Mallorca cannot be understood without the “Possessions”, part of the cultural heritage of the island, some with Arabic origin that are adapting to changing times to survive. If we had to highlight an emblematic building from Mallorcan culture, the elected would be the large rural estate known in the island as “Possessió”.
Mallorca was, until a few decades ago, a land of rural economy. Long before tourism imposed new rhythms to a society accustomed to grow unhurried, life of the Mallorcan people, in the countryside, developed around small towns, the villages of the island. The countryside was then divided into a series of plots, which belonged to the peasants who work the land, or if it was a considerable extension, was part of the heritage of rural landlords, powerful landowners and well regarded throughout Mallorca. A large number of men, and even whole families often depended on the “possessió”, the estate where they worked, where they lived, and where they were born.
The first actual records dating back to the year 1578 using the term possession, was to refer to areas of land with more than a thousand pounds value, while those plots that did not reach this value were called orchards, vineyards or just land. The plots named as possessions were areas in countryside usually away from the small population areas existing on the island during medieval times. In many cases they were Alquerias of Islamic origin, who had an extremely knowledgeable about the best areas of water on the island, although there were also new construction rural estates.
Since its inception, the rural estates or “possessions” in Mallorca have gone through different stages. Its buildings and lands, that began to be exploited during the middle Ages, were then parceled out to define the properties of each landowner. Mallorca’s “possessió” had an important role in society, economy and culture in the island until the mid-twentieth century, when tourism development led to its abandonment. It was an existence governed by the cycles of the earth, conscious of the environment and the requirements of the rains and the sun, which mark the track of the crops, pasture and beasts life. It was a hard time and often miserable. The days when the Mallorcan “possessions” were thriving centers of life are long gone and are now existing as vestiges of the past, representations of a solid and beautiful architecture of the houses designed as the home of many people, real protective strength of storms and crop failures.
But before served as an articulating core of a genuine social fabric, from the Landlord, called in Mallorca “Senyor”, an almost ghostly figure in the life of the possession, often only as a visitor to his land, to the master, called in Mallorca “L´Amo”, who used to have his own house and that was the appointed by the lord to ensure the smooth running of the estate work, directly related to workers, shaft and pillar of economic development of the area. They are joined by those who always worked there, and who were occasionally hired to perform specific tasks of cultivation. With the “possessions” a dominant social class in Mallorca designed this architecture and a way of understanding social life. It was a pyramidal structure of society, the Mallorcan society, which remained so for centuries with those Landlords, the estate owners in which hands was practically the whole land of Mallorca, the masters, who organized productive jobs, workers, who own the field work carried out, and, in many cases, the slaves, as tells part of the story.
The Landlords (senyors) of all possessions in Mallorca evidently belonged to the landed gentry. The landlords appropriated of all income from the land and controlled the trade of wheat, meat, wine and oil, basic commodities by then. Among the large landowners families, there are families belonging to lineages that traditionally are from Mallorcan noble estate, among which we can mention Cotoner, Dameto, Gual de Torrella, Oleza, Orlandis, Puigdorfila, Salas, Sureda, Veri, Villalonga, Vivot, Zaforteza or the marquisates as the Romana and Ariany.
The estates or “possessions” were formed by large houses and a number of adjoining buildings associated with them. Normally there lords housing was the bigger one and housing adjacently was for the Masters. Smaller related to the two big houses buildings were the homes of the workers and habitat for animals, seeds and where tools were stored. In Mallorca, the “possessions” are today aesthetic models proclaiming a return to rural life, acquaintances and solid spaces, old ways of working stone for the houses of the Mallorcan farmers. In many of them it is perfectly visible that they were centers overflowing magnificence, often small and very active axes of a microcosm that today have lost the dynamism that characterized them. Cores converted into pure form, imitated and observed from modernity and rarely inhabited again, perhaps because it is difficult to adapt to the pace of modern life.
There are many estates or “possessions” in Mallorca that still retain their splendor today, but have been restored by the family owners, purchased by investors and nature lovers of the island or acquired by the government of the islands to keep in good conditions part of this cultural heritage. Obviously if you are on holiday on the island and want to know how was the Mallorcan feudal society, as lived, if you want to know part of our history, there are options to visit some of these incredible estates as Raixa, Sa Torre, Vinagrella Palace in Llubí, Defla in Sineu and some more as Son Marroig, owned before by Archduke Luis Salvador of Austria.
But these are only a few scattered names, chosen almost at random among multiple possibilities. In Mallorca, the possessions had to be incorporated into the new times, when days no longer revolve around the cycles of the land, nor the crops are measured by rainfall or drought, at a time when the cultivation of the land, maligned and mistreated, is only another task of small isolated groups in our countryside, almost all unprotected. Restaurants have been built in some of the old houses of these estates or “possessions”, or luxury residences where tourism looking for a quality rest, away from the hubbub of slavery and the coast. Some of them have become open to the public at certain times and others remain empty, without shelter or chance of survival. We will try in this section of our blog to go writing about some of them and you can appreciate their beauty and, of course, visit them if you have the chance.
These estates, the “Possessions” in Mallorca are a former waste time, today almost remote, which is lost in the distance.