One of the most imposing buildings in Palma is often mistaken for a church or a temple, Sa Llotja de Palma (Lonja; Lotge), but far from it. Sa Llotja is not and has never been a place of worship of a religious kind; it was the old seat of the Col.legi de Mercaders (Merchants’ guild), in other words a trading exchange. The maritime trade exchange centre was built between 1426 and 1447. Commodities like gold and silver, silk and cotton, spices and coffee were traded in bulk, often before the merchandise had arrived safely at the port of Palma. The building project was given to the stone mason and architect Guillem Sagrera (1380-1456) from Felanitx who started with plans as early as 1421 and with the construction five years later. A construction period of 12 years had initially been calculated but, Guillem Sagrera ran into quarrels with his client over money, abandoned the project before its completion and left Mallorca altogether. After Sagrera’s departure, the Gothic building was completed by the architect Guillermo Vilasolar.
At the time, the building formed part of Palma’s fortifications and the Muralla Islámica defense walls. For this reason, four defense towers were built in the four corners of the trade exchange. During the 15th century, the Mediterranean Sea came up to the city walls into which the Llotja building was seamlessly integrated.
The Llotja’s indoors form a single space with two rows of tall, spiralling columns, creating a magnificent space with a splendidly vaulted ceiling and is simply imposing. During the last thirty years the building has been used for art exhibition and installations as well as for occasional political gatherings. Sa Llotja (La Lonja in Castellano) is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Guillem Sagrera was responsible not only for the overall design of the project, but also for the building of the work down to its sculptural details, such as those of the Ángel de los mercaderes above the main portal and the ten gargoyles, plus various other statues and sculptures all of which are of a splendid quality.
The magnificent building was recently restored to its former glory at a cost of 2,500,000 €. A new flat roof terrace now replaces the former pitched roof according to the original plans. Currently, groups are able to climb up to the roof terrace, subject to a previous permission being granted. The building itself, other than the roof terrace, is open to the public daily except Monday, until May 19th, 2013, when a forthcoming art exhibition by Tony Craig will be prepared to be opened in June.
Outside and set apart in Sa Llotja‘s patio, sadly inaccessible to us mere mortals is one of the nicest chapels in Palma de Mallorca, the Capilla de la Llotja, dating from the late 16th century and also built in the Gothic style. The small church used to belong to the Sea Merchants’ Guild who were busy with their wheeling and dealing in the Llotja building next door, where the Col.legi de Mercaders were negotiating their trade exchange. Nowadays, the chapel has ceased functioning as a place of worship and instead, is part of the adjoining Consolat de Mar (Sea Consulate), today the seat of the President of the Govern de les Illes Balears.
The Capilla de Sa Llotja is open to the public only once or twice a year, when a series of days of Open Doors are held at the Consolat de Mar, when the chapel can be visited and admired in all its architectural beauty. That would be March 1st, Día de les Illes Balears.