The rocky castles of Mallorca - (Castells roquers)
Mallorca, due to its privileged location in the Mediterranean, has always been a significant strategic enclave, especially for trade routes. But this position has turned it into a zone of constant pirate attacks, incursions and conquests by neighbouring communities and countries.
Therefore, one of the goals of the Government has been the defence and protection of Mallorca and its inhabitants.
In that way, the Castells Roquers (the rocky castles) appeared.
The Rocky Castles of Mallorca
The castles of Santueri (Felanitx), Alaró and del Rei (Pollença) are the great examples within the typology of topographic fortresses. These fortresses are large defensive structures located in rugged areas and on high and strategic peaks from where you can control large areas of territory and sea. At the same time, make it difficult to access by the enemy.
They are fortified buildings with two purposes: first, they were surveillance spaces, from where were controlled the interior of the island and the sea. And secondly, they were spaces where the inhabitants of the surroundings took refuge to protect themselves from dangers, mainly from pirate and corsair attacks. Inside you could find areas of houses, large water reservoirs, pasture areas and orchards to supply the population.
They are castles linked to rural communities, but with some state presence (a warden and a military garrison). They have nothing to do with medieval European castles, associated with the nobility and aristocracy, of a feudal nature.
Despite having a somewhat uncertain origin, some archaeological remains have allowed us to think that in prehistoric times these enclaves were inhabited or frequented by the inhabitants of the area; and also during Roman times. Already in later times they were converted into real fortified and expanded enclosures, especially in the Muslim era.
The Alaró Castle
Located in the Puig d’Alaró at 822 meters, from the Castell d’Alaró you can see a large part of the Pla de Mallorca and a large part of the maritime area from the bay of Alcudia to that of Palma.
It is the first castle that appears mentioned in the sources, more specifically in a document by the geographer al-Zuhri (12th century):
[…] the people of Mayῡrqa say when the Omayyad troops of the conqueror arrived in Mayῡrqa in the 10th century, the rum locked themselves up and made forts on top of a mountain (hisn Alarῡn) and resisted eight years and five months.[…]
Then, there already was some type of fortified refuge for the inhabitants of Mallorca before the Muslim conquest (902-903).
Over the years, this castle was occupied and transformed by Muslims first, and Christians later. Its location allows that only one of the sides must properly fortify and that is where the access made.
Besides it is in this castle where the famous Guillem Cabrit and Guillem Bassa, supporters of Jaume II of Mallorca, fiercely opposed the troops of the King of Aragon, Alfons III the Liberal in 1285.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, it was progressively abandoned, although it remained a military garrison until 1741. Also, since 1622, it had religious functions due to the construction of the oratory of the Mare de Déu del Refugi.
The Santueri Castle (Felanitx)
Located 423 meters above the sea level, the Castell de Santueri perfectly controls the Mallorcan Levante coast.
This fortress existed in Muslim times and the Christian king Jaume I took it in 1231. It passed into the hands of Count Nunó Sanç, at his death, it passed into the hands of King Jaume I.
During the years of the Germanies (1521-1523, a social revolt, the artisans of Palma together with the population of the villages and towns against the monarchy, the elites and the Majorcan aristocracy) was the only one of the three castles that remained faithful to the monarch.
Also, during the 16th and 17th centuries, it was one of the most important reference areas of the island during the constant corsair and pirate invasions from North Africa.
However, centuries later, it was abandoned and in 1811 it was auctioned and passed into private hands.
The presence of graffiti on the walls of the main water cistern that represent the Christian fleet of Jaume I stands out, but currently, they cannot be seen.
El Rei Castle (Pollença)
The Castell del Rei is located 476 meters high, from this site the north of the island is dominated.
The difficulty of access to this castle could explain the lack of information and documentation. But it is believed that the last Muslim resistance took place within its walls during the conquest of Jaume I since it was here that Ahmad ibn Ahmad al-Amiri, the last Cadi of Mallorca, died.
Already in the 16th century, it was used as a lazaretto to house possible plague infections.
The only thing we know of its interior architecture, thanks to some photographs from the 20th century, is a large Gothic room destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. This room, according to the plans of Archduke Luis Salvador, was rectangular with three sections separated by diaphragm arches.
The Rocky Castles of Mallorca
Today, only the Alaró castle and the Santueri castle can be visited.
In Menorca can we find rocky castles: Santa Àgueda (Ferreries), Maó and Sant Vicenç (possibly in the Biniaiet area).
- Casasnovas, M.A.: Història de les Illes Balears, ed. Moll, Palma, 2007.
- Durliat, M.: L’art en el Regne de Mallorca, ed. Moll, Mallorca, 1989.
- Marimon Ribas, P.: “Els castells roquers de Mallorca: dels orígens fins a la conquesta islámica », Historica.cat, n. 9, 20 de setembre – 3 d’octubre de 2010).
- Rosselló Bordoy, G.: “Tradició i pervivencia dels castells roquers a les Illes Orientals d’al-Andalus” a Sobre arabisme, antroponímia i pervivències de l’època islámica a Mallorca, ed. La foradada, Palma, 2018.