Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Story Of Mallorca's Squares

The origin of the town or village square is pretty obvious. It was the nucleus of the village. Its function was the same in most societies, but in the case of Mallorca and Spain, the square tended to be where political and religious power was at its most evident. Town halls could be on the square, so could the parish church.

This is by no means the case in all Mallorca's "pueblos", but there are examples of this conjunction of secular and religious authority surrounding the focal centre. Muro is one. Its imposing Sant Joan Baptista Church stares across at the Ajuntament, and the Ajuntament stares back. Yet oddly perhaps, the square over which both stare is not like most squares. It isn't also surrounded by bars, cafés and restaurants. 

Sa Pobla is another example and it is more representative of the Mallorcan square in that it does have the bars. At one end of the rectangular square is the town hall; at the other end, the church. This is, moreover, a Plaça Major, the main or biggest square. In Muro, they named the square after a count, the Comte d'Empúries (Ponç I, if memory serves correct).

The main square is therefore not always "Major". In some villages, it has largely ceased to have a name. Algaida, Bunyola, Sineu and Soller, here are places where it is commonly just "Sa Plaça". In the case of Soller, it is the Constitution Square. Alcudia has one of these as well. It was the original main square before being superseded by the area that combines a square - Carles V - with two promenades in making up the principal market zone. There are plenty of places which have a specific Plaça Mercat, but not Alcudia.

So ingrained into local society are the squares that they have inspired writings. In Alcudia, the author Alexandre Cuéllar penned Café de Plaça, a tribute to a Mallorcan type of café society of the late 1950s, one that would just watch the world go by and which was essentially a satire on idleness.

There are of course numerous squares in the villages or towns, some of which aren't really squares at all. They are just areas. Can Picafort, for example, has a Plaça Cervantes. It isn't a square but a broader part of the seafront prom. But such is the affinity with the concept of a square that names can be assigned even if they are inaccurate.

Some squares just seem to emerge, and they do so - or at least this is how it appears - in order to locate fiesta events. Puerto Alcudia has a Plaça Varadero. In reality, it is - like Can Picafort - part of the prom. It doesn't conform to the notion of a square, not least because one side of it is the sea and two more sides are just extensions of the prom.

The squares, the sheer number of them, conceal their own places in village history. Pollensa has a Plaça Major with a parish church but no evidence of local administration. Otherwise, it is a perfect example of the square, with an iconic bar (Ca'n Moixet) and various others. But it has only comparatively recently become the main square. The process started in the middle of the nineteenth century. They've even determined when - 1856. The square grew around the parish church, the first stone for which had been laid in 1714. The church, as it now is, took more than 150 years to complete, but its presence created what became the nucleus of the village and still is.

Before the Plaça Major, there was the Plaça Vella, which presumably had another name at some point (or maybe they hadn't bothered with a name). The old square dates from the fourteenth century. Streets that lead off it are the oldest in Pollensa, and so the old square was possibly the original nucleus. It has its own peculiar place in current-day culture because it is the square where they raise and climb the pine for Sant Antoni, assuming that it doesn't snap, like it did last week.

But Plaça Vella was probably not the first square. The Plaça Almoina, barely a square at all, given how small it is, is from the Middle Ages. It took its name from the Almoina "casa", a charity for the poor. The Valencian saint, Vicent Ferrer, preached in Pollensa in the fourteenth century, and there is an image of him on the Almoina house. The square is where streets such as Joan Mas converge, and it was named after the hero captain who led the local Christians to victory over the Moors. Plaça Almoina is the starting-point for the famous re-enactment.

Behind the squares, therefore, there is a great deal of the past. They aren't just simply places to sit, have a coffee or beer and watch the world go by. That square you're in today? What's its story?

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