Despite having a mind of my own and the lip to express it, I was well trained as a child. I knew my very hide hung in the balance if I ever uttered those dreaded words on a road trip: “Are we there yet?” For this reason, and this reason alone, I didn’t ask that question of my friend as we were climbing a steep hill outside of Palma de Mallorca in 90-degree heat. We stumbled up a rocky dirt path, stopping every now and again to catch our breath and pretend we weren’t sweating as much as we were. To be completely fair, it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as difficult if we both hadn’t just gotten of planes from the UK, where it was 50 degrees and raining, but that consideration didn’t count for much at the time.
Once we reached the top of the hill, though, our (contextually) strenuous hike was paid off. We stopped at a lookout point for a few minutes to recuperate while locals went jogging by like the champs they were and took in the view until we caught our breath. Then we turned to the castle.
The Castell de Bellver is one of the few circular castles in Europe, a military fortress with the good fortune to have rarely been used for such a purpose and which commands amazing views of the surrounding area. The facade is in such good condition that you’d never know it dates from 1300, when it was built on the command of King James II of Majorca, son of James I of Aragon, who wrested the island away from African control in 1229. Upon its completion, the castle served as royal residences, but the changeable nature of royal territories meant that the royals were rarely resident on Mallorca. In their absence, viceroys occupied the castle and maintained the governmental goings-on.
In the 17th century, the castle’s function changed. Instead of a residence for royals, it became a residence for political prisoners. Perhaps the most famous is Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a judge and true Enlightenment man who advocated the agrarian reform and studied the nuanced cultural differences between the different regions of Spain. In 1801, his politics caused him some trouble on his visit to Mallorca, and he found himself locked in Bellver until 1808. During his time in the castle, he wrote a number of tracts, including one on the castle itself, complete with a description of its defenses and blueprints.
In 1931, the castle again went through a career change, and its management was taken over by the city of Palma. It was restored, refurbished, and reopened as the city’s history museum, which it remains to this day. Given that the building is circular, this museum poses a bit of a challenge to visitors, in that you should find the correct starting point and move in the correct direction in order to be able to follow the exhibit properly (my friend and I were not successful in this), but the exhibit is well worth the time to go through. If nothing else, you can bask in the sea breeze and sunshine while pretending you’re on a Game of Thrones set on top of the walls.
Visiting the Castell de Bellver:
Getting There: From downtown Palma, take any bus that runs out to Placa Gomila, then climb the hill. Unless you’re driving, there’s no way around climbing the hill. If you are driving, there is a parking lot up there for you.
Admission: Tickets cost €4 per person, with a €2 discount for children and seniors. If you’re there on a Sunday, admission is free!
Opening Times: Mondays 8:30am to 1pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays 8:30am to 8pm, and Sundays 10am to 8pm.