3000 pieces. In 1968 it was purchased by the city of Palma, which ceded its use for the museum. Later in 1975, extensive restoration was carried out to recover the original character of the building.
Museum of Mallorca Architecture
The courtyard itself is the result of the reform of the early Gothic structure and is defined by four basket-handle arches resting on stone columns with Ionic capitals. The Gothic arch of the main staircase is particularly interesting due to its antiquity. There are Baroque features including the balconies of the main floor and the arches in the vestibule but also neo-Gothic and Elizabethan touches like the windows of the attic.
Museum of Mallorca Contents
Entrance to the museum is free and it holds an impressive display of archaeology dealing with the successive cultures that became established on the island: from pre-Talayotic, through Talayotic and Roman, and on to Islamic. There are informative wall-displays, models of living conditions and artefacts on display that are more than 3000 years old. There is also quite a cool reconstruction of a Punic Greek boat, from the 5th century BC, that was found off the coast of the island. It was loaded with goods from all over the Mediterranean supporting the importance of the role Mallorca played in the Mediterranean trading routes.
The ground floor, dedicated to the Islamic period, is probably the most interesting and important because it is one of the few places a display from this period exists. Remember, this was one of the most opulent times in the history of Mallorca, but after the Christian takeover in 1229 almost no trace was left. Therefore, this is the best place to discover what the Islamic world might have been like on the island, because other than a few customs and folklores, this part of their history is still largely unknown. Thanks to informative drawings, photos and an impressive collection, the museum helps you reconstruct this little known period from its history.
If you’re going to visit the display, it would be useful at this point to recap on the different eras of the Arab occupation in Palma. This should help you put things in a more chronological order. There were roughly four: the first in 707 when the first Arabs arrived, the second in 902 with the main Arab takeover and incorporation into the Caliphate of Cordoba, the third in 1077 which saw the fall of Cordoba and a time of self-governance, and the final period, in 1115, when the Almoravids and then Almohads took control.
On the top floor of the Museum of Mallorca there is a notable collection of Gothic and Baroque paintings. Together with those in the Cathedral and the Diocesan museum they form a triptych, which is an essential source for those wishing to become familiar with the high standard achieved by exponents of this style in Mallorca. A walk through the gallery in this museum offers you a walk through those centuries when artistic creativity focused on religious icons that stirred its followers and motivated religious beliefs. The collection offers a fairly complete picture of the Gothic development on the island during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Calle Portella, 5
07001 Palma (Mallorca)
Museum of Mallorca Website
Tel.:+34 971717540/ +34 971724794
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