Palma de Mallorca is a city of inner courtyards. The old town has more or less conserved its rambling Arabic street network which, according to the custom of the Orient, drove back public life from the narrow streets into the patios of the houses. In these courtyards which until the beginning of mass tourism in the twentieth century were open to the street, occurred from birth through weddings and conspiracies, through trading and disputes to death the whole public life of the neighborhood, that is the larger part of a Mediterranean man’s life.
The large new book of Pedro de Montaner and Manuel Oliver, Patios de Palma enumerates about a hundred and twenty patios in the old town – and the third volume containing even more findings has not yet been published. I would happily insert a link here, but you can hardly find even its title on the web. A peculiarity of this first comprehensive catalog of the patios of Palma is that it can be studied only there where its subject, in Palma, as if it were a manuscript. This fact shows well the cultural exclusivity of Mallorca surviving until today.
The cultural association Portal Forà in their page dedicated to patios counts, maps and illustrates with more than 400 photos and some 360º-montages about a hundred and fifty courtyards. The government of Mallorca presents the most important fifty ones in a schematic map with photos and short descriptions in four languages. In another page they also give longer description (here you have to click on the little eyes under the description to see the photo), while in a third page a short route recommended to visit them. Reviews also propose various routes to visit the most beautiful courtyards.
In these patios, most of which have their own cisterns – a great treasure in the dry island – we can literally understand the verses of Ibn al-Labbâna, poet of the 11th-century Arabic Mallorca – Medina Mayurqa –, recently quoted by us: „The water of her fountains is like wine / and her courtyards are similar to goblets.”
„Quelques maisons présentaient les dispositions fantaisistes de l’architecture mauresque – ce qui tient à ce que les Arabes ont habité l’île pendant une période de quatre cent ans. Les portes entrouvertes laissaient voir des cours centrales, des patios, des cortiles, entourés de légères colonnades, le puits traditionnel surmonté de son élégante armature de fer, l’escalier à révolutions gracieuses, le péristyle orné de plantes grimpantes en pleine floraison, les fenêtres avec leurs meneaux de pierre d’une incomparable sveltesse, doublées parfois de moucharabiehs ou de miradors à la mode espagnole.”
“Algunas casas presentaban las fantásticas disposiciones de la arquitectura morisca, lo que depende de que los árabes han habitado la isla durante un período de cuatrocientos años. Las entreabiertas puertas dejaban ver corredores centrales, patios rodeados de ligeras columnas, el pozo tradicional con su elegante armadura de hierro, la escalera de caprichoso giro, el peristilo adornado de plantas trepadoras en plena floración, las ventanas con bastidores de piedra de una esbeltez incomparable, algunas con miradores a la española.”
“Some houses presented the fantastic dispositions of Moorish architecture, for Arabs had lived in the island for more than four hundred years. Through the open gates one could see inner courtyards, the patios encircled by light columns, traditional fountains crowned by elegant iron armatures, gracefully curved scales, arcades overgrown with climbers in full bloom, windows with carved stone frames of an incomparable airiness, some of them also decorated with a moucharabie or mirador, a window-ledge in the Spanish fashion.”
Jules Verne, Clovis Dardentor, 1895, Ch. 6.