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Valldemossa Palace and Monastery

valldemossa mallorca (majorca)Valldemossa is a delightful village tucked into the Tramuntana Mountains and its famous monastery and palace have stood guard over the village for hundreds of years. The road winds its way up a deep gorge before entering a small valley covered in ancient stone walls and fertile terraces. Near the top, the spire of Valldemossa monastery, the palace watchtower and the tower of Saint Bartomeu's parish church come into view. During the final part of the journey the full extent of Valldemossa's charm can be seen, with its maze of streets surrounded by the high tree covered cliffs. It is a journey that never ceases to inspire.

The story of the visit of the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin and his partner, the French writer George Sand (real name Amantine Dupin), in the winter 1838/39 are well known, in part due to Sand's book 'A Winter in Mallorca'. Their story is in the Famous People section. This is the story of King Sancho, his Palace and the Royal Carthusian Monastery.

valldemossa mallorca (majorca)The valley was probably exploited by the Romans but it was the Moors who made the first major changes. The valley was owned by the Mussa, or the Emir, the island's representative for the Caliphs of Cordoba who ruled the Moors across the Iberian Peninsular. Under the Mussa's rule the area was cleared and the stones and boulders were used to form walls while the streams were tapped to water the narrow terraces. Over the years the rocky hillside was turned into tiers of fertile pastures, making Mussa's Valley, or Vall d'en Mussa -Valldemossa - a prosperous area.

valldemossa mallorca (majorca)Following the conquest of Mallorca in 1229, Jaime the Conqueror gave the valley to his great uncle, Nuño Sancho but the estate fell into decline over the next 80 years. When Jaime I died in 1276 his kingdom was split with his eldest son becoming Peter III of Aragon and his second son becoming Jaime II of the Kingdom of Majorca. Jaime and his Queen Esclaramunda were blessed with four sons, Jaime, Sancho, Fernando and Felipe, as well as two daughters Isabel and Sancha. But he was also blighted by conflict with his older brother who interfered in the control of the Balearic Islands.

Although Jamie II spent his later years improving the economy of Mallorca, he was concerned about the succession to the throne. His eldest son Jaime rejected the crown and chose the clergy and so Sancho was named his successor.

Sancho became the King of Majorca in 1311 and he continued his father's good work, improving the commerce of the island and protecting it against pirate attacks. He expanded the fleet and sanctioned work on the watch-towers along the coast. His ability to keep on the right side of the King of France, the King of Aragon and the Pope earned him the title Sancho 'the Peaceful'.

Sancho also extended his father's summer residence in Valldemossa valley until it became known as Sancho's Palace. When the King was not holding court he was out in the mountains enjoying hunting and hawking but from time to time his asthma limited his activities. Sancho and his Queen Maria, daughter of the King of Naples, did not have children so they adopted his nephew, Jaime.

valldemossa mallorca (majorca)Sancho's health deteriorated in his late forties and he moved to the Pyrenees in the summer of 1324 to take the mountain air. It did not help and he died in the village of Santa Maria de Formiguera in September 1324 and was buried in Perpignan. His infant nephew was crowned King Jaime III of Majorca while his younger brother, Father Felipe, acted as his Regent.

How Jaime III got his name 'the Unfortunate' is for another story but in 1399 King Martin 'the Humane' of Aragon, who counted Mallorca as part of his kingdom, gave the royal possessions in Valldemossa to the Carthusian monks; and there they lived in silence in the village for the next 450 years. The first monastery took nearly 50 years to complete and it was replaced in the mid 18th Century with a larger version with three extra wings of cells. Plans to extend the cells to enclose the gardens with cloisters were not realised.

valldemossa mallorca (majorca)The Carthusian Charterhouse community was dedicated to prayer, solitude and silence under the guidance of a prior. The monks lived alone in cells, each with a workshop, a place of prayer, a living area and a high walled garden for meditation and to grow flowers and vegetables. They lived a life of solitude and silence, engaged in meditation, prayer or manual labour and they only left their cell for prayers or occasional meetings. They went on weekly communal walks in the mountains and took part in bi-annual community recreation days; family members were also allowed to make an annual visit.

The monks were supported by lay brothers who cooked meals, did their laundry and general maintenance; they also brought books and supplies. Meals and other items were presented via a small revolving compartment in the cell wall, so the monk did not meet the lay brothers. The lay brothers spent less time in prayer and more time on manual labour and while they shared a common room they lived a life of silence the same as the monks.

The monks lived in the monastery until they fell foul of problems in Spain's royal household in 1835. King Ferdinand VII of Spain had two daughters and succession was restricted to a male heir under Spain's Salic Law. With his own life nearly at an end, he wanted to secure the throne for his daughter Isabella and stop his brother Carlos seizing power. He introduced a law known as the Pragmatic Sanction in 1830, allowing his infant daughter to become Queen with his wife Maria Cristina as Queen Regent.

Ferdinand died three years later but Spain split into the Cristino (or Isabelino) and Carlist factions on the crowning of Isabella II, and a seven year civil war, known as the First Carlist War, followed. To gain support for Isabella's cause, Prime Minister Juan Mendizábal introduced decrees between 1835 and 1837, confiscating many church properties to give to minor nobles to get their support. They were encouraged to make better use of them than the clergy had done and the extra taxes helped Queen Isabella stay on the throne until she was deposed in 1868.

Valldemossa palace and monastery was one of the confiscated properties and the monks had to leave. The buildings were split between nine different owners and they had only just taken possession of the buildings when their famous visitors arrived in December 1838 to spend 'A Winter in Mallorca'. But that is another story... Look for the webpage on Chopin and Sands in the famous people section to find out more.

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