La Palma is an island that is full of beautiful architecture. You can find ancient pre-hispanic ruins, centuries-old buildings made by early Spanish or Portuguese settlers and modern glass buildings all within several feet from each other. The natural dry and warm climate on the island is ideal for preserving these old buildings, which resulted in many of them still being used as houses today. One of the most distinctive architectural features that one can find is the balconies along Avenida Maritima.
Santa Cruz de La Palma was founded in the late 15th century and started out as a small town where rich people would build their houses and even castles to oversee their plantations and use as a vacation home. Because the settlers had large amounts of money to spend and displaying your wealth is something that people liked doing even back then, many beautiful houses were built. Each more extravagant and colorful than the last. The most distinctive way of doing this was the beautiful and intricate wooden balconies that decorate the houses. Mostly designed by mainland artisans and based on the Portuguese architecture style of the time.
The balconies were not purely decorative but also serve several important functions to the residents. They serve as a natural source of ventilation for houses, catching the trade winds of the ports and forcing them into the house. Besides that many of them used to house toilets that allowed fecal matter to fall down onto the street, after which servants would push it into the sea.
It is said that these balconies started out as a symbol of rebellion against the governments of Charles V and Phillip II that posed strict restrictions on where one could build, often citing the blocking of streets as a reason. Once every 5 years the balconies get beautifully decorated to celebrate the holiday that is connected to the Virgin of the Snows being brought down from its sanctuary to the city.
Know Before You Go
The balconies can be viewed for free from the street, however it is impossible to actually get onto them as they are part of private housing.