The Port of Sóller is built around the lip of a circular bay, with the entrance to the sea between two rocky outcrops at its northern edge. Mountains surround the town, creating a spectacular backdrop to the picturesque setting.
For hundreds of years the port was Sóller town's main connection with the outside world as boats made the ten hour journey to Palma carrying the town's valuable crops. The sailors and fisherman lived in a tiny community of only a handful of streets next to the small harbour and they had two oratories. The Oratory of Sant Ramon de Penyafort dates from the late 1600s. They also climbed the hill to pray in the 13th Century Oratory which was eventually devoted to Santa Catalina. It is still devoted to the sea, only it is now a museum; you can find it on the rocky promontory above the oldest part of the town.
By the 1530s Mallorca was subject to repeated attacks by pirates from North Africa (read the Watchtowers webpage in the Events part of the website) and while the hilltop oratory was destroyed in 1542 the most destructive attack was in May 1561. As a fleet commanded by Otxali (or Ochiali) and Iusuf-Arrais stopped off in Ibiza to take on water, a fast moving ship sped towards Mallorca to warned the Viceroy, Guillem de Rocafull, that 22 galleys loaded with over 1,500 Algerian pirates were heading his way.
As Rocafull warned the Captain of Sóller, Joan Angelats, to prepare for an attack, lookouts watched the ships sailing along the Tramuntana coast on 11 May. The Buñola, Santa Maria and Alaró garrisons also sent reinforcements over the mountains to defend the town. As the militias headed towards Sóller Port to guard the harbour, the pirates were looking for a greater prize and landed in a hidden cove to the northeast of Sóller Port. They then split into two groups and while one group headed for the port, the rest headed inland for Sóller town.
The Mallorcan militia met the group at the port and while they soon had the upper hand, the second group were free to attack the town. Houses were raided, treasure was seized and women and children were taken prisoner for slaves. A plaque on the church wall remembers Guillem Rotger Grevement Ferit and Gaspar Miro who died defending the church and its treasures from the pirates.
The attack is personified in the story of Francesca and Catherine Casesnoves, the brave women or 'Valentes Dones' of Can Tamany. A pirate entered their house and while he tasted a barrel of wine one of the sisters knocked him out with an olive branch. They then barricaded the door and threw the body of the wine drinking pirate out of the window. The sight of one of their comrades falling lifelessly to the ground scared off the rest.
Once the group at the harbour had been defeated the militia's headed back to the town, meeting the pirates carrying their booty to the ships. Mayhem ensued as the pirates started killing their prisoners while the militia attacked. Again the pirates were beaten and were taken to the cliffs and thrown to their deaths. A gang of brigands had helped the militia win their battles and when news reached Palma, they were pardoned by King Philip II.
A Castle was built on the headland overlooking the port while the Torre de Picado or Perforated Tower was built on Escala Point to cover the hidden cove to the northeast. Read the Sóller Town webpage to learn more about the fiesta which celebrates the defeat of the Moors.
Sóller valley became an important centre of citrus fruit at the turn of the 20th Century and the port became a lively centre for ships known as Orange Sailboats heading for the French ports. The export trade made Sóller and its port rich. The opening of the train route in 1912 connected Sóller with its port and with Palma's lucrative markets. It is still possible to travel from central Palma to the port; see the Sóller Train webpage for more details.
Take the time to stroll along the sea front, watching the comings and goings of the fishermen and yachts while the tram stops in the waterfront station. There are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants around the harbour and they cater for all tastes. It is worth climbing the narrow streets through the old fishermen's village to visit the Museum of the Sea and sea the fantastic views along the Tramuntana coast.
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