Bellver Castle, a bastion located on the bay of Palma
The Bellver castle (or Castell de Bellver, in Majorcan, meaning ‘beautiful view’) sits amid a hilltop at 112.6 metres above sea level, and is true to its name, since its privileged location allows visitors to enjoy some of the most spectacular panoramic views of the centre of Palma and its bay. In this article, we focus on the history of this unique building, offering you all of the details that you need to plan your trip.
The Bellver castle and the defensive project of James II
The capital city of the Balearic Islands contains a group of complex Gothic buildings, including the cathedral, la Lonja, the Almudaina palace and the Sant Francesc church cloister. However, the Bellver castle is clearly the best representation of medieval Majorca. This is no doubt because of its remote location. Sitting atop a hilltop and surrounded by the Bellver forest, it is easier to de-contextualize the building and to escape the changes caused on the island by tourism development.
The construction of the Bellver castle began in 1300, by mandate of King James II, who wished to erect a palace-fortress for potential refuge in the case of an attack on the island. The project advanced quickly, and in only nine years, the architectural phase was completed; the ornamentation extended over the following years.
The fortress carried out its initial function for some time, housing monarchs such as James II, James III and Sancho of Majorca for certain time periods. However, in 1717 it was converted into a military prison, holding its most infamous prisoner, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, minister of Charles IV and one of the most important personalities of Spain’s Age of Enlightenment. It was precisely his ‘enlightened ideas’ and confrontations with the secretary of state, Manuel Godoy, which led to his initial exile to the Valldemosa monastery and his subsequent detention in the Bellver castle. These years of imprisonment resulted in his book, Memoria del castillo de Bellver, as well as other texts related to the island’s local heritage.
Why visit the Bellver castle
Here are some of the aspects making the Bellver castle such an attractive building to visit:
- Its circular layout. This is an unusual design for this type of defensive buildings. In addition, it has four towers, directed towards the cardinal points. Three of these, with a semi-circular layout, are integrated in the walls of the central core, whereas the fourth, the Tower Keep, which faces north, is displaced by seven metres. The decision to distance this tower from the others was based on defensive reasons, since, this way, if the central core was besieged, the monarchs could take refuge in the highest tower, which was, clearly, the hardest to attack.
- The patio. The central building is organised around a lovely circular patio. This patio contains 21 semi-circular arches in its interior and 42 pointed arches in the upper area. The lower floor, as was common during the Middle Ages, was filled with supply offices and rooms for housing the troops and service workers. The monarchs’ rooms, reception and ceremony halls and the chapel were located on the main floor.
- Defensive elements. The Bellver castle also includes a truly impressive repertoire of defensive elements, which should greatly hamper any intent to attack. These include, a huge trench, narrow openings from which it is possible to shoot without becoming an easy target (so-called loopholes), drawbridges, watchtowers, machicolations and barbicans. So, in order to learn more about the building, it is worthwhile to sign up for one of the organised guided tours or to use the audio guide service.
Beyond its beauty and unique architecture, climbing to the top of Bellver castle allows visitors to view the bay from the hilltop, with its small boats tied to the port, and in the background, the stony mass of the Palma cathedral, conceived as a forest of flying buttresses. Get your camera ready. Your photos are going get lots of likes on Instagram!
Information of interest
Bellver castle: visiting hours
- From April to September: from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10.00 to 19.00; Sundays and holidays from 10.00 to 15.00.
- From October to March: from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10.00 to 18.00; Sundays and holidays from 10.00 to 15.00. Closed on Mondays, as well as the 25th of December and the 1st of January, the 1st of May and Easter Sunday.
- Hours of the guided tours: from Tuesday to Saturday at 11.00 (in English) and at 12.30 (in Spanish); from Tuesday to Friday, at 16.00 (in Catalan). The approximate duration is 30 minutes and groups must contain between 5 and 20 individuals.
- Organised guided tours for groups: These can be requested here. They are offered in Spanish, Catalan and English, for groups of 10 to 20 individuals.
How to reach the Bellver castle
- Address: Carrer de Camilo José Cela, s/n. 07014, Palma.
- By car: Enter via the calle de Camilo José Cela. The castle has parking.
- By bus: Lines 1 and 20 from the centre of Palma to the area of the castle, although part of the trip must be completed by foot.
Bellver castle: prices and visits
- Fees: General, 4 Euro; reduced (youth between the ages of 14 and 18 and pensioners), 2 Euro; residents of Palma, 2.50 Euro. Entrance is free for minors under the age of 14, for groups made up of elderly individuals, educators, members of the ICOM and the disabled. Furthermore, on Sundays, it is free for all visitors.
- Ticket sales takes place at the Visitor Information Centre, located in the parking area. Entrance tickets may be purchased up to 45 minutes prior to the close of the castle, although the last entry will be made half an hour before closing.