San Carlos Fort & Porto Pi
If you follow the Paseo Maritimo southwest from Palma centre, there is are two stone towers either side of the city's deepwater port, Porto Pi. At the next junction you need take a left turn at the roundabout/crossroads following signs for Dic de l'Oest (bear right to cross and then turn left to cross the main road). Follow the road towards the ferry terminal and look out for the gun emplacements on the left hand side; drive into the castle grounds and park next to the display of artillery pieces.
The original Porto Pi Castle was a medieval style square tower and it was ordered by Philippe III at turn of the 17th Century. Only a few years later in 1610, the College of Merchants commissioned improvements and the name was changed to San Carlos Castle in honour of Viceroy Carlos Coloma de Saa, Marques of Thorn (1567-1637). Coloma was a distinguished military man who was commander in chief and Viceroy of Majorca from 1612 to 1617, the time when the fort was being improved.
Fifty years later the castle was updated again with earthen slopes to deflect incoming cannon balls, turning it into an up to date star shaped Vauban fortress. While the original tower was kept, these changes mean that it was difficult to see the fort from out to sea. It still is. The new structure had corner towers, barracks, workshops and ammunition stores surrounding the courtyard; all of them protected by earth embankments.
During the Spanish War of Succession an Anglo-Dutch Navy arrived in Palma Bay to seize the island on behalf of the Habsburgs. When the people of Palma came out in favour of the fleet, Antony Sureda i Cotoner of Vivot took a small garrison to San Carlos Fort, to stop the fleet entering Porto Pi. He surrendered when the Viceroy gave in and although he was taken prisoner, he later escaped and joined the Bourbon cause. He eventually became first Mayor of Palma under when the new Bourbon regime imposed the Nueva Planta Decrees and he was awarded the title of Marquis of Ariany
The castle was hardly needed after the war ended in 1714 and in the 18th Century it was used as an isolation hospital before it was passed to the Corps of Artillery. In 1890 a new artillery battery and a munitions arsenal were added to the southwest corner of the fort.
San Carlos Fort was next used as a military prison, particularly during the Spanish Civil war between 1936 and 1939. One group held here were the Riders of Alcala, a small group of cavalry officers who staged an early uprising in Alcala de Henares, east of Madrid. They were incarcerated here but once the plot to take Mallorca by coup was put in place in July 1936, they were released and under Josep Pasarius's command organised riots. They went on to organise the Dragons of Death, men who arrested opponents of the Franco regime. There is a memorial to those who were executed inside the fort during these dark times.
In 1981 work started on turning the fort into a museum and a consortium was set up in 1997 to run it. There are exhibits covering the men who garrisoned the fort and weapons through the ages. There is also a display about the life of Don Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau (1838-1890), notorious Governor of Cuba and Spain's Minister of War who had the nickname the 'Butcher' for using concentration camps to put down a rebellion in Cuba.
On the roof of the fort are a number of canons dating from the 19th Century Carlist wars. There are impressive views from the gun ports across Porti Pi and the Bay of Palma; you can also see right along the southwest coast.
San Carlos Fort is a good place to study Porto Pi harbour from. While fishing boats and small ships moored up in the shallow in front of the city walls, larger ships anchored here in the deepwater port. The Naval Base played an important role in Civil War as Nationalist ships targeted Republican convoys moving between the posts on the east coast of the Mainland. Even the German pocket battleship Deutschland stopped off for repairs here after being bombed in Ibiza.
The port has undergone many changes due to the extension of the modern ferry terminal. It is now used by the Guardia Civil and their boats patrol the waters looking for modern day pirates, smugglers and illegal immigrants. The occasional navy ship pulls into the harbour from time to time huge American warships returning from the Middle East stop off for a seaworthiness test before heading into the Atlantic Ocean.
The pair of towers either side of the entrance to the port were built on the site of Roman structures but what we see today are 14th Century structures with battlements and loopholes. Originally there were four towers to protect the port only two survive, the Paraires Tower (also known as the Pera Tower or the Carroc Tower) and the Signal Tower . The quarantine inspectors had offices in Tower of Paraires while the chain guard manned the Signal Tower. A long chain was strung across the mouth of the port and once a ship had been checked, it had to pay for the chain to be lowered into the sea. Only then could it offload its cargo. The signalling structure on top of the Signal Tower was originally next to San Carlos fort but it had to be moved around 1607 when the extensions were made.
On the other side of the port, hidden behind the large Porto Pi shopping centre is the 19th Century Church of St. Nicholas. It stands on the site of the original church dating from 1249, which had been supported by King Jaime I. Sailors have prayed on the site for a safe journey at sea for the past 750 years and it is believed that Peter the Ceremonious, prayed in the church in 1343 before entering Palma, when he seized the island from Jaime III.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday (mornings only) and entrance is free. You may wish to check out the Local Council website.
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