The Region of Murcia
The region of Murcia, is located in the southeast of the Spanish mainland. It borders Castile-La Mancha in the north, the region of Valencia in the east, the Mediterranean Sea in the south, and Andalusia in the west. It is a one province Autonomous Community. Murcia is the capital of the region of the same name and is located inland. It is the largest autonomous community of only one province in Spain.
It has been said that in order to known Murcia, it s necessary to know the Huertas (family farming plots), as it is difficult to understand one without the other. The true essence of Murcia province is its rural spirit. The Huerta occupies the plain between two parallel mountain ranges through which the river Segura runs on its way to the sea. The Arabs came up with a complete system of irrigation and they made use of these fertile plains by cultivating fruit trees and vegetables, for which Murcia is most famous today.
Its coast is another major Spanish tourist zone. The Mar Menor is the most beautiful natural wonder on the coast. It is a shallow lagoon or pool, which is the largest of its kind in Spain. The water in the lagoon is very salty and maintains a hot temperature (5ºC above the average Mediterranean temperature).
Visitors are recommended to come to Murcia during April and September. This will allow them to really appreciate the true Murcian culture. The good all year round climate and the extrovert Mediterranean character of the people make the fiestas an unforgettable experience. Easter in Murcia is an explosion of beauty. The processions express the Murcian character, their generosity, their love and their faith. Spectators of the processions are rewarded with confectionaries and sweets, yet another example of the generosity of the people. Spring Feast begins on Easter Sunday and there are a number of fiestas to choose from. However one in particular that has been declared a National Tourist Interest is the “Bando de la Huerta”; visitors enjoy the traditional performances and see the old houses and customs of the Huerta, recreated by the “peñas”. This festival is an explosion of life in which the whole of the city and the Huerta takes part climaxing in the actual day of the Bando. The September Fair or “Romería” is extremely well attended, as well as historical. It commemorates the solemn coronation of the Virgin and is one of the most important holidays in Murcia.
Murcia’s History dates back to 825 when the city was founded It contained an important court of artists and scientists. The remains of buildings, the city’s defensive wall and the irrigation system in the Huerta have all been conserved and are all testimony to its Moorish heritage.
The city of Murcia is an open and dynamic city with a privileged situation in the Mediterranean, making it very attractive for congresses and cultural activities. Historically Murcia could not afford room for open spaces within the city walls; this has resulted in the surrounding area being a wide green belt composed of a succession of gardens, parks and green areas along the river banks. Two of its most attractive nature parks are El Valle Nature Reserve and El Puerto- Carrascoy mountain range.
There are a huge number of tourist attractions in Murcia City Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Science and Water Museum, Ramón Gaya Museum Archeological Museum and the bullfighting museum are just a few of the more educational establishments available. But the singular most renowned is the Salzillo Museum, where the dramatic, life-size wood polychrome works of the prolific eighteenth century Murcian sculptor, Francisco Salzillo, are concentrated.
In terms of surface area the region of Murcia is the ninth largest of the Spanish autonomous communities. The Murcia region lies at the centre of the Spanish Mediterranean coastal arch, between the longitudes 37º 23' - 38º 45'N and the latitudes 0º 39' - 2º 20'W taking as reference the Greenwich Meridian.
Murcia enjoys a yearly average of 2,800 hours of sunshine
The region of Murcia has the typical Mediterranean semi-arid subtropical climate: namely an average annual temperature of 18ºC, with hot summers (registering absolute maximum temperatures of 40ºC) and mild winters (an average temperature of 11ºC in the winter months of December and January).
The number of days per year with clear skies is 120-150, with approximately 2,800 sun-hours per annum. In general rain is scarce throughout the region (approx. 300-350 mm/year), falling mainly in the spring (April) and autumn (October), leaving the summer an eminently dry season. The region of Murcia is characterised by certain climatic differences which may lead to variation in the above-mentioned figures. These variations depend on the orientation and exposure to the dominant winds, the distance from the sea and the configuration of relief. Due to these factors, the temperature differences between the coast and the interior are much more extreme in the winter. On the coast temperatures tend never to fall below 10ºC, whilst inland at higher altitudes they may not exceed 6ºC. The latter areas show a higher average annual rainfall, which reaches 600 mm/yr.
From the geographical point of view, the region of Murcia stands out because of its multiple contrasts: dry vs. irrigated land, plains vs. mountainous areas, coastline vs. interior, vineyards vs. mesetas, factors which can no doubt be attributed to its location in a transitional area between the Sub-Baetic mountain range and the northern Sub-Meseta. Morphologically, the relief of the territory of Murcia falls within the influence of the Baetic cordilleras and shows an alternation between mountainous tracts, valleys and depressions, leading to extreme contrasts of altitude over short distances. Of the total surface area, the majority (approx. 45%) is situated between the altitudes of 200 - 600 metres; 23% is less than 200 metres above sea level, and the remaining 32% lies at altitudes of over 600 metres.
The highest point in the region is the Revolcadores massif (2,027 m), followed by numerous other smaller mountain ranges located in the Centre and North-West of the province, such as El Carche, Sierra Espuña, La Pila, or Ricote, which boast the most important forested areas, with vast areas of pine trees. Special mention must be made of the Altiplano (Jumilla and Yecla), situated to the North-East of the region. It is a high plateau planted with vineyards from whose fruit the area's renowned wines are produced. As we move southwards we meet alternating low cordilleras and valleys through which the Guadalentín and Segura rivers flow, with rich agricultural land and wide fertile coastal plains, the most extensive of which is the Campo de Cartagena.
Murcia has just over 170 km of coastline: coves and small beaches alternate with rocky shores and sheer, craggy cliffs. As a geographical accident of nature we find La Manga, a coastal strip of land which, bar a few connecting channels, or narrows, completely closes off the Mar Menor lagoon from the Mediterranean. The Murcian littoral offers on the one hand unprotected shores with wild seas and on the other small coves with calm, placid waters. Sand-dunes, beaches, salt-water lagoons, mud-flats... the Murcia coastline includes numerous places of unquestionable interest to the naturalist. Not surprisingly many of these have been declared Protected Natural Areas, spots where even in our times you can find autoctonous species of flora and fauna, such as the Sabina mora, an autoctonous tree variety, or the fartet, a tiny, unique species of fish.
A little bit of history
The territory which is today known as the Region of Murcia has been inhabited by man for over 1,500,000 years, and this human presence has been a constant factor in the development of the Murcian landscape since the remotest periods of prehistory. The first evidence of the presence of man dates back to the Neanderthal and Cromagnon periods, whilst archaeological finds become abundant from Neolithic times onwards. Iron age remains begin to speak of a certain level of progress leading to the development of agriculture and the domestication of livestock during the Iberian period and, later, intense commercial activity with the presence of Phoenecian, Greek and Carthaginian settlers in permanent conflict with the autoctonous peoples. Scipio's conquest of the city of Carthago Nova in 209 BC led to the definitive expansion of what had already become an important economic and political centre in the Mediterranean.
The conquest of the region by Rome initiated a period of uninterrupted growth all along the Murcian coast which was to go on for more than 600 years. During this period communications in the area were developed, mining came to be of great importance and the foundations of its future agricultural prosperity were laid. Already at that time, market-garden produce from the valley irrigated by the Segura River (then known as the River Thader) was highly appreciated, as was fish caught on the rich off-shore fishing-grounds. After a prolonged spell of political instability, a consequence of the disintegration of the Roman Empire, a long period of Arab domination began in 713 AD when Abdelaziz defeated Theudemir's Hispano-Visigoth army in Cartagena. The year 825 AD constituted a further historical landmark, when the city of Murcia was officially founded by Abderraman II. These events marked the onset of Murcia's economic prosperity since the Arabs initiated the large-scale exploitation of the Segura river valley, creating a whole complex irrigation system, composed of canals, dams and water-wheels, the forerunner of today's irrigation network, which made it possible to reap the maximum benefit from the vast expanse of fertile land surrounding the city. However, the economic abundance brought to the South of Spain by the Arabs was placed in jeopardy by internal strife, military pressures from the Northern frontier and internal political disorders. The creation of the Taifa kingdoms at the beginning of the eleventh century was the swansong of a territory which would shortly fall - in 1243 - under the vassalage of Castile, and the remains of Andalusia were finally incorporated into this kingdom with the signing of the Granada Peace Treaty in 1492. From this time onwards peace came to the Murcian territories, and they went through a sustained period of economic and demographic growth.
Important projects were undertaken, new guilds were born and cities flourished during the course of the sixteenth century. The XVII century brought a new period of instability, with a succession of epidemics, plagues and prolonged droughts, after which a slow process of recuperation gradually set in thanks to the expansion of the surface area dedicated to agriculture and the liberalization of commerce.
The arrival of the XVIII century hailed a new period of growth where urban splendour - contemporary with the artistic development of the famed Murcian baroque - was accompanied by the completion of the Cathedral in Murcia and the construcción of the Arsenal in Cartagena, evident signs of the civil and military prosperity. With the coming of the XIX century, History's ups and downs brought a new period of crisis to the Region coinciding with a long succession of floods and droughts, and it was only when the second half of the century was well under way that a new relaunching of the economy in the area took place, thanks to a process of industrialization powered mainly by mining wealth derived from its rich ore deposits. However, the depletion of natural resources, the weakness of an economy based mainly on industry funded by foreign capital, together with instability provoked by revolutionary riots and the short-sightedness of commerce unwilling to direct its attention towards external markets, together wove a precarious panorama with which to initiate the XX century.
And in fact we must wait until the end of the decade of the 20's before the region definitively boards the train of progress - with the inevitable parenthesis of the Civil War - giving birth to an industry dedicated to the transformation of agricultural products in sectors such as food-processing, leading to the modernisation of all its agricultural structures. On these bases, the Region has set about its expansion, confidently undertaking the necessary social and economic changes required to enter a Twenty-first Century full of challenges for the future.
Towns and districts
The region of Murcia falls historically and geographically into a number of districts which agglutinate the 45 townships making up this uniprovincial autonomous community, all of which in turn depend on Murcia, the regional capital.
The district of Cartagena contains the townships of: Cartagena, La Unión, Los Alcázares, San Pedro del Pinatar, San Javier, Torre Pacheco, Fuente Álamo and Mazarrón. The district of Lorca is made up of: Lorca -the largest township in Spain in terms of surface area-, Águilas and Puerto Lumbreras. The Lower Guadalentín district includes: Totana, Alhama de Murcia and Librilla. The district of the Middle Segura Valley is made up of: Murcia, Alcantarilla, Beniel, Fortuna, Abanilla and Santomera. The Upper Segura Valley district contains: Abarán, Blanca, Calasparra, Cieza, Archena, Ojós, Ricote, Ulea, Villanueva del Segura, Alguazas, Ceutí, Lorquí, Molina de Segura and Las Torres de Cotillas. The Mula River Valley is made up of the townships of: Albudeite, Campos del Río, Mula and Pliego, whilst the Northwest District contains: Moratalla, Caravaca, Cehegín, Calasparra and Bullas.
As a result of its intense historical tradition, the reiterative superposition of cultures, its strategic location as a Mediterranean enclave and its transitional character as a border territory mid-way between the Meseta and Andalusia, the Murcia Region retains innumerable vestiges of the past, making it an ideal meeting-point where History and tradition have been instilled with new life and placed at the visitor´s disposal. The abundant remains and archaeological sites include rock-paintings in cave-shelters dating back to the Iberian period, the splendour of Roman antiquity with its urbanistic refinement and penchant for the theatrical, Visigothic cities, Arab medinas, Christian castles, watch-towers, churches and temples, civil and military constructions...
This ample historical, artistic, architectural and cultural heritage can be contemplated and admired in a diversity of natural settings, in the actual locations where the monuments themselves were erected, or within the thematic spaces provided by the Region´s complete network of museums. The Region of Murcia is thus likened to a rich printed fabric upon which History has been depicted for our contemplation.
Murcia, capital city of the Autonomous Region, on the banks of the Segura, Cartagena, a port fronting on the Mediterranean, Lorca, the town of a Hundred Coats of Arms, and Caravaca, the Holy Town, will furnish all the reasons a visitor needs to choose them any time of the year for a holiday or just a short stay.
According to the most recent census figures, corresponding to 1st January 2001, the region of Murcia has an official population of 1,190,378 inhabitants. Analysis of the demographic evolution of the region shows a constant increase in population throughout the twentieth century, though it is only after 1976 that the Region begins to register increases above the national average, due mainly to the inversion of earlier migratory tendencies which had converted Murcia into a region from which the population was emigrating in search of opportunities in other parts of Spain or even abroad.
Between the years 1991 and 2001, the population rose by 13.8% in comparison with an average figure of 5.8% for the whole of Spain, according to data supplied by the Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas.
At the present time, the density of population for the year 2001 is 105.2 inhabitants per square kilometre, which is superior to the national average of 81.3. The Region of Murcia has thus today become an area with a net demographic influx, due to the fact that since the 70's the number of immigrants received has been greater than the number of people who have emigrated. Interprovincial exchange occurs betwen Murcia and Alicante, Madrid, Albacete, Barcelona, Valencia and Almería. Special mention must be made of the important increase in the number of foreigners who have chosen to settle in the Region of Murcia as an ideal place to spend their retirement, in privileged surroundings and enjoying an exceptional climate.
Places Of Interest
The Cathedral - A symbol of the city: the ninety- six meter tower with is twenty- five bells, can be seen high above the city from miles around.
The Romea Theatre - It is named after the famous local actor, Julian Romea, as is the square in which it stands, built at the northern end of the Arab city wall.
The Church of “Nuestro Padre Jesus” - The main feature is the set of eight processional floats belonging to the fraternity and the 556 figures of the world- famous Christmas Crib.
The Casino - Dating back to 1847 contains a lovely library, the hidden secrets of the Lady’s Powder Room, a magnificent Moorish patio and a splendid Neo-baroque Ballroom.
The Bishop’s Palace - The Bishop’s Palace Its central courtyard, main staircase, Bishop’s Balcony (known as “El Martillo”) and Palace chapel should be seen.
The Convent Church of Santa Ana - Not only an architectural pleasure but visitors are recommended to sample the delicious freshly - baked cakes which the Sisters of the Enclosed Order sell.
An extension to Murcia's city hall makes a dignified contribution to the town's historic core.
Murcia, according to the nineteenth-century writer Augustus Hare, would, 'from the stagnation of its long existence, be the only place Adam would recognize if he returned to earth'. Founded by the Moors in the ninth century, Murcia evolved as an important trading centre on the south east corner of the Iberian peninsula. Four centuries later it became the regional capital, and during the eighteenth century was extensively rebuilt. Enclosed by mountains, the city still maintains an air of languid tranquillity, far removed from the coastal tourist resorts of the Costa Blanca.
Dominating the streets and plazas of the historic core is the baroque bulk of the city's cathedral. Begun in the fourteenth century and completed in the eighteenth, the cathedral's monumental facade presides imperiously over Plaza Cardenal Belluga in the heart of the city. The wedge-shaped plaza is an important public space, bounded on its south side by the eponymous cardinal's palace and to the north by an unremarkable row of houses. On its western edge, the demolition of an eighteenth century house on a site owned by the city left a glaring gap, dissipating the plaza's intimate sense of enclosure. The loss of the original urban fabric also allowed newer buildings to intrude. Aware of the sensitivity and importance of the site, the municipal authorities decided to give the plaza a new civic focus by constructing an extension to the existing city hall. Following an unsuccessful invited competition between three local architects, Rafael Moneo was commissioned to develop a proposal.
Church and state now face each other across the plaza in a tableau that embodies their historic relationship and influence on the city. Just as the imposing front of the cathedral evokes the power and prestige of the church during the eighteenth century, so Moneo's building is a contemporary manifestation of secular democracy and civic authority. Yet despite being clearly of its time, the new intervention respects and responds to the plaza's existing buildings. The confines of the building's urban surroundings generate the logic for both its internal organization and external expression