Far from the dreamy coves and the hotel complexes full of balconies making eyes at young Europeans, there is a ghostly, romantic Mallorca. One full of immense cliffs, vegetation, stony villages and roads worthy of the most isolated corner of the Pyrenees. It is the Tramuntana, a mountain range that occupies the entire west of the island. Chopin and George Sand, for example, came to its heart in search of health. They went to Valldemossa and its charterhouse. Before, Jovellanos lived captive in one of its towers. Later, Rubén Darío would try to escape from his depression in a monastic cell.
The cartoixa or Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa has a history that begins long before musicians, writers or politicians inhabited it. However, its initial purpose had to do with the reasons why some of its last guests came to it. It is located in a place that can be considered an ideal of beauty. From its balconies you can see wide mountains, cultivated areas, the ochre of traditional Mallorcan constructions… A compendium that continues to amaze contemporary tourists.
The exceptionality of the landscape motivated the first private king of Mallorca, Jaume II, to choose it to build a palace. His son, Sancho I, was to stay here. He suffered from lung diseases and it was believed that in this area of the Tramuntana they would subside, at least to some extent. The result is one of the segments of the current Carthusian monastery, the oldest. Simple, it is not known for sure if it was built on a Moorish fortress or if it was a new construction.
When Mallorca and its kingdom became part of Aragon, in 1399 it was decided to give the space to a Carthusian community. The structure of the monastery was more or less stable until the 18th century, with additions such as the powerful keep or the guest tower. In the 18th century, the Carthusians built new rooms and opened the famous pharmacy, which today is one of the monastery‘s main attractions. However, the neoclassical church is the most impressive segment. It has a perfectly preserved choir and frescoes by Goya’s brother-in-law, Manuel Bayeu. The sculptural works of Adrià Ferran are also remarkable.
The illustrious guests of the Charterhouse of Valldemossa are very varied, as already mentioned. Jovellanos, who should be called illustrious rather than illustrious, spent some time in the guest tower, as a prisoner. He was so happy to be among the Carthusian monks that he spent an extra season on his own initiative. Later came the property apocalypse of the disentailments. It was in 1835 when the monastery became public property. The monks did not enjoy their new monastery very much.
However, this encouraged the powerful Mallorcan bourgeoisie, who prospered both in Palma and nearby Sóller, to make new use of the cells. The various owners would rent the spaces, which have been well preserved to the present day. Thus, the story of the Balearic winter of Chopin and George Sand is reached.
This last name may not ring a bell, but it is that of one of the most important writers of the 19th century. French, romantic and born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, Sand took a male-sounding pseudonym like so many other female authors. She famously rebelled by wearing men’s clothes without asking permission in the nineteenth-century France. After a turbulent marriage, she and Chopin, the famous Polish piano master, began a relationship that would be marked by the composer’s weakness and the power of the literary woman.
Anyway, they arrived at the end of 1838 in Mallorca looking for an improvement in the health of Chopin and Sand’s son. They found a paradise, which they praised. However, the stay was ultimately uncomfortable. The weather was terrible and worsened the Pole’s condition. In spite of the fact that the period was fruitful, he realized among others his Preludes op. 28 and she wrote A Winter in Mallorca, in February 1839 they would leave Valldemossa. In addition to the climate, the delay in the shipment of the musician’s piano, that today is still exposed in his cell, or the attitude of the neighbors before the couple contributed. The fact that they were not married, united in sin, seems to have given rise to uncomfortable moments.
The attraction for foreigners of the Balearic Islands in general and Valldemossa in particular is clearly not from yesterday. The best example is that of Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria, a novel figure. He left the affairs of the court and dedicated himself to travel around the Mediterranean generating valuable illustrated chronicles. This municipality of the Tramuntana, as well as Deià for example, caught his attention. Because the largest of these islands was perhaps his favorite place in the whole continent. Today the museum of the Chartusian monastery exhibits a brilliant collection about this 19th century adventurer.
Later Rubén Darío would arrive to the cells of the Cartoixa. He stayed there in 1913, after having met her seven years earlier. He was suffering from an immense depression, including a suicide attempt. The island would not cure his soul but it would give him a breathe that would create El Oro de Mallorca, a novel, as well as some poems. More names that shine in the history of literature and passed through the disentailed monastery were, among others, Azorín, Eugeni d’Ors or Santiago Rusiñol. Almost nothing.
Currently the visit of the Charterhouse of Valldemossa includes areas of the palace of King Sancho, the new monastery and its church, as well as the gardens. The local museum is included in the tour, highlighting the pictorial exhibition and an old printing press. The views from the balconies are truly spectacular. On the musical side, Chopin’s shadow is long. Part of the experience consists of a quarter-hour recital in which you can enjoy a sample of the pianist’s genius through the expert hands of Carlos Bonnín. The veteran Chopin Festival also takes place in summer.
It is worth mentioning that the pianist’s cell is visited separately. Once you have seen the complex, well-preserved stone streets await you in the village. The local gastronomy has a lot to offer, from the typical sausages to arroz brut and pa amb oli. Also sweets such as the local cocas de patata (potato cakes) or the delicious gató de almendras (almond cakes). Another aspect to focus on is the trail of Santa Catalina Thomas, the great religious figure of the place. The tiles on the facades of the houses above her are a colorful addition to a town that has not stopped creating art.
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