Modernism in Mallorca? When we think of modernism and Spain the first place that tends to come to mind is Catalunya’s capital Barcelona and Antoni Gaudí. Many don’t realise that Mallorca is Catalan let alone that there are many fabulous examples of Catalan Modernism on the island.
Modernism in Mallorca – Where to See Catalan Art Nouveau on Mallorca
When I fell in love with Barcelona on my first trip to Spain in the late 1990s on my way to South America to study cinema, I also fell in love with Antoni Gaudí and his many architectural masterpieces – the (then nowhere near finished) cathedral La Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà or La Pedrera, Parc Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Calvet, and my favourite building of all, Casa Batlló.
What I didn’t realize then was that I’d fallen in love with Catalan Modernism – or Catalan Modernisme – a variant of Art Nouveau architecture that Gaudí had made famous. Distinguished by its ornate style, playful form and flamboyant details, I found it utterly magical – and very compelling.
Once I understood the style, I found that as I ambled the streets of Barcelona, my eyes would always be looking up, darting back and forth, hunting around, and seeking out more examples of these enchanting buildings. We had nothing like them in Australia – maybe that’s partly why. Plus the cinema and literature I had been studying at the time was Latin American Magic Realism, and I saw a connection.
On subsequent trips to Barcelona years later, Terence and I would visit and revisit Gaudí’s buildings. That we’d become so familiar with the architectural style made it easy to spot examples of Modernism in Mallorca when we travelled there – and there’s quite a lot to see, much of it in the capital Palma di Mallorca, as well as in Sóller.
The history of modernism in Mallorca is fascinating and actually owes its existence to that elegant seaside city. Following an orange blight that decimated most of the citrus orchards in Sóller in the 1860s, many farmers emigrated to the mainland in search of work. They are said to have returned at the turn of the 20th century, wealthier than they could have imagined, and keen to show off their success and riches.
One of the first things that the nouveau riche did was build a house, far bigger and more extravagant than what their family had before, and so Sóller started to attract young Catalan architects, up with the latest trends, and eager to make their mark in the style that was attracting attention in Barcelona – Art Nouveau.
Modernism in Mallorca was born. Ironically, the period was known for a while as ‘la época de mal gusto’ or the era of bad taste, which always makes me wonder whether some day in the future people will look back with admiration at some of the hideous mansions that have been constructed in recent times by the nouveau riche in cities around the world.
If you’re keen to track down examples of Modernism in Mallorca these are some of the buildings you should look out for:
Palma di Mallorca
As you’d expect the capital, Palma di Mallorca, is home to some of the most beautiful buildings, including the first example of Modernism in Mallorca, built in 1902, the ornate Gran Hotel, which is now the Fundació la Caixa, and was designed by Lluis Domènech i Montaner.
Around the same time this was built, Palma’s Bishop Campíns, who had seen Gaudí’s design for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, invited the architect to the island to revitalise its majestic 14th century cathedral with Art Nouveau decoration.
Gaudí ended up spending a decade working on the Palma Cathedral with the assistance of his student Joan Rubió. The pair added colourful ceramic inlays, wrought-iron railings that were inspired by traditional Mallorquín window grilles, and electric lighting.
However, they were also responsible for a hugely controversial addition, the Crown of Thorns, a bizarre canopy of cork, cardboard, brocade, and nails, suspended above the altar. It’s strangely beautiful and is now one of the main attractions of the cathedral.
Gaudí’s time on the island influenced many architects through to the early 20th century. Also look out for Can Casasayas in Plaça del Mercat and Pensió Menorquina, which boast whimsical façades that are decorated with fern and butterfly motifs.
Gaudí also worked on a wonderful altar at a church at Lluc until he suddenly left the island, without explanation, in 1914, leaving a number of building projects unfinished.
My favourite example of Modernism in Mallorca wasn’t by Gaudí but was built by Lluis Forteza Rei. Located on Plaça Marquès del Palmer, the mansion Can Forteza Rey is distinguished by ornate wrought-ironwork and a colourful mosaic façade, and has become a must-see sight.
Some of the finest examples of Modernism in Mallorca are in Sóller, where Gaudí’s protégé Rubió, was responsible for the handsome Banco de Sóller, with its ornate window grilles, and the parish church, recognisable by its elegant spires. Make sure you stroll past Rubió’s flamboyant house, Can Prunera, now a private home on Carrer Sa Lluna 90.