The magic of Majorca

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The magic of Majorca

Lucy Daltroff travels to the beach resort of Illetas and discovers how the Spanish Inquisition took its toll on the Jews of Palma

A beautiful beach view in Majorca
A beautiful beach view in Majorca

We holiday in Majorca at least twice a year,” enthuses the Yorkshire tourist on the table next to us at dinner – and having only been here a short while, it’s easy to see why this Balearic Island is so popular.

It’s not just the beautiful sunshine and sandy beaches that bring millions of visitors here from the UK, but also the reasonably-priced flights, the striking landscapes, the history of the Roman and Moorish remains, the lively night life and, best of all, the easy access to public transport.

Our base for the next few days is the small beach resort of Illetas, just five miles from the thriving capital of Palma. We are staying at the friendly, family-run Hotel Bon Sol Resort and Spa, where most of the guests are returners.

The weather is lovely, and we eat breakfast each day overlooking the small private cove. It seems well-deserved after opting for the free yoga class available most mornings.

We don’t even have to bother to hire a car as the ubiquitous number 3 bus stops conveniently just outside the main entrance.

We hop on board and travel to the main station to catch the 100-year-old wood panelled train to Sóller, situated in the north-west of the island.

A bedroom at the Hotel Bon Sol Resort and Spa

It’s a bit of an overpriced experience, but worth it just to witness the mountains and countryside rolling past and to realise that Majorca is much bigger than expected.

On arrival, we ditch the tourist trail and discover, down a side street, what seems to
be a hidden gem – the town’s art museum, Can Prunera. Housed in a stylish art nouveau mansion, it dates from the period when some of Soller’s inhabitants made a fortune exporting oranges.

If the art doesn’t get you (an interesting collection including a number of Mirós), the stunning tiled floors and tall etched glass doors, probably will. Leading from the ground floor is a small, but interesting garden filled with sculptures.

After wandering through the rest of the town, we take the old electric tram on a 17-minute journey to Sóller Port. Once a simple harbour, the large bay is now surrounded by lively restaurants and coffee shops, but it still retains the character of a town largely cut off from the rest of country by the surrounding Tramuntana mountain range and, in the distance, the succulent valley of orange groves.

Can Prunera Museum

Our next stop is the Jewish tour of Palma, for which we met up with our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Dani Rotstein.   

First there is the new Jewish interpretation centre at 9 Almudaina Street which, although not well signposted, is where visitors can learn more about the community throughout the ages.

Majorca had many skilled Jewish cartographers and, not far away from the centre, is the famous statue of Jafuda Cresques (1360-1410) who, after the Aragonese persecutions of 1391, was forcibly converted to Christianity. His work was highly praised and, along with his father, Jafuda became the author of the famous Catalan Atlas of 1375.

It shows Palma was prosperous enough to have two Jewish quarters, and there
are subtle signs still in the street names that show where the goldsmiths worked
and other traditional trades practised. The remnants of synagogues can also be detected.

Buildings in the centre of Palma

We hear, too, the exquisitely sad story of how the whole community was forced to convert to Christianity in 1435, just before the Spanish Inquisition, and see the church where these conversions took place.

After all, there was no place to hide on a small island. Many even went to great lengths to demonstrably emphasise their eating of pork and pork fat.

There is also the sad tale of three martyrs who would not give up on their Judaism – and were subsequently burned alive, alongside an exploration of how today some of the conversos (a Jew who  forcibly converted to Christianity) are coming back to their original religion.

We hear how, through crowdfunding, money has been raised to make a documentary about this relevant and important story. Slowly we also discover Dani’s own journey to becoming more involved with the Jewish community in Majorca.

Originally from New Jersey, he formerly worked as a television producer and came on holiday here where he met a Catalonian girl, Carla, now his wife and mother of their little boy. Missing the Jewish aspects of his old life, Dani has worked hard to make the community more inclusive and he and Carla were the driving force behind successful Limmud programme held in Palma last year.

With assistance from city government funding, Dani has also set up an initiative with schools to teach children about the Holocaust and regularly takes students
on Jewish tours around Palma, so they can learn about the roots of their own history.

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