In the foothills of the Tramuntana Mountains, to the west of the Sóller road is the Raixa estate. Under Moorish rule a thousand years ago, it formed part of the Arabic estate (or alqueria) known as Biniatzar, which is now its neighbour. Following the conquest in 1229 it was given to King Jaime's great uncle, Nuno Sanç, who in turn gave it to one of his barons to manage.
The 130 acre estate we find today was created when Raixa split from the neighbouring estate of Pastoritx and the first recorded owners was Safortesa i Tagamanents family. They built a simple country house where they could escape from the city while their peasants worked the land. They were one of the landowners who opposed the tax rises during the Germanies war (1521-1523) and the house burnt down when the Imperial Army restored order on Mallorca. The family never recovered and by 1660 they were bankrupt and forced to sell Raixa to the first Count of Montenegro.
The house was extended in the 18th Century and it now surrounds the courtyard, or clastra, with the three storey Casa del Senyors occupying the north, east and south wings. The two storey range of worker's rooms and workshops occupies the west side of the complex and it has its own courtyard. The baron's kitchen, the Cuina del Senyors, was on the first floor while the peasant's kitchen, or Cuina del Amos, was on the ground floor. Font des Coster stream watered the Raixa estate but there was never enough water to extend the vineyards and olive groves enough to make it profitable. In 1753 Francisco de Tirgalle, a military engineer, was commissioned to cure the problem and he built a huge reservoir, or aljibe, behind the house.
In 1797 the estate passed into the hands of Cardinal Don Antoni Despuig i Dameto (1745-1813) , the second son of the third Count of Montenegro. After studying at Palma University he had entered the church and when not working he spent his time improving his estate. The Spanish architect Eusebio de Ibarreche wanted to create large gardens but when Despuig employed Italian Giovanni Lazzarini in 1802, the builder, Tomàs Abrines, had to revise the plans due to the lack of water. Even then the water tank had to be extended to 100 metres long, making it Mallorca's largest reservoir at the time. In 1807 des Polls stream was leased from the neighbouring estate of Pastoritx and two miles of channels had to be built to get extra water to Raixa.
Despuig eventually became the Archbishop of Seville but when he became involved in a conspiracy to oust the Spanish Prime Minister Godoy, he was forced to flee to Italy. During his travels around Tuscany, Despuig became interested in history and with the help of Gabino Hamilton, a Scottish antiques dealer, found many sculptures. In 1796 they were shipped to Raixa and they formed the basis of his collection of antiquities and art; he also built up a library of 12,000 books. Despuig also financed several archaeological excavations on Mallorca. Despuig was eventually appointed advisor to Pius VI on Spanish affairs and Pope Paul I made him a cardinal in 1803.
Cardinal Despuig left the Raixa estate to his brother Joan when he died in 1813 with instructions to complete his life's work. Unfortunately, Joan died shortly afterwards but his sons Ramon and Joan continued the Cardinal's work, improving both the house and estate.
The gardens in front of the house were developed first and they had two terraces with a loggia, cypress trees and an orange garden. Although the garden has been redesigned over the years, the view from the Italian style loggia is still stunning.
Next it was the turn of the Sa Muntanyeta section of the gardens, on the highest parts of the hillside overlooking the house. A statue of Neptune, a children's play house, a hermitage, a viewpoint and a temple were built on the rocky slopes amongst the pine trees and cypresses. Finally, seven terraces were built on the hillside immediately behind the house and connected by a flight of steps. A statue of Apollo stands amongst the areas, orchards and planting areas. The gateway east of the house was added in 1898 as a finishing touch and there was a Labyrinth Garden on the terrace below it.
In 1906 Raixa was bought by the industralist Antonio Jaume Nadal and in 1918 he sold the Cardinal's collection of Roman sculptures to the Museum of Mallorca. The collection can be visited today in Bellver Castle. Over the years the estate has inspired several writers, including Agatha Christie who thought of it during the novel 'Death under the Sun'. Local writer Llorenç Villalonga's novel 'Bearn' mentions the house as does Antoni Aloy's 'Presence of mind'.
In 1993 Raixa was declared a Cultural Heritage Site and in 2002 it was jointly bought by the National Parks Foundation and Mallorca Council. The Foundation was absorbed into the Biodiveristy Foundation, which is part of the Spanish Ministry of Environment, and when restoration work on the house was finished in 2009, work started on the gardens.
At the time of writing the property is open on weekends and while the house has been restored there are very few exhibits inside at the moment. Work continues on the gardens and it easy to see that they will soon be restored to their former glory. Raixa is well worth a visit to see a 19th Century Mallorcan house set in its gardens and the sight of the great pool reflecting the mountains is unforgettable.
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