Murcia is like a Chinese box. It’s mainly pedestrian centre just keeps on opening up with new and unexpected spaces. The shop lined lanes are a must for the serious shoppers, with well known designer names selling their goods at considerably less than UK prices.
Murcia is a fascinating city and is more than just the working capital of the region; it is an exciting blend of different cultures and flavours, from Baroque to Moorish all rolled into one city.
Murcia was founded in 831 and ruled until the late 15th century by the Moors, who also invented the irrigation that helps the surrounding plain to be so incredibly fertile and which continues today to supply the region and the rest of Europe with top quality fruit and vegetables. But the influence remains, not least in the cuisine – try the local speciality of “pisto”, a tangy mix of aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, spices and olive oil.
In the golden light of the evening, the Baroque façade of the cathedral overlooking the square seems as if it is made of marzipan, with layer upon layer of pediments festooned with sculptured saints. There is so much detail that one is almost grateful that the original plans to build it a full storey higher were put on hold in the 18th century.
As it is, the cathedral boasts one of the tallest towers in Spain, a handy landmark as it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, most useful when you are negotiating the maze of tiny streets that follow the original Moorish plan. You can hear it from everywhere as well … a low rumbling almost hoarse boom as it strikes the hour.
Take a look around the side of the cathedral and you will see a chapel that looks as if it was bolted on as an afterthought, which it was, when a leading noble family decided to build its own annexe. It is held to the main building by a massive stone chain, carefully and realistically sculpted. Inside, the chapel has some jaw dropping Gothic sculpture, with miniature pinnacles piled one on top of the other, in a lace like pattern that strongly recalls the intricate plasterwork of the Alhambra, only in stone. It is no coincidence that they were fashioned by Moorish craftsmen who stayed on after the Christian conquest.
The Festivals of Murcia
In the city of Murcia you can enjoy a wide spectrum of festivities that are concentrated around two periods of the year, the Spring with Semana Santa (Holy or Easter Week) and the autumn, La Feria which takes place in September.
La Semana Santa and Las Fiestas de Primavera may well be the most popular and traditional festivals of the city. The Semana Santa is a festival with a long tradition in Spain, in which the last hours of the suffering of Christ are remembered by means of a procession through the streets. In Murcia and Cartagena these processions are particularly remarkable as the procession statues are carried through the streets and the works of one of the most important sculptors from Spanish history of art, Francisco Salzillo.
The Fiestas de Primavera, celebrated in the second week, have a major tourist appeal as well. The festitivities centre on two special days; El Bando de la Huerta and El Entierro de la Sardina. El Bando de la Huerto originates from the homage that the people of the region around Valencia and Murcia used to pay their patron saint. On this day, you may see many people in the procession dressed in the traditional costume of the region. Entierro de la Sardina is the festival to conclude these weeks of religion, tradition and fun. It takes place just after Lent and floats parade through the streets to represent the gods on Mount Olympus. After the parade, the festival ends on the highlight of the day; the burning of the sardine.
In September, Murcia celebrates La Feria del Ganado (livestock market) which is characterised by many cultural activities, such as concerts, festive activities, involving bulls and bull fighting. This festive period is concluded with the Romeria a pilgrimage on foot that all participants undertake to the sanctuary of La Fuensanta, accompanied by the Holy Virgin.