Taking the city bus into town was really quite easy and cheap and it was a beautiful day for a stroll through the quaint streets of Palma with Mac and Ginny. Of course our first visit was to the beautiful old cathedral where we paid the entrance fee and walked around.
The cathedral has its origins in the very beginnings of the Christian takeover of the island of Mallorca back in the 13th century. In the autumn of 1229, King James I and his men sailed to the island to defeat the Arabs and it was on this crossing that the seed of the cathedral was sown. A storm raged so violently during the 3-and-half day journey that the young king feared for his life, so he made an oath to God promising, should his enterprise succeed, to erect a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. He was lucky, not only did he arrive safely but he also defeated the Arabs. And as a God-fearing Christian he did not forget his promise and quickly set about putting into practice his oath.
The decision for the site was obvious. The Muslims were already using the perfect position for their mosque. So by razing the mosque and constructing a house of God on its foundations, King James knew he would be highlighting the victory of Christianity over Islam. However, in doing so he would also create one of the great, all-time historical paradoxes; anyone kneeling at the altar in Mallorca’s cathedral does so in the direction of Mecca like a Muslim not, as should be the case for a Christian, towards Jerusalem.
The mosque however was not demolished immediately but was repeatedly restored and used well in to the 14th century, most probably, and ironically, as a place of Christian worship. Construction of the present Palma de Mallorca Cathedral began with the east end in about 1300 during the reign of James II, the son of James I. He was the first monarch of the island dynasty and in his will of 1306 he left a large bequest for the construction of the apse, which was to serve as a funeral chapel. Today, it is called the Chapel of Trinity and contains the royal tombs of the first dynasty of the Kingdom of Mallorca, King James II and III.
The architect who designed the three-aisle church, with its 24 vaulted sections was Jaume Mates, son of the Master Pere Mates who also worked on the Mallorca cathedral, sourcing the best Mallorcan sandstone. Jaume Mates was extremely ambitious in his design and aimed to create columns so fine that the roof would appear to defy gravity itself. The weight, however, was greater than he had anticipated and the first two columns tested, threatened to collapse immediately. They were left with no choice but to widen their diameter. Nevertheless, in relation to their height they are still among the slimmest load bearing columns in the world today.
Work went on and on for several centuries with people from all social classes contributing financially until finally in 1601, well into the Renaissance period, the main façade was completed and the masterpiece began to take shape.
From the 17th century until the present day, alterations have frequently been made to the vaults. After a section collapsed in 1698, was rebuilt but collapsed again, reconstruction of all the vaults was then undertaken. The last two centuries have witnessed the last two, large-scale reforms, which are also those that arouse the greatest controversy. The first in the mid-19th century by the Madrilenian architect Juan Bautista Peyronnet and the second at the beginning of the 20th century by the great Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi.
The former was precipitated by an earthquake in May 1851 that left the main façade in grave danger of collapse, and prompted the bishop to commission its reconstruction. Peyronnet was duly appointed chief architect and decided to adopt a Gothic style in order, as a he affirmed, to confer greater harmony to the site. However, he died in 1875 and a series of interventions by other architects lead to a controversial result – controversial, because in the opinion of experts, it looks more nineteenth century than it does Gothic.
The second reform began at the end of the 19th century when Joan Campins i Barcelo, the Bishop of Mallorca and a man of modern views, thought the interior of the church was in need of refurbishment. He wanted to liberate the Mallorca cathedral from the burden of previous centuries and adapt it to more contemporary trends. He knew the reforms would demand exact knowledge of the original plans and profound research to be implemented correctly and being a fan of Modernismo, the Spanish variant of Art Nouveau, he knew immediately to whom he would entrust this task - Antonio Gaudi.
Whatever the reason, it left the Bishop at his wits’ end: the Mallorca cathedral had now exhausted 15 generations of architects and still was not properly finished. Fortunately, a glimmer of light appeared in the form of Joan Rubio, one of Gaudi’s pupils, and his colleague Gillem Reynes. Together, they offered to complete the work. The work undertaken by Gaudi and his 2 successors was immense and had a huge impact on the Mallorca cathedral. It included recovery of the nave and The Chapel Royal, construction of a baldachin over the altar and restoration of the bishop’s throne, the making of a much lighter interior thanks to the creation of more stained glass windows and the installation of lamps, and the design and manufacture of various liturgical objects and ornaments which were rich in symbolism.
After our tour we wandered the streets of old town before choosing a café for a tapas lunch. At that point we split up, Mac and Ginny looking for more adventure and we heading back to the ship. On our way back we bought presents for the grandchildren (see pictures at the end) and found the bus stop to take the bus back to the ship. About 2 stops into the trip there was Mac getting on the bus by himself. He “lost” Ginny. She had decided she also wanted to go back to the ship so he put her on the #2 bus (the right bus) but going in the wrong direction. And she had only 2 Euros, only enough money for a bus ride one way. He was doomed.
Unfortunately Ginny’s bus driver did not speak English and he wouldn’t put her off till the next bus stop about another mile down the road. Fortunately the town is pretty flat and the road runs along the harbor so she could see the ship in the distance. After she got off she walked the 3 or so miles back to the ship. She was a pretty good sport about the whole thing. Lesson learned-NEVER travel by yourself without money in a foreign country.