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Mallorca (Part VIII) – Photography Focus 2: Modernista Architecture

As readers of my Valencia series of posts back in February will know, I am a huge admirer of architecture, both ancient and modern. But perhaps my favourite style of architecture is a period sitting somewhere in between – an era when curved decorative lines replaced rigid linear forms, when natural forms such as flowers, leaves and waves appeared to sprout, almost like nature has regained supremacy over man, from the plasterwork and wrought iron of buildings, and when aesthetic considerations reigned over calculations of cost and practicality. I am of course talking about the era of the art nouveau, which, in a progressively more industrialised Catalonia at the beginning of the 19th Century, had its very own, perhaps more eccentric off-shoot – modernisme.

While perhaps not as abundant as the prized examples of modernismo architecture which can be found in the city of Barcelona, a lesser known collection of what are quite frankly gems of the period are ripe for discovery in Palma de Mallorca. Palma was developing a wealthy and increasingly outward-looking bourgeoisie by the end of the 19th century, and come the 1900s, the development of wealth and industry, as well as an increased awareness and pride in Catalan identity, encouraged the rich of Palma to display their wealth in a progressive and concrete form – through the construction of modernist palaces.

DSC06449 DSC07239The Cassayas apartmentsWindow detailing on the Can ReiWindow of L'Aguila

The result is a central core of Palma (from the Passeig de Born Eastwards to the Placa Major) which is full of surprisingly rich examples of modernismo, surely second only to Barcelona, who’s most famous proponent of modernismo, Antoni Gaudi, himself spent time in the city of Palma, overseeing the restoration of Palma’s cathedral. While Gaudi did not add any of his infamous weird and wonderful architectural creations to the streets of the city, many of his rivals in Modernisme did. These included Lluis Domenech i Montaner, who built the lavish Gran Hotel (which is today the home of the Fundacio La Caixa), and Josep Cassayas who built two exquisitely curvaceous twin apartment buildings on the Placa Mercat, just opposite the Gran Hotel. I love in particular the detailing of these apartments, for example the curved window shutters which seamlessly align with the curves of the building’s delicate facade.

Meanwhile, just south of the Placa Mayor, the Can Rei, which today houses a takeaway of my beloved Cappuccino Grand Cafe, bears the closest resemblance to the great masterpieces of Gaudi, the use of ceramics and floral motifs, as well as balconies flanked with dragons reminding me of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in Barcelona, while next door, the former department store L’Aguila by Gaspar Bennassar features beautiful geometric windows which appear to forecast the move towards the more linear art deco. Further afield beyond Palma in Soller, the pupil of Gaudi, Joan Rubio i Bellver, made his mark, building the astonishingly original and imposing facade of Sant Bartomeu church, while next door, he constructed the fortress-like structure of the C’an Prunera, which includes a wonderful twin corner balcony and some beautifully complex wrought iron window grilles.A Modernismo shop frontDSC07233Window grill in SollerDSC06789 DSC05757

I leave you with a selection of my photos of these stunning feats of architecture, and in particular many of the details which make the buildings so utterly unique, and aesthetically superior to anything built before or since. In addition, these photos include a few shop fronts which appear to slot seamlessly into the Modernist mood. Palma’s modernist profile is just another facade to this captivating creative city, but one which to my mind is too often overlooked when compared with cities such as Barcelona. As these photos will show, this is yet another reason why Palma should be proclaimed a priority destination of artistic pilgrimage for art and architecture lovers everywhere.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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