The appearance, culture, religion… not even the language of Mallorca has always been the same. In the history of the island, there is a key moment: the entry of King Jaume I and the Christian conquest of these lands. The whole adventure this deed entailed began on 9th September of 1229 in the pleasant little port of Sant Telm, in Andratx, opposite the island of Dragonera
. And it is here that we will embark on our route to follow the trail of the past. We will discover the most significant places of the Conquest, which was to conclude on 31st December 1229 in the city of Palma, and we will come to know the main figure of this historic episode: the king, ‘en Jaume’.
01.The Landing Cross
We start the route in Sant Elm, in the municipal area of Andratx, the centre of the region formerly known as Palomera. On 9 September, 1229, James I's navy, with 155 large ships and some other smaller vessels, anchored at Dragonera and the islet of Pantaleu. The conquering army, basically comprising contingents of the four magnates (the count of Rosselló, Nuno Sanç; the bishop of Barcelona, Berenguer de Palou; the viscount of Bearn, Guillem de Montcada; and the count of Empordà, Hug d'Empúries) from Catalan towns and cities. It has been estimated that there were a total of 15,000 infantrymen and 1500 knights.
The Ali of Palomera story took place in the small port of Sant Elm, which can be easily seen from es Pantaleu and Dragonera. The chronicles say that this character swam from the coast to the small island of Palomera, es Pantaleu where he met the King with some of his troops. He spoke to the king and foretold success for the Christian venture. Ali told him that his mother, who was an astral fortune-teller, had seen it in the stars. The king took Ali’s gesture into account and gave him favourable treatment after the conquest. Tradition has it that Ali’s mother examined the messages of the stars from the medieval tower of Sant Elm. Mossèn Alcover’s rondalla (tale) recounts that an eagle dropped a fish on the small island for King James to eat.
From Sant Elm, we walk through the village of Andratx and now in the municipality of Calvià, we arrive at Santa Ponça
where we will look for the Caleta and the Landing Cross
near the Yacht Club. The cross commemorates the place where James I landed with the majority of his troops on the 10 September. It was erected there in 1929 to honour the seventh centenary of the conquest. It was made by the sculptor Tomàs Vila. In the lower part of the cross, it features interesting relief work with scenes of the conquest of Mallorca. The Chronicle of Bernat Desclot, written in around 1285, recalls the moment of landing:
“Viren davant ells un bell port, qui ha nom Santa Ponça, en què podien molt bé eixir e que no hi havia de sarraïns negú. E aquí ells preseren terra al pus tost que pogren, cavallers e sirvents”.
(They saw a beautiful port before them, called Santa Ponça, where they could land and where no Saracens were in sight. It was there that they went ashore, whoever could, knights and servants).
02.Chapel of the Pedra Sagrada /Sacred Stone
Between Santa Ponça and Palma Nova, to the left of the road, is the Pedra Sagrada Chapel.
This small chapel holds the stone that, as legend has it, was used to give mass to James and his soldiers before surging on to the battle of Portopí. This mass was given inside a tent. To commemorate the seventh centenary of the conquest, Mossèn Antoni Maria Alcover ordered the construction of this chapel, which was officially opened on the 12 September, 1929. It was built in line with the Neo-Romanesque style. The façade features relief work by Tomàs Vila, inside the tympanum, which represents scenes from the crucifixion. Above the doorway inside the chapel, we can see a polychrome relief of Mare de Déu de la Salut (Our Lady of Health), whose dedication is associated to the conquest. At the altar, we can observe the sacred stone which is the main piece in the chapel and next to it is Mare de Déu de la Pedra Sagrada (Our Lady of the Sacred Stone). As of 1999, we can also see an image of Mare de Déu dels Desamparats (Our Lady of the Forsaken) on the other side. The building was erected on lands belonging to the Santa Ponça possessió (estate) which were ceded by the marquise of Can Villalonga-Desbrull at the time of building.
03.The Montcada Cross
We move along the old Palma road, past Cas Saboners and in the entrance of Palma Nova we will find the Montcada Cross
. It sits on the site where we are to believe that Guillem de Montcada and his nephew Ramon de Montcada died during the battle of Portopí, on the 12 September, 1229. A pine tree used to stand there which was named the Pi de los Montcada (Montcada Pine). In 1886, this cross was erected to remember the act as one of the acts of tribute to the Conquest. The Montcadas consisted of Guillem, the Viscount of Bearn and Lord of Montcada and Castellvell who brought one hundred knights in the conquest party and Ramon, Lord of Tortosa, who put forward fifty knights. They were both buried and remain in the Santes Creus Monastery.
Along the old Palma road, we will reach the area surrounding the neogothic Bendinat
castle. We can ask permission to enter inside the estate; however, if this is not possible, we can locate the scene of these historical references in the higher part of the Bendinat Golf Course, where there is a good view of the castle and its surrounding areas. This viewpoint of the castle will serve to remind us of the legend based on popular etymology (and little on historic facts), which tells that King James uttered the sentence "Bé hem dinat" (we have eaten well). Yet the castle’s name most definitely comes from the Arabic, which we could translate as “son of the man with a very light beard”. It is most likely that the King dined near this place, and more specifically in Oliver de Térmens’ tent, as the Llibre dels Feits del Rei En Jaume
Chronicle confirms. The castle was built in the second half of the 19th century, upon the orders of the Marquis of Romana. It later passed to the Despuig and the Truyols families.
05.Camí dels Reis, La Real Monastery
Before we reach Palma, on the old road from Palma to Palma Nova, we turn off towards Gènova, where the camí dels Reis (the Royal Path)
begins. Its name is interesting in terms of historical importance, given that it was supposedly the conquering army’s route to the Royal camp. When King James I the Conqueror saw Madina Mayurqa from the na Burguesa mountainside (near where Gènova now stands) on around the 12 September, 1229, he was left dumbstruck and uttered praising words worthy of the best slogan:
“E vérem Mallorques, e semblà'ns la plus bella vila que mai haguéssem vista, jo ni aquells qui ab nós eren”.
(And we saw Mallorca and it struck us as the most beautiful city that we had ever seen, both myself and those accompanying me)
We continue along the Royal Path, which has been partly absorbed by the ring road, and we reach the La Real monastery
where, as tradition has it, the definitive Royal camp was set up on the 13 September 1229. It did not move from this spot until the army entered Madina Mayurqa on 31 December 1229. It seems as though the Real grounds were the garden of the Muslim wali, which is where the origins of its name lie (Real means Royal in Spanish). The chronicler Bernat Desclot wrote the following about setting up camp:
“Trobaren, pres de la ciutat una ballestada, un jardí qui era del rei sarraí, molt gran, que ben tenia de cascun caire dues ballestades, e era clos de totes parts de forts murs d'un estat de llança en alt, e havia-hi un bell alberg e passava l'aigua per mig. E tota la host entrà-se'n llaïns, e aquí atendaren-se e menjaren de la fruita que trobaren e'l jardí aquella nuit, que d'àls no soparen per ço cor no n'havien; e donaren als cavalls palla e herba que trobaren assats. E reposaren que molt eren treballats; mas no per tant que anc aquella nuit no es desgarniren ne null hom en tota la host no dormí, ans estegueren tota la nuit aparellats de batalla si els sarraïns los volguessen assaltar”.
(Near the city we found a very large garden, around an arrow shot away, which belonged to the Saracen king and its boundaries measured two arrow shots across and it was closed all around by strong walls that were spear-height and there was a beautiful refuge with water running through it. And the whole group walked onto the plain, set up camp and ate fruit that they found in the garden that night, as they had nothing else to eat until then, and they found straw and grass to give the horses. And they rested as they had worked hard; but no man slept during the whole night and they were ever prepared for battle should the Saracens decide to attack)
In around 1266, the Cistercian monastery founded by the monks of Poblet (in 1235) moved here. It was initially founded in the former Alpic farmhouse, where the Granja estate is currently located (Esporles). It seems that from 1239 onwards, the monks had already established themselves very near the Real, which now belongs to the possessió (estate) Son Cabrer. In the second half of the 13th century, Ramon Llull stayed there and wrote a few pieces, including Llibre d’Ave Maria. The monastery owned a considerable number of properties and the abbot had civil jurisdiction over these. The abbot of La Real was also a member of the council established by James III of Mallorca and held the second seat of Mallorca’s religious stratum after the bishop. Until 1517, the abbots would normally have been chosen by the Poblet monastery and would also come from there. From that year onwards however, they would be chosen by the monks of La Real themselves. The latter finally became independent from Poblet in 1560. In the 18th century, a renowned Lullist, Antoni Ramon Pasqual, was abbot. In 1835, the Cistercian order left the monastery due to Mendizábal’s exclaustration. The old monastic church became the vicarage of the village of Secar de la Real, and the Misioneros dels Sagrats Cors (Missionaries of the Sacred Heart) set up here in 1897. In 1913, the vicarage was converted into a parish church and shortly before, in 1907, the church was renovated by the architect Guillem Reynés.
06.Porta de la Conquesta, Santa Margalida church, Sant Miquel church
We walk along calle 31 de Diciembre (31 December street) in Palma, whose name recalls the day of the conquest, and we go into calle de Sant Miquel. Near the crossroads of calle de la Reina Esclaramunda and calle Marie Curie is the Puerta de la Conquista (Conquest) or Santa Margalida Gate,
also called Esveïdor
or Puerta Pintada Vella (Old Painted Gate). In Arabic, it was the Bab-al-Kofol or Bab-al-Khal gate. It was through these gates that King James’ troops entered into Madina Mayurqa to conquer it.
At dawn on the 31 December, the army were prepared for battle and heard mass. The king gave the order to attack, but upon seeing the army’s immobility, he had to insist three times. Then, Christian soldiers shouting “Santa María” (Saint Mary) charged at a demolished wall near the Santa Margalida gate. The king reprimanded the nobility, who stood immobile in the distance: Shame on you knights, shame! ...
The Chronicle or Llibre dels Feits del rei en Jaume
tells in legendary detail how Saint Jordi was the standard-bearer of the Christians:
“E segons que els sarraïns nos contaren, deien que viren entrar primer a cavall un cavaller blanc ab armes blanques; e açò deu esser nostra creença que fos sent Jordi, car en estòries trobam que en altres batalles l’han vist de crestians e de sarraïns moltes vegades”
(And according to what the Saracens told us, they firstly saw a white knight enter on a horse with swords; and we believe that it was Saint Jordi, as in stories of other battles it is said that Christians and Saracens have seen him on many occasions)
An inscription on a stone plaque in calle de Sant Miquel, near the Santa Margalida church
, recalls the conquest of Ciutat (City). This gate was one of the access points to the city, which was closed by walls during the Islamic period. It stood standing until the early 20th century when the walls were demolished to allow the modern city to expand. More specifically, it was demolished in 1912, amidst great controversy.
The Santa Margalida church, dating back to the 13th century and in the gothic style, stands near the old Porta de la Conquesta (Gate of the Conquest), which also takes the saint’s name. From 1231 onwards it was a convent church of Franciscan monks, until it passed to the Augustine monks in 1280 when their monastery was exclaustered due to Mendizábal’s confiscation in 1837.
In what is now calle de Sant Miquel, formerly calle de la Síquia, the Saracens put up great resistance to the Catalan troops who advanced towards the nearby mosque, now the Sant Miquel parish church
. Many civilians were killed and a cross was erected. As legend has it, late on the 31 December, in what is now the Sant Miquel church, the new Christian church was consecrated and the first mass was given inside the city. King James took the image of the Mare de Déu (Virgin Mary) that he had carried on his boat and placed it there, which was later known as Mare de Déu de la Salut (Our Lady of Health) due its healing reputation. The uncontrollable plundering of the Madina Mayurqa and violence against the defeated would continue for some days, the first days of 1230.