May 2021. The Belgian government lifted the ban on leisure travel in April, but strict travel rules limited options. As the Balearic Islands – lles Balears or Islas Baleares – were a yellow zone, we booked flights and a hotel in Palma de Mallorca.
Tuesday was the first full day in Mallorca (or Majorca). We started by hiking to Castell Bellver (Catalan) or Castillo de Bellver (Spanish). Bellver Castle is described as being Gothic but don’t expect a cathedral. It’s very medieval and fortified.
It was built in the 14th century for King James II of Mallorca, and is one of the few circular castles in Europe. First serving as the residence of the Kings of Mallorca, and afterward long used as a military prison throughout the 18th to mid-20th century, it is now under civilian control, being one of the main tourist attractions of the island, as well as the seat for the city’s History Museum.
The main part of the fortification was built by architect Pere Salvà, who also worked in the construction of the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, together with other master masons between 1300 and 1311 for King James II.
Rock from the hill where the castle sits was used for the building, which has eventually led to the appearance of cracks. Once the castle had been built, and following the introduction of artillery, the battlements on the top balconies and the barbican disappeared, being soon followed by those in every tower; loopholes were built instead.
The castle originally served as a royal residence whenever they were not staying in mainland Europe, and was subsequently seldom used as a residence for viceroys during the 17th century. As a fortification, it suffered and successfully resisted two sieges during the Middle Ages; the first of them in 1343, during Peter IV of Aragon‘s campaign to reincorporate the Mallorcan territories to the Crown of Aragon, and then again in 1391 during an anti-semitic peasant revolt. The castle has only fallen once in its history into enemy hands, in 1521 after an assault during the Mallorcan seconds Revolt of the Brotherhoods.
The castle was usually governed by a Lord Warden. In 1408, King Martin I of Aragon gave the lordship of Bellver to the Charterhouse of Jesus of Nazareth in Valldemossa.
Charles, Prince of Viana arrived in 1459 to take possession of both the island and the castle, as he had agreed with his father King John II of Aragon, even though finally the king did not grant the lordship or Bellver Castle.
Being an enclosed site, since the end of the 14th century it was used as a prison, firstly to hold Queen Violant of Mallorca, her children James and Isabella and other supporters of King James III of Mallorca after his death in the Battle of Llucmajor in 1349.
During the War of Spanish Succession it was used to imprison first supporters of Phillip of Anjou (and future Philip V of Spain) and after the Bourbon victory, Maulets (supporters of the Habsburg pretender).
During the Spanish Independence War it was used to hold several prisoners captured at the battle of Bailén and later, political prisoners, the most famous of these being the minister Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1802–1808) who first made a description of the castle and commissioned the first blueprints and drawings of it.
The castle served from then on as a political prison, used to lock up several important supporters of the subsequent Habsburg pretendants to the Spanish Throne during the 19th century, and later notable republican and Catalanist leaders during the 20th century, including Alexandre Jaume, Member of the Parliament who first won the castle for the city, and Emili Darder, who was the mayor of the city, both subsequently shot.
Its circular shape make the castle stand out. Both its surrounding wall and the inner yard are so-shaped, and so are the three minor towers and the donjon. A moat is found surrounding the castle and its donjon.
In 1931, the Spanish Second Republic gave the castle to the City of Palma de Mallorca, along with the forest surrounding it.
It became a museum in 1932, being restored in 1976 to become the city’s history museum.
The main yard is the seat to many different public ceremonies, such as protocollary and cultural acts, and concerts. Due to its location and visibility from the sea or any other point of the city, it has become one the city’s symbols.
The surrounding forest encloses the stables of the city’s Mounted Peelers. There is also a chapel dedicated to Saint Alphonsis Rodriguez, built between 1879 and 1885.
The Sunday following Easter Sunday, the citizens gather at the forest and the castle for the celebration of the Diumenge de l’Àngel.
As a museum
Not knowing in advance, our day of visit was International Museum Day so entry was free.
Apart of touring the castle and climbing up the donjon, there’s als an exhibition on Palma de Mallorca’s history, from the archeological times to present day.
I say present but the exhibition is twenty years old. You can tell by the way it is presented, the typography and the exhibition itself. There’s a lot of text, but it was nice to inform ourselves on the city’s history.
Explainations were in Catalan, Spanish and English.
Also, don’t forget the rooms with Roman statues.
Well worth a visit.