Murcia, the Spanish region of sun, sea, beach and culture

Murcia is a region with pristine beaches, beautiful seaside resorts and ancient cities. The coast of the region is the Costa Cálida (Warm Coast). The main seaside resort is La Manga, located on the Mar Menor (Little Sea). Murcia also has a lot to offer culturally. The capital Murcia is known for its cathedral, casino and museums. Many Roman remains can be seen in the port city of Cartagena. The city of Lorca has many monuments, including a fortress, palaces and museums. The region also has a pilgrimage site, Caravaca de la Cruz. The most important monument of this city is the sanctuary of La Vera Cruz.

Murcia

  • General
  • History
  • Top locations
  • Food and drink
  • Fiestas in the Murcia region
  • Transport

Murcia / Source: Rastrojo (D•ES), based on Mutxamel version., Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

General

Murcia is one of the seventeen autonomous regions of Spain. It is one of the smallest regions in the country and has an area of 11,313 km². Almost 1.5 million people live in Murcia (2016). Although most regions of the country consist of several provinces, Murcia has only one, Murcia. The most important cities are Murcia with more than 441,000 inhabitants (2016), Cartagena with almost 215,000 inhabitants (2016) and Lorca with almost 92,000 inhabitants (2016). The government is based in the city of Murcia, but the legislature (parliament) is in Cartagena. The Murcia region is located in the southeast of the country, on the Mediterranean Sea. The north of Murcia borders the Castile-La Mancha region. The east borders the Valencia region and the west borders the region of Andalusia.
North of the city of Murcia there is a plain with vineyards. Further south, the Guadalentín and Segura rivers flow through the coastal mountains and plains. Along the coast are the huertas (fertile plains) that are used as agricultural land. The coast in the south and around Cartagena (Golfo de Mazarrón) is rugged and steep. To the east of this lies the inland sea Mar Menor, which is separated from the open sea by a narrow strip of land. The seaside resort of La Manga del Mar Menor is located here.

History

Prehistory

Murcia was first settled by pre-Neanderthals about 800,000 years ago. Neanderthal man lived there between about 150,000 and 37,000 years ago. About 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals were gradually displaced by Homo sapiens.

Ancient times

From about 1200 B.C. the Celts from the north settled in the region. The Celts mixed with the local Iberian tribes and from this emerged the Celtiberians. After the arrival of the Celts, Murcia was colonized by Mediterranean peoples, such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans. Contacts were maintained with Phoenician traders (from the 8th century BC) and with the Greeks (from the 6th century BC). The Phoenicians founded trading posts, including in the coastal town of Puerto de Mazarrón. In 237 BC the Carthaginians conquered southeastern Spain. The Phoenician and Greek traders were chased away. In 227 B.C. the Carthaginians founded what is now Cartagena. They called the city Quart Hadasht (New City). The occupation of the Carthaginians did not last long, in 209 BC. Murcia was conquered by the Romans. They called Cartagena Carthago Nova (the New Carthage). Carthago Nova became one of the most important cities in Spain. Beautiful Roman remains can still be admired in the city. The decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. opened the way for new conquerors.

The Middle Ages

After the departure of the Romans in the 5th century, almost all of Spain was occupied by the Visigoths. Murcia was also part of the Visigothic empire. Over time, the Visigothic empire was increasingly undermined by internal strife. This made the Visigoths easy prey for the Moors. The Moors conquered almost all of Spain between 711 and 714. Murcia became part of the Córdoba Caliphate. It was called the Taifa of Murcia , one of the kingdoms of the Caliphate. In 825 the Moors founded the city of Murcia. In 1032, the Caliphate of Córdoba disintegrated into small kingdoms, taifas , after a long civil war . The caliphate was only briefly reunited by the Almoravids (1085-1145) and the Almohads (1163-1226). Subsequently, the caliphate fell apart again, consisting of taifas who were strongly divided among themselves. This made them vulnerable to the Christians who wanted to defeat the Moors. In 1243 the city of Murcia was conquered by the Castilians. In 1258 the Moors were expelled from the entire region and the kingdom of Murcia was founded. The kingdom varied in size according to the period and benefited from the rivalry between Castile and Aragon. At the beginning of the 14th century, the kingdom of Murcia was merged into the kingdom of Castile, although it retained relative autonomy.

The modern era

After the fall of the Moorish empire in 1492, Murcia experienced a period of prosperity. The mining industry around Cartagena and Mazarrón in particular brought wealth. Agriculture and silk production also flourished. At the end of the 16th century, Spain fell into an economic crisis. This crisis struck Murcia at the beginning of the 17th century. The expulsion of the Morisks (Muslims) in 1613 had disastrous consequences for agriculture and silk production. Things improved again in Murcia in the 18th century. There was an increase in population, and agriculture and silk production grew steadily. Cartagena became the most important port city in the Mediterranean.
In 1833 Spain was divided into provinces. The kingdom of Murcia disappeared and the province of Murcia took its place. Murcia became part of a bi-provincial region, which also included the province of Albacete. Murcia was one of the provinces of the Albacete y Murcia region .

The 20th century

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the province of Murcia remained loyal to the republicans. The republicans fought against General Franco’s forces. Cartagena was the headquarters of the Republican Navy. An important event in the Civil War was the Cartagena uprising in 1939. After Franco’s death in 1975, democracy was restored. In 1978, the Regional Council of Murcia was established. This was a pre-autonomy for the province of Murcia. In 1979, the province of Albacete was part of the new Castile-La Mancha. This made Murcia a one-province. In 1982, the province of Murcia was granted autonomy with the official name Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia .

The Murcia region today

The most important industry in the Murcia region is horticulture. Fruit and vegetables are exported to all European countries. Rice from Calasparra and wines from the Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas regions are also important export products. The industrial sector is limited to the Cartagena area. Tourism makes a significant contribution, especially the cruise ships that increasingly dock in Cartagena.

Top locations

Murcia

The city of Murcia is located on both sides of the Segura River, amid fertile plains. This lively university city has a beautiful cathedral, many museums and even a casino.
The Cathedral of Murcia / Source: Supermac1961, Flickr (CC BY-2.0) In the center, north of the River Segura, is the Catedral . In 1394, construction of the cathedral began on the foundations of the old mosque. Most of the construction was completed in 1467. The bell tower was completed in the 18th century, as was the Baroque facade of the cathedral. The interior of the cathedral is largely Gothic. There are a number of side chapels in a semicircle behind the altar. The Capilla de los Vélez is located near the Kooramgang . This chapel was built between 1490 and 1507 in the late Gothic style. It has a beautiful star vault with walls underneath with Renaissance and Mudejar motifs. The 16th-century Capilla de los Junterones (4th right) is decorated in Renaissance style. The semi-dome with integrated oculus is particularly surprising and original. The Sacristy has a dome of which the lower half is in Plateresque style and the upper half in Baroque. The Coro contains 16th-century choir stalls from a Madrid monastery. In the Cathedral Museum you will see an exhibition of Gothic altarpieces, a frieze of a Roman sarcophagus and the third largest monstrance in Spain.
Near the cathedral is the Casino Real , one of the city’s main attractions. The casino from 1847 is not a gambling hall, but a club. The eclectic style of the casino is fully appreciated through a restoration. You enter through an Arabic patio in the style of the royal chambers of the Alhambra. The large ballroom has a shiny parquet floor and is illuminated by five crystal chandeliers. The library is built in English style and has Roman statues in a patio. A few hundred meters west of the casino is the Museo Salzillo . This museum is located in the Iglesia de Jesús and is entirely dedicated to the sculptor Francisco Salzillo (1707-1783). The highlight of the collection are the eight pasos . These statues are carried on platforms through the streets of the city on Good Friday.

Cartagena

There are many remains from antiquity to admire in Cartagena. The city traded with the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Cartagena was then occupied by the Carthaginians and the Romans. The main attraction is the Roman theater with its museum.
The Roman Theater of Cartagena / Source: Alejandra Diego Eguren, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0) Near the port are the Teatro Romano and the Museo del Teatro Romano . The museum is located partly beneath the theater built on a hill. An escalator takes you to corridors dug into the hill. The first corridor, which also runs under the streets, connects two Roman houses. All kinds of Roman utensils and statues are exhibited in these houses. The second corridor also runs partly under the streets and also passes under the old Santa María la Vieja Cathedral . The corridor passes a Roman house with a beautiful floor mosaic. A staircase leads up to the theater, which has been largely restored. The theater was built at the end of the 1st century AD. built. In the 2nd century it fell into disuse and a market was built on top of it.
Near the theater, on the harbor, is the Museo Nacional de Arqueología Subacuática (ARQUA) . This museum is located in a semi-underground building made of metal and glass. It explains the principles, problems and tools of underwater archaeology in a playful, educational and interactive way. In the Mare Hibericum department you can see remains of Phoenician, Greek and Roman shipwrecks. The department also shows Iberian tableware that points to trade between the Greeks and Murcia, and a rich collection of amphorae, vases and plates. The La Navegación Océanica department is dedicated to overseas trade and shipbuilding. The focus is on the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes . The ship sank in 1804 with 500,000 gold and silver pieces on board. These gold and silver pieces were removed from the ship in 2007 and can now be admired in the museum.

Lorca

Lorca is located at the foot of a small mountain range. At the top of it stands the fortress. Lorca has a large territory, but the historic center of the city can be visited on foot. In 2011, the city was hit by a major earthquake that caused extensive material damage.
There are important city monuments around the Plaza de España . One side of the square is dominated by the Ex-Colegiata de San Patricio . This 18th century church is the only church in Spain dedicated to the Irish saint St. Patrick. Also on the square is the ayuntamiento (town hall). This 17th century former prison has a beautiful two-level facade with arches. Near the Plaza de España is the Casa de Guevara . This palace of Juan de Guevara has a beautiful portal with twisted columns and a patio supported by white marble columns. In a few rooms on the top floor you will see various furniture and also a floor of Manises tiles (tiles with all kinds of images). The palace is still in the state in which it was donated in 1988 by a direct descendant of Guevara.
The Fortress of Lorca / Source: Jose Lorca, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) At the top of a small mountain range stands the Fortaleza del Sol . The remains of this fortress are of Moorish origin (9th century), but the two towers were built by the Christians (15th century). The fort was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake. It has since been restored and now houses a hotel. The fortress also has a thematic area. An interesting exhibition depicts the Moorish-Christian past of the fortress. In the 13th century the fort lay between two worlds, the Moorish and the Christian. The fort also has a Jewish section. There is, among other things, a synagogue here. This synagogue is unique because it was not converted into a church after the exile of the Jews in 1492.
The sanctuary of La Vera Cruz / Source: Darabuc~commonswiki, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) Caravaca de la Cruz
Caravaca de la Cruz has a number of old churches and interesting museums. However, the city is best known for the castle in which the sanctuary of La Vera Cruz is located. Here the Holy Cross miraculously appeared .
In 1232, a priest celebrated the Eucharist with a Moorish prince who had imprisoned him. Suddenly, the cross that was missing from the altar miraculously appeared. This miracle converted the monarch and his followers to Christianity. The cross, which many believed to be a part of the True Cross , was subsequently venerated by the people. In 1934 the original cross was stolen. In 1941, the Vatican donated a piece of the True Cross as a replacement . This created the ‘new’ cross of Caravaca.
Caravaca de la Cruz is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain. The main attraction is the Santuario de la Santísima y Vera Cruz . The 15th century castle protects the sanctuary (18th century) in which the Holy Cross was kept for a long time. In the adjacent buildings is the Museo de la Vera Cruz (Museum of the Holy Cross). The collection consists of objects and documents related to the history of the Cross of Caravaca. From the walls of the castle you have a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding area.

Costa Calida

The Costa Cálida (Warm Coast) covers the entire coast of Murcia. The coast borders the Costa Blanca to the north and the Costa de Almería to the south. On the Costa Cálida the sun shines more than 300 days a year.
Satellite image of the Mar Menor / Source: Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, of the NASA Johnson Space Center., Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) Northeast of Cartagena lies the Mar Menor (Little Sea). The Mar Menor is a lagoon that is closed off from the main sea by a beach wall ( La Manga ). When the water is still too cold in the Mediterranean in winter, you can often swim in the Mar Menor. This zone is also ideal for sailors, surfers and water skiers. The seaside resort of La Manga del Mar Menor , located on La Manga, is a kilometer-long chain of apartment complexes. Another important seaside resort is Santiago de la Ribera , located on the western shore of the Mar Menor.
The southeast of the Costa Cálida is called the Golfo de Mazarrón . The coast of the Golfo de Mazarrón is rugged and has steep cliffs. Nevertheless, you will find a number of popular seaside resorts and beautiful beaches. There are small beaches between Cabo de Palos and Cabo Tiñoso . There are a few beautiful beaches near Puerto de Mazarrón . The most beautiful beach in this seaside resort is Bolnuevo Beach . Here the wind has eroded the soft rocks into strange shapes. The seaside resort of Águilas , on the border with Andalusia, marks the southernmost point of the coast. Águilas has many hotels and apartments, but also beautiful sandy beaches.
The rice fields of Calasparra, on the Segura River / Source: Bobnienhuis, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Food and drink

Murcia is located between the regions of Valencia and Andalusia, and between the sea and the mountains. As a result, Murcia’s cuisine has created its own specialties. Thanks to the huertas (fertile plains), the region is one of the largest producers of fruit and vegetables in Europe. This is of course also reflected in the regional dishes. Murcia’s cuisine has a strong Mediterranean character. Meat dishes are popular in the mountainous interior. Along the coast you can enjoy what the Mediterranean Sea produces. Murcia is also known for its good wines and the region’s rice is among the best in Spain.
A classic main course from the Murcia region is olla gitana (gypsy cooking pot) containing chickpeas, string beans, peppers, tomatoes, pears, peppers and potatoes. Another regional specialty is caldero Murciano (fisherman’s stew with kingfish (or chicken), scorpionfish, peppers, rice, saffron and garlic).
Murcia has a number of products with the designation DO (Denominacíon de Origen). The DO designation guarantees the origin and quality of a product. The products marked DO include rice and wine. A rice with the designation DO comes from the town of Calasparra. Here, the arroz Calasparra is grown along the Segura River . It is one of the three types of Spanish rice that may bear the DO designation.
The wines from Murcia are not inferior to other good Spanish wines. All wine areas in the region have the DO designation. The wine regions of Murcia are Bullas , Jumilla and Yecla . All these wine regions produce quality red wines, white wines and rosés. Bullas mainly produces young, fruity red wines. Jumilla mainly produces concentrated and sometimes sweet red wines . The white wines are dry or sweet. Yecla produces wines with an excellent price-quality ratio . The wine region is best known for its heavy red wines, with an alcohol content of 16 percent and sometimes more.

Fiestas in the Murcia region

Many fiestas in the Murcia region are based on the Catholic faith. This is especially evident during Semana Santa (Holy Week). During Semana Santa, processions are held in Murcia, Cartagena and Lorca, among others. The most impressive procession takes place in Murcia. Another expression of Catholicism is commemorating a miracle. This happens in Caravaca de la Cruz. The miracle of the Holy Cross is commemorated here every year.

Semana Santa in Murcia and the Fiestas de Primavera in Murcia

In the week before Easter, solemn processions take place in the city of Murcia. The main participants are nazarenos , purple-clad penitents with pointed hoods. They carry the pasos (statues) of various sculptors through the streets of the city. On Maundy Thursday, a subdued procession takes place around the cathedral. The most important day is Good Friday. Then the statues of the sculptor Salzillo are carried through the streets of the city. The images are placed on platforms and appear lifelike. There are various groups of statues that show
, among other things, The Last Supper and the Prayer in Gethsemane . The Fiestas de Primavera start in the week after Semana Santa . During these Spring Festivals there are many festive activities, such as concerts and parades with floats. The highlight of the Spring Festival is the Burial of the Sardine , which symbolizes the end of Lent. After this there is the Bando de la Huerta , where Murcians in traditional clothing enjoy culinary specialties.
The Monument to the Horses and the Wine / Source: Rafael Pi Belda, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0) Fiestas de la Santísima y Vera Cruz (Festivities of the Most Holy and Vera Cruz)
During the Vera Cruz Festivities, the miracle becomes of the Holy Cross commemorated. The festivities take place from May 1 to 5 in Caravaca de la Cruz. The Vera Cruz festivities consist mainly of two parts: the Race of the Wine Horses and the festivities of the Moors and Christians .
On May 1, flowers are laid at the sanctuary of Caravaca. The flowers are placed in such a way that they form one large cross. Horse racing takes place later in the day, which is a preview of the next day’s race.
On May 2, a mass is held in the morning to commemorate the miracle of the Holy Cross in 1232. The highlight of the day is the Race of the Wine Horses . This race commemorates how a Moorish attack was repelled by baptizing the Cross in wine. The horses of the Christians were loaded with filled wineskins and by drinking the wine they regained their strength. Later in the day, mock battles take place at the fort between ‘Moors’ and ‘Christians’. At the end of the day, the Holy Cross will be removed from the sanctuary. It will then be carried through the city in solemn processions for the remaining three days.
The next day, May 3, is the day of the Most Holy Cross . The day starts with a mass followed by a parade of ‘Moors’ and ‘Christians’. This is followed by a procession with the Holy Cross . A mass is also held in memory of a miracle that took place in 1384. The rivers in Murcia were then blessed by the Holy Cross , ending a plague of locusts.
On May 4 and 5, the day starts with a mass, and there are also parades and processions. On May 5, the Holy Cross returns to the sanctuary and the festivities conclude with fireworks shows.
Murcia Airport / Source: Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.0)

Transport

There are no direct flights to Murcia from the Netherlands. Murcia airport can be reached from Schiphol, Rotterdam and Eindhoven with a maximum of 2 stopovers in a maximum of 33 hours. Murcia airport can be reached directly from Brussels and Antwerp, with a flight time of more than 2.5 hours. The Región de Murcia International Airport is located 26 km south of the center of Murcia. Buses run from the airport to the center of Murcia. Of course you can also take a taxi and if you have arranged a rental car you can drive to Murcia via the RM-16 and A-30 highways.
The most important places in the region can be reached by train. From the city of Murcia, RENFE trains run to Cartagena, Lorca and Águilas. The Valencia region is also easily accessible by train. The TALGO intercity trains run from the city of Murcia to the city of Valencia, via Alicante.
Many places in the Murcia region can also be reached by bus. The following places have a bus station (as of 2018): Murcia, Cartagena, Lorca, Santiago de la Ribera and Águilas.
Most places in Murcia are also easily accessible by car. The AP7 motorway runs along the coast. This runs from the Mar Menor to Andalusia, via Cartagena, Mazarrón and Águilas. THE AP7 also connects the airport with Murcia. The RM16 motorway runs between Murcia and Cartagena. The most important highway inland is the A7. This runs from the Valencia region to Andalusia, via the city of Murcia and Lorca. Caravaca de la Cruz can be reached from the city of Murcia by the RM15 highway. The other places in the region can be reached by main roads, secondary roads and tourist routes.

read more

  • Extremadura, the most remote region of Spain
  • Castile-León, the largest region in Spain
  • The autonomous region of Madrid, more than the Spanish capital
  • Castile-La Mancha, the region of (building) art and architecture
  • Aragon, the authentic and undiscovered region of Spain