The Royal Spanish Naval League was originally known as the Spanish Maritime League and was founded just before Christmas in 1900. The context of its founding were the losses of colonies at the end of the nineteenth century and the considerable battering that Spanish prestige had taken along with that of the Navy (vastly reduced because of its own losses) and the national merchant fleet, which was considered to be deficient. Such loss of esteem for a nation that had once been so prominent, both militarily and commercially, was hard to take.
Faced with a moribund naval presence, the League was to help in restoring some pride. It received official government recognition three years later and was to subsequently be influential in various laws that were introduced regarding the Navy and the merchant fleet. It was to more or less disappear as a result of the Civil War, but its reactivation was to begin in 1970 under the new name of the Spanish Naval League.
Nowadays, its aims are focused on the promotion and defence of Spanish maritime interests in their broadest sense. Private, non-political, not-for-profit, the League's activities include the promotion of nautical tourism and culture. From those roots of loss of prestige, it became and is a highly prestigious organisation. As such, therefore, that it is taking a keen interest in Mallorca is to be greatly welcomed.
Last December the League issued a statement in which it said that it was necessary for Mallorca to have a maritime museum. This had been spoken about for years, but the talking is now ending and the reality is emerging. Representatives of the League, together with members of the Association of Friends of the Mallorcan Maritime Museum, have met with representatives from the regional government, the Council of Mallorca and the town hall in Palma as well as the president of the Balearic Ports Authority, Joan Gual de Torrella, in moving towards the establishment of a roadmap through which the museum will finally be realised.
The intention is for there to be a facility that will explain the past and present of maritime Mallorca and to address the deficit that there has been so long in there being a place for all the patrimony and examples that have been donated for such a museum. The president of the Council of Mallorca, Miquel Ensenyat, is said to be particularly well disposed to the project, while the ports authority will be looking to cede property (a site at the Moll Vell in Palma has been spoken of as a possibility in the past). As ever, money will be a factor, but the hope is for a funding agreement between the government and other stakeholders.
There are maritime museums across Spain. Barcelona has one, for instance. Its exhibitions are complemented by facilities for conferences, dinners and other events. Bilbao is somewhere else with one, its museum designed to preserve and spread the history, culture and identity of the men and women who are bound to the maritime tradition of the city.
The Barcelona museum, now much improved, goes back some eighty or so years, and it has been dedicated to the preservation, study and diffusion of the maritime culture of the city and Catalonia. The fact that it has had a museum for so long and the further fact of cities like Bilbao also having one have led many to despair of Mallorca. Here is an island with a rich tradition but nothing to back it up save for the small museum of the sea in Soller. It has been the even more galling when it is recalled that there used to be a museum. Where? In the very same building that has been where politicians have been failing for the past thirty years to come to some accord to facilitate the creation of a museum: the headquarters of the Balearic president and government, the Consolat de la Mar in Palma.
There used to be a maritime museum there, and it existed between 1951 and 1972. It was closed when first the provincial offices of the Movimiento (Franco's party, if you like) moved in and then, some years later, it became the HQ of the newly democratic government of the Balearics. So what happened to its contents? Some can still be seen in the building, such as a statue to the navigator, Jaume Ferrer. Otherwise, they've been in storage, with the Association of Friends of the Mallorcan Maritime Museum, ever since 1973, been pushing for the museum somewhere. Anywhere.
It now looks as though the association will finally get its wish. While there is in fact barely a part of coastal Spain that doesn't have a museum, Mallorca has been without, a terrible condemnation of the lack of political will to support a tradition so engrained into the culture of the island. Until now.