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Alfabia Estate

alfabia estate mallorcaThe road to Sóller disappears under the Tramuntana Mountains just beyond the turn off for Bunyola, a small village nestling against the foothills. Galena was extracted from Son Creus Mines by the Romans and they became known as the Mines of the Moors a few centuries later. The lead ore deposits were turned into lead sheets to be used for containers and conduits and small amounts silver may even have been found.

The village was important during the Islamic period because Bunyûla-Mûsû district covered a large part of the Tramuntana Mountains. It also became a centre of Moorish resistance following the Conquest in 1229 and a leader called Xuaip organised those who had escaped from Palma. They hid in caves and lived off the mountains until forced to surrender or face starvation.

alfabia estate mallorcaBunyola was given to King James's great uncle, Nuno Sanç but it returned to James when he died. It continued to belong to the royal household until the death of James III during the battle at Llucmajor in 1349. Olive plantations were added to the Moorish vineyards and Bunyola became a rich area thanks to its continuous supply of water. Towards the end of the 19th Century the area was split between several large estates although attempts to change the oppressive baronial rule failed.

Today Bunyola is a charming sleepy village. You can catch the train into Sóller from here or drive up the steep pass to the north east to find the Coll d' Honor and the road into Orient Valley (see the Orient webpage).

A short distance before the Sóller tunnel is the car park for the Alfabia Estate to the right. Alfabia house and gardens are tucked into the Tramuntana foothills where the Moors put their irrigation skills to good use, building terraces and gardens, tapping the water from Verger Stream.

The name of the estate either stems either from the Arabic word Alfabia meaning 'reserve' or al fabi, meaning 'jar of olives' . There would have been a long line of Moorish heads of the estate but the best known was Benihabet, the Governor of Inca when James I invaded Mallorca in 1229. He negotiated with many Moorish leaders on James's behalf, accelerating the conquest of the island and he soon converted to Christianity.

alfabia estate mallorcaWalking up the tree lined driveway, one cannot fail to be impressed by the huge Arabic style façade and ornate entrance archway which hides the house and courtyard from the road. Although it looks older, it was designed by Joan d'Aragó in the mid 18th Century. The two eye-shaped windows, known as the 'ojos de buey' or 'eyes of the ox', meant that a watch could be kept on the avenue and the huge bronze covered doors could be closed to keep unwanted visitors out.

After paying at the building to the right, turn left up the tree lined steps to find the gardens. There are lion shaped water fountains at the top and streams of water running down the steps, all fed by a huge hidden water tank. Once through the door at the top we can see the mountains towering above Alfabia's gardens and the terraces on the hillside beyond.

As you walk down the early 18th Century pergola noting the 24 stone hydras, hidden jets spray water across the path, creating a wonderful spectacle. Next it is the mid 19th Century garden which many planted areas, shaded by a protected species of palm trees. The lower areas are almost tropical with a water lily covered pond and if you feeling thirsty you may want to try a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

alfabia estate mallorcaOne of the garden areas is known as the Jardinet de la Reina, or the Queen's Little Garden, because it was built in time for Queen Isabella II's stay. The Queen biographer, Antonio Flores, visited the estate in 1860 and said; "The entrance to the Alfabia estate is sumptuous, but the exit on the other side is wonderful. Entering the house... crossing its main rooms which run along and look out over the gallery that extends around the grounds, means being absorbed and suspended between the most varied and beautiful scenery that the human imagination could dream up."

The house stands over the lower part of the gardens and it is not difficult to image the family lounging on the balcony or enjoying the shade of the palm trees. 16th Century renovations turned the Arabic building into a Gothic fortified house complete with a courtyard and watchtower to protect the family from bandits. Gabriel Berga i Zaforteza inherited the house in the 18th Century and enlarged the house, bringing it up to date with Baroque style features. Even more changes were made towards the end of the 19th Century.

The house is still furnished and decorated and you can almost imagine a carriage and horses pulling into the courtyard having brought the family from their house in the city. The library is the first room off the main corridor while the second room is dominated by a huge painting of Don Pedro Santacilliai Pax, owner of the house in the mid 1600s.

alfabia estate mallorcaThe painting tells us that Santacillia held many military posts including; Admiral of Catalonia, General of the Spanish Dragoons, Cavalry Commander of the Castilian Army, Assistant to the Commander of Menorca and Commander in Chief of Mallorca in 1666. He was also an Assistant to the King and a Royal Solicitor. The painting tells us that he was a member of the Order of the Calatrava, a military style religious order similar to the Knights Templar. The Order was formed in 1147, just after the town of Calatrava in central Spain fell to the Moors; and it soon had thousands of members. They wore the white Cistercian habit with an ornate red cross. The southeast area of old Palma city is still known as the Calatrava district.

The Sala de la Cadira, or Chair Room, has an ancient carved chair in the centre of the room and the information board tells us that it was known as the Moorish Chair. However, the carvings are much later and relate to the medieval love story of Tristan and Isolde, made famous by the composer Wagner in the 1850s.

alfabia estate mallorcaAnother version is that the chair remembers King James IV of Mallorca and his sister Isabella who were taken prisoner following the death of his father during the Battle of Llucmajor in 1349. James was held in Bellver Castle on Mallorca before he was moved to Xativa Castle on the mainland and finally to Castell de Nou in Barcelona. He escaped in 1362 and for the next thirteen years tried in vain to recapture his Kingdom. He died in 1375, either of sickness or from poisoning. Isabella then adopted two men to fight on her behalf; they too failed to recover the island.

Once out in the courtyard, where the fountain and tree cool the air, you can appreciate the extent of the house and outbuildings. The stables were below the house and the grooms slept in nothing more than straw beds next to their horses. The building next door was used for preparing the estate's olives and the huge press inside is a marvel of engineering in wood. On the high side of the courtyard are the family's private chapel and the estate manager's office.

The last place on the tour of the Alfabia estate is the entrance hall, the oldest part of the house. The fantastic coffered ceiling was made by Moorish craftsmen in 1170 they carved beautiful Arabic style quotes into the pine and oak panels. Benihabet's coat of arms also appears with the shields of Aragon and Catalonia. A frieze on the wall reads "Arabic is Great. Allah is the power. There is no other God but Allah." It is a reminder that Mallorca was under Islamic rule for over 200 years.

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