La Lonja: Merchants, Guardian Angels, and Ships

Walking along the promenade in Palma de Mallorca, you’ll notice that the buildings along the seaside are different from the other buildings in the city. They’re older, they’re more stylized, and they’re más grandiosos than the other buildings around the city. La Catedral is one of them. The other is La Lonja (lah lohn-ha; Spanish for ‘the market’).

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With its gothic architecture and angel guarding the entrance, you’d be forgiven if you thought you’d stumbled across yet another ancient European church when you came across La Lonja. But you’d be wrong. The only way you’d know that, though, is if you went inside.

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Once inside, you’ll find yourself standing in a wide open space with high arched ceilings and slab stone flooring, with a gorgeous view of the orange trees through the back door. Aside from the columns holding up that lovely arched ceiling, there’s not much in the room at all. Which leaves the question: What was this building for?

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Built between 1426 and 1447, La Lonja was the seat of the Merchants’ Guild in Palma de Mallorca. Being a port city situated on several important trade routes between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Palma saw its fair share of merchants coming and going. Palma needed to protect its own domestic merchants while not compromising the business generated by seafaring merchants on their way to and from wealthier markets. A governing body needed to be set up in order to establish and enforce rules regarding trade, and the guild was formed. Once formed, though, it needed a place to work. An office, if you will. Thus, La Lonja.

Even today, you can see that this was a strategic spot for the Merchants’ Guild to be housed. It’s well within walking distance to the port, and, in fact, if you went to the rooftop, you’d be able to see whatever ships were sailing in and out. This makes it an excellent base for policing the port’s activities. It’s also within walking distance of other important buildings in Palma, including the palace, making this also an excellent place to do business.

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The large main room would have been used for negotiating contracts and paying whatever fees needed to be paid back in the day. Today, however,  the Merchants’ Guild has been made redundant by various modern advancements, and the guild was dissolved. Its building was not left to ruin, though. The grounds of La Lonja, in keeping with its heritage, host an arts and crafts market every night, which is lovely to walk through after a paella (pah-eh-ya; a dish made with rice, vegetables and either seafood or meat) and a few sangrias (sahn-gree-ahs; red wine with fruit and just a hint of sugar). The sala grande (sah-lah grahn-deh; great room) itself is often used as a venue for art shows and exhibitions.

 

Visiting La Lonja: 

Note: La Lonja, like many other places in Mallorca has two names. La Lonja is its Spanish name, while La Llotja is its Catalan name. Follow signs for either, and they’ll lead you to the right place.

Getting There: The easiest way to get there is to walk along the promenade. It’s on the seaside, between the port and the Catedral.

Admission: So long as the doors are open, admission to La Lonja is free. This might differ when an art exhibition is on, so check at the door.

Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 2pm, and again from 5pm to 9pm (siesta is important!).

Visit La Lonja’s official site here.

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