Museum of Palau March and Parliament
Mallorca | Majorca
The Convent of San Domingo was by all accounts was one of the most stunning examples of Gothic art in Palma. The architects Fabre and Peris came from Barcelona to realise the project and began construction in 1295. However, it wasn’t until 117 years later that the convent would be completed. It was the most beautiful and important convent in Palma and became the final resting place for many noble families.
Unfortunately, only a few centuries ago, in 1836, due to Mendizabal’s relentless Ecclesiastical Disentailment, with the imposition of the famous Confiscation Law one year earlier, the convent was completely demolished and one of Palma’s most important landmarks was lost forever.
About 10 years later in 1848 construction began on the same site. The building was to become the headquarters for the ‘Circulo Mallorquin’, an exclusive club that existed for the high society of the era. It became the focal point for drama and theatre in town – especially when Palma’s main theatre burnt down a year after being built! The club boasted some of the most lavishly decorated suites in Palma of which it were said you’d be hard pushed to find comparison in the rest of Spain.
The life of the club continued prosperously and in 1900 big reforms of the buildings were proposed. The cost of the proposal however was outrageous, postponing the start for 13 years until the project was revised. The Catalan architect Madorell ended up directing the project having received help from two other architects in drawing up the plans. Despite World War I and the increasing costs, the reforms were finally completed 5 years later.
In 1983 due to economic difficulties the society sold their building for 150 million pts, which was about 1 million pounds in those days, and it became the new home of the Parliament of the Balearic Islands. Now, in the rooms where once the members of the exclusive society gathered and relaxed, new laws would be voted on and the grandest questions of the autonomous community would be debated.
The museum of Palau March, next to Parliament, sits exactly where the old gardens of the Convent of San Domingo used to be. In the 1930’s Juan March Ordinas, the richest man in Mallorca, began its construction as a residence for his family. The drawings were made by the famous Spanish architect Luis Gutierrez Soto but were based on preliminary work done by the Mallorcan architect Forteza. The result combines the austere Herreran style of the façade in Calle Conquistador with the light, open Mediterranean style of this side, facing the Cathedral. It stands out more as an example of the architectural change undergone during this period than it does on the basis of its intrinsic value. Its construction took 6 years, finishing in 1945.
Juan March himself was an interesting character. Born in the little market town of Santa Margalida, he became one of the most prominent men of his day. But you will see no monument to him at his birthplace, which you might expect for such a renowned and successful man, because he is not remembered fondly. He was a manipulator, a swindler and a pirate. In fact, if he had not created his own legacies, no one would voluntarily speak his name today.
He had an ability to twist anyone round his little finger and when that didn’t work, he would buy them. He could squeeze maximum profit out of almost nothing, an ability he honed in the school playground, where he did not sell whole cigarettes but just a single puff. He moved from meat markets to tobacco smuggling and eventually into real estate where he ended up founding his own bank to enable him to handle deals at a lower cost. Banca March today has branches in every village in Mallorca and even some on the mainland.
With his business instinct and total lack of ethical or moral sense he acted as a middleman during the First World War, and emerged immensely wealthy. For a cash payment he promised the British he would watch the movements of the German fleet in the Straits of Gibraltar, only then to assign pilots to the German ships allowing them safe passage into the Mediterranean. In the Spanish civil war he also made sure he was on the right side and although it has never been possible to prove, he appears to have helped finance Franco’s Fascist campaign. Juan March more or less had a monopoly all over the Mediterranean.
He nearly came a cropper on one occasion, when he was arrested on suspicion of murdering a colleague’s son. Needless to say, the judges were all taken off the case at the last moment and he was never convicted. He fled to Gibraltar, emerging in the middle of the 20th century one of the richest men in the world. No one knows exactly how rich he was.
In 1955, it appears he turned over a new leaf when he set up a foundation for the arts that bears his name – the ‘Fundacion Juan March’. With its headquarters now in Madrid, it has helped over 6000 students and researchers pursue their studies, and has won national and international awards. The Juan March foundation actually has no connection to the Palau March in front of you now, but they do have a museum of contemporary Spanish art elsewhere in Palma.
The foundation that has its headquarters in the Palau March is called the ‘Fundacion Bartolome March Servera’ named after Juan March’s second son who founded it. Bartolome was a very well educated and travelled man with a passion for art but above all books and over the years he bought and collected many thousands. The foundation he created controls all the books and art he and the family accrued. The library itself comprises 70,000 books, 1800 manuscripts, 21 extremely rare books from the 15th century and 3,000 articles dating between the 16th and 18th century.
Bartolome died in 1998 and his son Manuel took over as president. In 2001 the building was remodelled to become a museum for the foundation. Today it displays a permanent exhibition of contemporary sculptures, famous murals, Mallorcan cartography and illustrative work from Salvador Dali.
Palau March Museum Location and Info
Calle Palau Reial 18
07001 Palma (Mallorca)
Retired persons: €2,90