Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Mallorcan Dry Stone Walls

mallorcan style wall

mallorcan style wall

Posting about the angled stone wall in this year’s garden show seems like a good excuse to post about the Mallorcan style wall we did with Mariposa Gardening and Design in the show last year. It’s not as eye-catching as the angled stone, but the building style is unique in its own way. Personally, I didn’t lay a single stone on the wall–I was a bit skeptical about building a wall and then taking it apart five days later, part of the reason I like stone is that it is the longest-lasting building material on earth, so instead my contribution to the garden was flagstone steps that I could afterwards re-install in a real garden–but it was a nice wall and it deserves to have some internet presence.  A lot of the stuff in the garden show is just facade work, but the crew built a real wall, thirteen tons worth, pretty cool and pretty crazy.

Mallorcan walls are also sometimes called polygonal walls because they use five-sided stones laid in an arch pattern; traditional walls use four-sided rectangular stones laid in linear courses. One of the sacred rules of traditional walls is to break every joint, but with a polygonal wall the joints zigzag enough that the rule doesn’t apply. Instead, the rule for a polygonal wall is to have every stone touched by five others. Instead of trying to create a flat surface for the next stone, you try to make a cradle for it, and instead of vertical and horizontal lines, you create arches. The idea is that the adjoining stones form an arch around any given stone, so if that stone falls out the other stones will still hold together and the wall won’t fail. In theory, if you pick a stone, you can see a little arch of other stones around it.

mallorcan wall arch detail

mallorcan wall arch detail

The walling style is really effective at making tall, strong, long-lasting walls out of irregular stone. Mallorca is full of walls hundreds of years old, and examples I’ve seen on the internet are often ten or twenty feet tall. To work on the walls, workers pound metal bars between the stones and then put boards across the bars to act as scaffolding. A lot of the walls are pretty rough looking but at the same time really appealing because of their size and strength. The walls get capped with European-style vertical coping stones, which adds a nice touch of style and self-consciousness to the rather rough, naturalistic stonework. Our wall in the garden show was made with Napa basalt, the closest Bay Area equivalent to the limestone they have in Mallorca.

The Stone Foundation has a beautiful Mallorcan wall in their write-up for the 2007 workshop and another in their write-up for the upcoming 2009 one. DryStoneWalling has photos of two walls, one that’s retaining and one that’s freestanding. Below, I put one of my sets of flagstone steps with a section of Mallorcan cheek wall.

Arizona flagstone steps with Napa basalt cheekwall

Arizona flagstone steps with Napa basalt cheekwall

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4 Responses to “Mallorcan Dry Stone Walls”

  1. May 1st, 2009 at 4:37 am

    wiseacre says:

    I’ve always like the rough natural look.

    I’ve never (almost never) built anything like that. I’ve repaired and built a couple field stone walls but didn’t follow the – every stone touched by five others – ‘rule’. I just hoped to find the next stone to fill the gap. They’re fun to build but time consuming having to always search out and find the next fit from the pile of rocks.

    Oh and thanks – now I know what to call a cheek wall. Keep posting – I might learn something before I give up playing with stone.

  2. May 1st, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Town Mouse says:

    I’m starting to regret my treated redwood retaining walls, though they seemed like the easy way out in a limited space. These walls look great, though, and would probably last much longer.

  3. May 4th, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    Thanks for pointing out the details in different styles of wall construction. I hadn’t paid them enough attention.

  4. December 13th, 2010 at 7:21 am

    DryStoneGarden » Blog Archive » Stern Grove says:

    […] stonework is done with mortar in the back, but the stones are laid in the polygonal style I wrote about last year. Polygonal walls are also called Cyclopean, Mycenaen, Mallorcan, Pelasgian, […]

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