The palace is not a legend but it has legendary status - a 700-year-old palace of the Kingdom of Mallorca. | M. RAMIS

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When King Jaume II was looking for a retreat away from the Ciutat (aka Palma), he didn’t consider a palace elsewhere by the sea. It does perhaps say something for how the coast of Mallorca, with the exception of that part where Palma stood, was viewed back in the early fourteenth century. For a king, or anyone else for that matter, the coast was risky because of pirates. This was a reason why so little of the coast was occupied, another having been that land right by the coast was generally of no value. It couldn’t be worked because of, for example, dunes. This perception of the coast was to last for hundreds of years.

There were small ports, but Jaume seemingly had little interest in being in close proximity to one. He didn’t crave the sea in wanting a sort of holiday second residence. The king wished to be as far away from the sea as it was possible to get in Mallorca. And so he chose a place which, once geographers started to concern themselves with such things, has laid claim to being Majorca’s geographical centre - Sineu.

While it is in the island’s centre and on the island’s plain, there is a story of a seafaring past which might have startled Jaume, had he been familiar with it. This story didn’t apparently come to light until some five hundred years later - 1825 to be precise. In that year, one Doctor Beuth-Schinkel, a great expert from foreign lands, supposedly revealed that Sineu had once been “one of the most beautiful ports in Europe”. This was the Sineu Port de Mar hoax, one penned in 1915.

Despite this outlandish fabrication, or maybe because of it, the story has lived on as part of Sineu’s history as a ‘vila de llegenda’. Jaume’s association with Sineu was no legend, however, and nor was it only because he fancied having a palace retreat in the middle of Mallorca. Sineu, given its centrality, was deemed to have been a suitable location for an administrative facility.

Work on creating the royal palace, Palau dels Reis de Mallorca, was carried out in 1309. Which isn’t to confuse this palace with the Palau dels Reis de Mallorca in Perpignan, also a Jaume II residence, the building of which, coincidentally or perhaps not, ended in 1309. When you’re a king and one palace is completed, what more is there to do than build another one?

It wasn’t started from scratch as it is believed that there had been a Muslim palace on the site. There were already buildings of some description, but questions about the Muslim origin are reflected by Sineu town hall’s own history. One section refers to construction on the site of an old Islamic palace, another to the “restructuring of some old houses with an uncertain past”.

Jaume didn’t have long to enjoy his rural retreat. He died in 1311. His son, Sanç, also Sancho, referred to as the Peaceful, is known to have resided there, but in 1319 he granted use of the palace to something known as the Veguer de Fora. This body, headed by a member of the military, was the law in Mallorca’s villages. Consequently, Sineu was a very important place in those days; it was effectively the capital of the ‘part forana’, away from the Ciutat of Palma.

In 1583, Felipe II of Spain ceded the palace to nuns from the Order of the Immaculate Conception (Conceptionists). And this order was to remain at the old palace for the next 433 years. In October 2016, the last remaining nun, Consuelo Navalón (Sor Anunciación), locked the gates to the palace and left for Zaragoza.

Since then, no one has really known what to do with the palace. The bishopric in Mallorca would ideally see a new order occupy it. In June last year, the bishop let it be known that a congregation of Columbian nuns was on its way. It turned out that they weren’t.

Because the palace has been closed, and what with it being a building that is quite old (to say the least), there have been issues with the maintenance. Sineu town hall has been saying that it isn’t its responsibility but has wanted some firm decision to be taken as to the palace’s future, bearing in mind that its upkeep should be maintained as it is an asset in the cultural interest.

In November 2019, the town hall made a proposal to the bishopric - cede the palace to us, we’ll look after it and use it as a cultural centre. The bishopric said no. The town hall is now having another go. EU funds could help with some badly needed restoration, and the palace could become a museum and a place for cultural activities.

What will the bishopric say this time? A definitive solution is needed. The palace is not a legend but it has legendary status - a 700-year-old palace of the Kingdom of Mallorca.