Palma held significant importance as a medieval city, and like many such cities of its time, it had its own Jewish quarter or Call Jueu. Referred to as the ‘Call Maior,’ the Jewish quarter in Palma represented a quasi-independent city within the city, complete with its own walls and entrances into its heart. Unfortunately, very little physical evidence remains of this once-vibrant Jewish quarter, as it was ultimately razed and destroyed. However, the stories and legacy of this historic neighbourhood are very much alive, and it’s still possible to discover traces and elements that allow us to catch a glimpse of the rich history and atmosphere of Palma’s Call Maior.
History of the Jewish people in Mallorca
When did Jews first arrive in Mallorca?
Historical accounts suggest that the Jewish presence in the region can be traced back to the Roman era, specifically after the year 70 CE. Archaeologists have uncovered significant artefacts, such as a lamp featuring an engraving of a menorah dating back to the 5th century. Additionally, a well-known letter penned by Bishop Severus in the year 418 CE discusses the conversion efforts directed at the Jewish community of Menorca. Throughout the subsequent centuries, Jews continued to inhabit the islands, enduring various periods of conquest by the Visigoths, the Byzantines, and the Moors.
During the era spanning from 902 to 1229, the North African Muslims held sway over the islands and bestowed upon Mallorca the name “Medina Mayurka.” This historical timeline underscores the enduring presence of Jews on the islands, despite the changing tides of political control and influence. During this time the Jews lived the Call of Almudaina (ancient Roman Palma), which was surrounded by walls and contained the “Castell dels Jueus” (the castle of the Jews).
Arrival of Jaime the First of Aragon 1229AD
The year 1229 holds great historical significance, as it marked the arrival and conquest of Mallorca by Jaime the First of Aragon. He was supported by the Jewish community and records indicate that Jaime brought a substantial number of Jews with him from the Iberian Peninsula, and they would eventually become part of the existing Jewish community already residing on the island under Muslim rule.
Call the Menor or Small Jewish Quarter
In 1231, Jaume I allowed them to build a synagogue that was in the current street from the Royal Palace (Carrer del Palau Reial), on the site now occupied by the Parliament of the Balearic Islands. The Jews were moved from the Call Almudaina to the Call Menor.
The area was formed by the stairs of the Costa del Theatre and the streets of Sant Bartomeu, Argenteria, Bosseria, Monges, Jaume II i Reixa and Plaza Mayor. Now practically nothing remains of it.
Call the Major or Large Jewish Quarter
In 1290, Jaume II created a second Jewish quarter surrounded by walls and accessed by four gates. Call the Major or Call Mayor occupied the northeast quarter of the medieval city where the Jews were obliged to spend the night and live, but not work. The word “call” is thought to have come from “Kahal” referring to a congregation, assembly, or community of people. The area consisted of six major blocks that connected together by two main routes: Carrer del Sol and the current streets of Monti-Sion and Seminari Vell. In these blocks, the houses were often organized around a garden or patio, providing added protection and privacy for its residents. The Jews, however, did not close themselves off from the rest of city as they had houses and workshops outside of these city walls. At this time there were about 2000 to 3000 Jews living in Palma.
The conversos 1391
In the second half of the fourteenth century, the growth of the Jewish population necessitated the acquisition of houses beyond the walls of the Call. Life was peaceful for the Jews of Mallorca until 1391. After the death of the Spanish king in 1390, charismatic Catholic leaders overshadowed the newly crowned teenaged ruler and began delivering anti-Semitic speeches throughout the country, riling up the populace against the Jews. By mid-1391 there were major outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in many Spanish cities. 300 Jews were killed in Palma and Inca, with many others being forced to convert.
Conversion of the Jews of Palma 1435
The Jewish community in Mallorca managed to maintain a degree of freedom for several decades following the attacks and persecutions in the mid-14th century. In 1435 the bulk of the island’s Jews were forced to convert the Christianity and their synagogues were converted into churches. This event took place at the Church of Santa Eulalia.
Many converted Jews, known as conversos or New Christians, continued to practice Judaism secretly, leading to the establishment of a group known as crypto-Jews.
The descendants of these conversos, known as Chuetas, continued to live on the island for generations. They faced various forms of discrimination and scrutiny, as they were often suspected of secretly adhering to Jewish traditions.
Arrival of the Inquisition 1488
In 1488 The inquisition arrived and began the search for these ‘crypto-Jews’. There were several auto de fe (trials by fire) of individuals in 1691. At the close of the 15th century, 346 trials were held, and 257 persons were handed over to the secular arm for the death penalty. The inquisition were disbanded in Mallorca in 1820.
Self-Guided tour of Palma’s Jewish Quarter or Audio Guide?
This guide is all you need to explore Palma’s Jewish Quarter however if you don’t fancy reading from your phone for your journey then I recommend using this Palma de Mallorca: Medieval Jewish Quarter Audio Guide.
La Seu: the Cathedral of Palma
What better place to start our tour than Palma Cathedral. If you have not already purchased your tickets for the Cathedral, purchase skip the line tickets here.
Palma’s immense cathedral, known as ‘La Seu’ in Catalan, stands as the city’s foremost architectural icon. Beyond its sheer size and undeniable beauty, its remarkable interior design, crafted by Antoni Gaudí and renowned contemporary artist Miquel Barceló, sets it apart from cathedrals anywhere else in the world. While the cathedral’s awe-inspiring structure predominantly adheres to Gothic architectural principles, its main facade presents a striking and uniquely eclectic design. One of its standout features is the magnificent rose window, which claims the title of the largest in Europe. To appreciate it up close, visitors can explore the cathedral’s roof terraces.
Two remarkable artefacts within the cathedral deserve special attention.
The first is the substantial Magen David or Star of David prominently displayed in the cathedral’s immense rose window, which ranks as one of the largest in Europe. During the period of the cathedral’s construction, from the 14th to the 17th century, this geometric symbol may not have carried the same significance it does today. Throughout history, various religions utilized this symbol, and at that time, the menorah or seven-branched candelabrum often represented Judaism and its people.
The second noteworthy items are the rimmonim, a term that literally translates to “pomegranates” but is now recognized in synagogues as the ornamental finials placed atop the Torah scroll. On January 12th, 1493, during the reign of Fernando the Catholic Monarch, Jews were expelled from Sicily. The Cammarata synagogue on the island had to part with assets that were challenging to transport, including two elaborately crafted silver rimmonim with Gothic design elements and Hebrew inscriptions. Historians believe that these objects were sold by Sicilian Jews and subsequently acquired by the Majorcan merchant Francesc Puig, who, in 1493, presented them as an offering to the Virgin of the cathedral of Majorca. After arriving on the island, long silver rods were added to transform them into sceptres for specific solemn cathedral ceremonies, a process that Christianized the pieces. Notably, various Hebrew inscriptions on these rimmonim remain legible to this day.Read more about La Seu: the Cathedral of Palma
Center Maimó Ben Faraig
From Placa de La Seu follow the sign for the Banys Arabs down a narrow lane. The lane turns right and when you come to a junction turn left up Carrer de Sant Roc. Turn first right down Carrer de l’Estudi General. At the junction you are turning left, but before you do look to your right to see the gates of the Jardí del Bisbe (Bishop’s Garden). As you walk through the Old Quarter you take a moment to gaze into the enchanting medieval courtyards hidden behind the gates of various buildings. The City Hall has supported the installation of these gates, allowing current property owners to keep their doors open and showcase these lovely patios. Historically, these courtyards served as collection points for rainwater, with wells located in their centres.
Palma’s extensive Jewish heritage is commemorated in a modest interpretation centre situated in Can Bordils. Inside, you’ll find informative panels that vividly recount the history of the city’s Jewish community, including the challenges and persecutions they faced. Additionally, the centre features preserved segments of masonry from ancient Roman structures that once stood on this very site, providing a tangible link to the past. Maimo ben Fairag Interpretation Centre is named after a rich Jewish merchant from the 14th century.
Can Bordils, also known by the name of Can Villalonga-Escalada or Can Sureda-Zanglada. It is one of the oldest houses that are preserved in Palma. In the 13th century it was rebuilt on foundations from the Muslim era. It was owned by Maimó Biniferaix, in 1282, according to documentary evidence, it was in the 15th century, acquired by Salvador Sureda i Safont, and in the following century the Sureda-Zanglada family made important changes and reforms, the striking and spectacular windows of clear Renaissance style correspond to these modifications. In the middle of the 17th century, it passed through marriage to the Bordils family, and later, in 1808, to the Villalonga-Escalada family, again, the building is modified, and the balconies and other elements appear. It has been the property of the Palma City Council since 1982, an important reform and rehabilitation was carried out, and since 1988 it has been the headquarters of the Municipal Archive, where documentation of the City of Palma is kept since the beginning of the 18th century.Read more about Centre Maimó ben Faraig
Museo de Mallorca
Leave Can Bordils and turn to your left to walk under the arch. The arch you’re walking through is called La Puerta de la Almudaina, a Roman gate, built during the 5th century to protect the population from the invasions of the Vandals. Turn right onto Carrer d’En Morey then diagonally to the left onto Carrer Portella to the Museum of Mallorca, where we can find some archaeological remnants from the Jewish era.
The museum in Palma finds its home within a 16th-century mansion, affectionately referred to as the “Casa de la Gran Cristiana.” In 2015, it expanded its offerings by inaugurating the Fine Arts and Decorative Arts section, which is situated in the Casal d’Aiamans.
The museum consists of a primary building and two smaller annexes. Within the main building in Palma, you’ll find sections dedicated to archaeology and fine arts, along with a collection of books and documents, as well as administrative facilities. The secondary building located in Muro is dedicated to ethnology, where various objects from the pre-tourism era in Majorca are thoughtfully displayed. Lastly, the secondary building in Alcúdia is devoted to Roman archaeology and is commonly referred to as the Museu Monogràfic de Pollença due to its association with the remnants of this ancient Roman city. This diverse arrangement allows visitors to explore a wide spectrum of historical and cultural aspects of Majorca.Read more about Museo de Mallorca
Iglesia de Montesión (Mount Zion)
Exiting the Museum turn left down Carrer Portella. Turn right before you reach the city walls and La Portella and then right again. You pass the Banys Àrabs on your right, which is worth stopping at if you have time. At the junction turn left down Carrer de Santa Clara to have a look at Convent de Santa Clara and possibly purchase some cookies and nougats from them to keep you going. Head up Carrer de Can Fonollar and left onto Carrer de Sant Alonso. Turn left onto Carrer del Vent.
Carrer del Vent or Street of the Wind flanks one side of the church of Monti-Sion, the site of the first synagogue. Along the wall to your left there are identifiable remains of the ancient synagogue. Often you can find tiny pieces of paper with wishes written on them here. The church also had an old exit on to this street.
The Legend of Carrer del Vent. The story goes that the devil wanted to take the souls of the parishioners of this church. And so he asked Jesus Christ, who proposed staying with precisely those people who left through that side door. The deal was closed and the demon was left waiting on Carrer del Vent. But Jesus blocked that entrance so that no one could come out. The demon, angry at the deception, left in a rage, blowing with the force of a gale and promised that the wind would never stop blowing in that alley.
Montesión is located on the site where a synagogue once stood. It was the largest and most magnificent synagogue of Jewry. Jaume III, designated as the “curiosam et valde formosam”. The synagogue just completed, the king confiscated the Sanç I, as a punishment, and converts it into a church, the church of Mount Sion. Construction of the church began by 1571, by the Jesuits who came to Mallorca ten years earlier.
The interior adheres to the principles of Gothic architecture: a single nave with lateral chapels and a rectangular front section. The dome features a half-barrel vault adorned with a crescent-shaped ornament, a novel style that replaced the traditional groined vault. The main façade is particularly noteworthy, featuring a portal from the late 17th century, which serves as a precursor to the altarpiece portals. It is adorned with Solomon columns, a unique feature on the island.Read more about Iglesia de Montesión (Mount Zion) , Palma
Carrer De La Torre De L'Amor
Head back the way you have come and turn left onto Carrer de Sant Alonso. At the next right turn onto Carrer de la Torre de l’Amor.
This street is the Street of the Tower of Love and has an interesting tale. In the year 1365 Moshé Faquim lived in this square and was single and his neighbour and rival, named Magaluf Natjar, was married to a beautiful woman. Moshé Faquim desired his rivals wife but was consistently rejected by the virtuous wife. Faquim had a very tall tower built in his house so he could see into his neighbour’s house. He called this tower the “The Tower of Love“. He boasted of this construction and invited nobles so that they could contemplate see the object of his desire. When Natjar found this out he demanded on many occasions that his tear down the tower, but Moshé Faquim always refused. As time passed and the tower still stood Natjar contacted the city authorities and complained to King Pere IV the Ceremonious. Eventually the husband’s request was heard and fourteen years later, in 1379; the king ordered that the tower be lowered twelve spans.
While no trace of this tower have remained, the legal case is recorded in a document from the chancellery of Peter the Ceremonious.
Teatre Municipal Xesc Forteza
Continue along Torre de l’Amor until it ends at the Mossèn Miquel Maura square, where the Xesc Forteza theatre and the Neo-Gothic oratory and convent of the Monges del Culte Eucarístic are located.
This theatre Xesc Forteza Forteza is named after a famous Chueta actor who lived from 1926 to 1999. The repetition of Forteza Forteza meant both his mother and father had the same last name which is common among Chuetas.Read more about Teatre Municipal Xesc Forteza
Palma's Secret Synagogue
Walk alongside the left of the theatre along Carrer dels Blanquers and turn left into Carrer de Can Salom. This turns into Carrer d’en Calders probably named after a Majorcan Jewish family, that of Isaac and Abraham de Caldes, mentioned in the Jewry in the second half of the fourteenth century. At the end of this street you enter the small Plaza de Sant Jeroni with a pretty fountain and the Convent de Santa Isabel Germanes Jerònimes to your left. Turn left onto Carrer del Seminari. Turn second right onto Carrer de la Pelleteria.
On the street of leather makers or Carrer de la Pelleteria is secret synagogue. The synagogue located on this street was constructed by Aaron Mani in 1370. Unfortunately, it sustained significant damage during the violent assault of 1391. However, it was later reconstructed by Portuguese Jews who were encouraged by the King to resettle in this area.
The location can be found by the golden SEFARAD symbol on the ground and the plaque on the wall to Miquel Pujol Ferragut a famous baker, who lived here and died in 2014. The bakery was known as bakery known as Can Miquel.
Opposite the plaque is a curious cross carved into the wall.Read more about Palma's Secret Synagogue
Statue of Jehuda Cresques
Continue down Carrer de la Pelleteria.
The statute is of Jafuda Ben Cresques. He was a very famous Jewish Cartographer. Born into a Jewish family, he underwent a conversion to Christianity in the aftermath of the 1391 attack on the Palma Jewish Quarter, assuming the name Jaume Ribes. It is believed that he subsequently sought refuge in Portugal, where he established the renowned Sagres School of Cartography. While some historians speculate that Master Jacome de Mallorca may have directed the school, this remains a subject of controversy.
In 1375, he and his father, Cresques ben Abraham, collaborated on an exceptional map depicting the geographical expanse from Spain to Israel. Remarkably, in his maps, he consistently included a red dash of paint adjacent to Israel, possibly symbolizing the Red Sea. It’s worth noting that many Jewish cartographers of that era similarly incorporated a red dash near Israel. He is celebrated as the creator of the famous Catalan Atlas, an iconic cartographic masterpiece.Read more about Statue of Jehuda Cresques
Puerta de los Judios
Walk up Carrer del Sol.
At the junction of Carrer de Santa Clara and Carrer del Call was the site of the Puerta de los Judios or the Gate of the Jews. The great door of the Judería (Gate of the Call Major) was the main door of the Judería, which was located at the cross of the Calle de Monti-Sion and the Calle del Sol. This door allowed communication between the Jewish community and the centre of the city. The site is commemorated with a SEFARAD symbol on the ground.
This symbol carries a powerful message and represents the map of the Iberian Peninsula, encompassing both Spain and Portugal. What makes it even more fascinating is the Hebrew inscription within it, which reads “Samech” (S), “Fei” (F), “Reish” (R), and “Dalet” (D), spelling the word “Sefarad” in Hebrew, signifying Spain. Moreover, within the letters, you can find “Zain” (Z), “Vav” (V), “Kaf” (K), and “Reish” (R), forming the word “Zojer,” which means “To remember” in Hebrew.
You can head down Carrer de Monti-Sion to the first turning on your right to Carrer de Can Dusai. The grand arch at its junction with Carrer Montesión suggests that both were main streets in Palma’s Jewish quarter. Head back to Puerta de los Judios.Read more about Puerta de los Judios
Placa de Santa Eulalia
Walk up Carrer del Call, which literally means Street of the Jewish Quarter, to Plaça de Santa Eulàlia.
In front of you lies the church of Santa Eulalia which was also called the Church of the Conversos. The Jewish community of Palma had been being forcibly converted a number of years. The Spanish pogroms of 1391 led to the sack of the Call. Hundreds were murdered by a mob who blamed them for the island’s problems. Survivors either converted to Christianity or fled. Later other Jews repopulated the Call. Violence recurred in 1435, causing Jews to be baptized en masse. It was for this reason as well as the fact that the descendants of these Jewish Conversos continued to worship here that the church received its nickname.
The church, dedicated to Saint Eulalia of Barcelona was built in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it is the oldest church after the Palma cathedral. This church has historical significance for the Kingdom of Majorca, for it is here, September 12, 1276, that was crowned King of Majorca, Jaume II, son of King Jaume I of Aragon, granting privileges and Treaty autonomy of the Kingdom of Majorca.
At the back of the church is Argenteria Street, which translates to Silvermaker Street. This used to be the Chueta Ghetto and as recently as the late twentieth century, more than thirty jewellery shops lined this street, mostly owned by families with Chueta surnames.Read more about Església de Santa Eulàlia (Church of Santa Eulalia), Palma de Mallorca
Plaza de Cort
Head to your left along Carrer de la Cadena to reach Plaça de Cort.
Plaça de Cort, located in the heart of Palma, Mallorca, serves as the central square where the City Council of Palma is situated. It is surrounded by Carrer Colom, Plaça de Santa Eulàlia, and the headquarters of the Consell Insular de Mallorca.
The square derives its name from its historical role as the gathering place for courts, curias, and other administrative bodies. Since 1249, jurors convened at the old Hospital de Sant Andreu (now the main City Council building), which was founded by Nuno Sancho in 1230. Plaça de Cort’s significance as the meeting place for major institutions on the island, including The University and the Great and General Council, established it as the city’s focal point. In fact, it serves as the starting point for calculating the kilometers on the island’s main roads, referred to as KM 0.
Plaça de Cort has been the backdrop for various political demonstrations, San Sebastian festivities, and one of Europe’s oldest civil celebrations, the Festa de l’Estendard.
The square’s layout has undergone changes over the years. In 1865, it was smaller, with the first expansion occurring with the opening of Calle Colom. The most significant transformation took place in 1922 when the central islet, housing the Última Hora newspaper, collapsed.
The prominent building in the square is the Palma City Council, constructed in multiple phases from 1649 through the 19th century. The facade is a notable feature, reflecting the architectural style of traditional Mallorcan manors. Several elements have become iconic over time, including the Bank’s Vague and the Sinofó’s clock, as well as the figures of the dragon and snail.
Since 1989, in the centre of the square, an immense olive tree from Pedruixella Petit in Pollença has been transplanted. This ancient tree, gifted by businessman Jaume Batle i Manresa, is estimated to be over 600 years old and weighs approximately 4 tons.Read more about Plaza de Cort
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