This dynamic university town still show off the mixture of cultures that marked its history. The Baroque buildings are the main points of interest in Murcia. This is the artistic style of its main historical buildings. Religiousness is another of its main characteristics. A feeling that is reflected in the works of the imager Francisco Salzillo.
Plan your trip to Murcia
There are many places to visit in Murcia from both perspectives monumental and cultural. It also has a very impeccable city centre next to the riverbed. It takes two days to visit the city. The most important spots are the Baroque Cathedral of Santa María, the Salzillo Museum and the Archeological Museum. The Fine Arts Museum and some churches are also worth visiting.
History and heritage lovers who plan to stay longer should take the motorway towards Alicante. We recommend to visit some beautiful villages such as Calpe, Altea or Denia.
Origin of the city
The first human settlements date back to the Iberian times. In spite of that, it was not until the period of Muslim rule when the place reached a greater development. It was a very troubled period of time, therefore the Caliphal army took part.
The area was dominated by a feudal regime held by Visigoths descents of Murcia and Alicante. Thus the cora or kingdom of Tudmir (713) was created. Furthermore, population was so diverse and was not very Islamized. There were Christians, muladis or converts to Islam and immigrants of Yemeni origin.
Abd ar-Rahman II founded in 825 or 831 the city of Mursiya, which means ‘the established’. He ordered the construction of a 15 metres height wall and 95 towers. The foundation was followed by a period of peace in which Roman irrigation was extended by the Segura. These systems were perfected by the Arabs. The city thus displaced Orihuela by becoming the political and economic capital of the Cora of Tudmir.
Murcia became independent of the Caliphate in the second half of the 11th century. It was then formed a new kingdom or taifa led by Abu Abd al-Rahman Ibn Tahir. Then it was annexed by the popular king Al-Mutamid from Sevilla. Nevertheless, the management of the city by its vizier Ibn Ammar caused confrontation between the two.
In 1147 Ibn Mardanis, whom because of his cunning was called ‘the woolf king’, became the king of the city of Murcia. He created a prosper kingdom in cultural and economic terms. Moreover, irrigations had even a major development. During 1165 the walls of Murcia preserved the defeated army of the ‘Woolf King’ against their enemies, the Almohads. Despite of the protection, they conquered Murcia again in 1172.
Period of political instability
After the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Muslims of the old territory of Murcia were threatened by Castilians. They had conquered the neighbour territory of Albacete. They also had the pressure of the emir of Granada, who was trying to expand his lands to the east of Murcia.
Coinciding with a period of weakness of the Umayyads, Aben Hud rose up and conquered Murcia in 1228. He also attacked the rest of the Muslim territories of Levante and the south of Al-Andalus. Abed Hud was murdered a decade later. Thus began in 1238 a new period of instability motivated by the absence of leadership among the Muslims.
Expulsion of the Moorish
Finally the Peace of Alcaraz (1243) became the kingdom of Murcia a protectorate of the Castilian king Alfonso X. Shortly after, around 1266 Muslims rose up and king James I of Aragon was obliged to intervene. He repopulated the city with ten thousand of citizens from Aragón and gave it to his son-in-law, the king of Castile. Alfonso X the Wise loved so much that city that he ordered to bury his heart in the major chapel of the cathedral of Murcia.
Murcia supported the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1520. The deportation of the Moorish in Spain was led in 1613 by king Philip III. As a result, one of the most important business of the city, the production of silk, slumped.
To the present day
The years went by until the 18th century when an extraordinary agricultural development took place. It recovered the silk business. Everything culminated in the inauguration of the Real Fábrica de Hilar Sedas a la Piamontesa in 1770. This prosperous economic situation also allowed the development of the arts and urbanism of the city, following the baroque style.
The Segura river that cross the city is popular because of its rise in level. During Modern Ages took place two specially traumatic overflowings.
Plaza La Glorieta.
On the other hand, governors of Murcia during the Peninsular War opposed from the beginning to the french. In 1810 population was sacked and, two years later, the city was occupied by troops from the neighbour country again. Finally, the city was declared capital of the newly created province of Murcia in 1883. A few years later, in 1873, it joined the secessionist attempts of the Canton of Murcia that would be repressed shortly afterwards.
Best places to go in Murcia
Walking through the capital of the vegetable garden in Europe means getting caught by the light, the vegetation, the heat and the smell of orange blossom. It also means immersing in the diversity of cultures that inhabited the area.
The Segura river that cross the city is also crossed by several bridges such as the Puente Viejo or Puente de Piedra. This one holds the beautiful Neoclassical altarpiece of the Virgen de los Peligros (19th century) in one of its sides. From the bridge there is a beautiful panoramic view of the city, with the Botanical Garden on the one side and the facades of the City Council and the Episcopal Palace on the other.
This bridge goes directly to the square Martínez Tornell and the Gran Vía Escultor Salzillo, the focal of the city. It divides the city centre into two parts. From this place, there are two possible ways, facing either side of the Gran Via.
Firstly, take the streets Maestre and Patricio to the square of Cardenal Belluga. This square is surrounded by the cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace and the city council. The northern reddish facade of the Bishop’s Palace (1748-1768) has a churrigueresque courtyard.
Facing the cathedral square is also the modern Edificio Moneo (1998). It is an extension of the city council that has many admirers and detractors who consider that the Baroque square is not the best environment for the location of this building. Next to the modern building is the City Council, with a classic facade.
The Cathedral of Santa María is the most impressive building in the Cardenal Belluga square. After the conquest of James I of Aragon in 1266, the old great mosque turned into Christian episcopal see. The structure was keep until the 14th century. On the 22th January 1394 Bishop Fernando de la Pedrosa laid the foundation stone of the church.
The structure of the cathedral has three naves with a seven-sided apse and a barely marked transept. The chancel also has an ambulatory and apse chapels, which with the ones attached to the side naves make a total of twenty-three. It is a collection of architectural styles, the most important being Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.
Cathedral of Santa María.
The cathedral has several access doors, among them are the lateral facades of the Apostles and the Chains. But the most interesting is the decorated frontispiece (1736-1754). It is oriented to the square of the Cardenal Belluga, where the Puerta del Perdón is. The facade remain us an outdoors altarpiece with two floors and three streets separated by Corinthian columns.
Second highest belfry in Spain
Its belfry with twenty seven bells is also important. It is 93 metres height and 98 if we take in account the weathercock, that is the second highest in Spain after the Giralda of Seville. It shows a mixture of architectural styles. The first two bodies are Renaissances, the third one is Baroque and it is formed by four kiosks called conjuntorios. Meanwhile, the fourth is the belfry body. It is built in a rococo style during the 17th-18th centuries. Lastly, the octogonal finial is made by Ventura Rodríguez with Neoclassical forms.
Belfry of the Cathedral of Santa María.
Interior of the Cathedral
The choir, the sacristy, the chancel and the Chapel of Los Vélez make up the Gothic interior of the Cathedral. In the centre of the main nave is the choir which has a richly carved plateresque choir stalls.
The sacristy, that is located behind the tower, has a square plan. It is covered with a Renaissance vault decorated with flowers and leafs. Its origin is undoubtedly italian since it was inspired by that of San Lorenzo of Florence designed by Brunelleschi. It is preceded by an antesacristy. The chancel holds one of the most curious details. Inside there is a glass case with the heart and the bowels of the king Alfonso X the Wise.
As for the Chapel of Los Velez (1507), it is a jewel of Gothic art and the most important of the chapels. The chapel of Los Velez is situated behind the high altar. Construction works began around 1490 and finished 17 years later by his the first Marquis of Los Vélez. It is a polygonal space with a vegetal and figurative decorative explosion. It is crowned with a ten-pointed star vault. Outside, there are chains that embrace the sides of the polygon.
Chapel of Los Velez | Wikipedia: Andream96
Around the calle de Trapería
In front of the Puerta de las Cadenas is born the pedestrian walkway of Trapería, one of the most emblematic streets. It was made after the reconquest over the Arab souk and there you can see several interesting buildings. Among them it is the Casino with an eclectic facade and an interior with different styles. It has an Arab courtyard inspired by the Royal living rooms of La Alhambra and a Roman-Pompeian courtyard. It also holds a wonderful english library with more than 20,000 books and a Neo-Baroque ballroom, among others.
Interior of the Casino.
But there is still so many things to visit in Murcia. At the end of the Trapería street is the Plaza de Santo Domingo. It was built in 1547 and it is the most loved public space. There are several churches. The church of Santo Domingo (18th century) is one of them. It has a chapel of El Rosario decorated with frescos by Mateo Gilarte in 1655. There is also the Convent Church of Santa Ana, founded in 1490. The best cake shop in Murcia is located there. Nearby is the Casa Cerdá in Neoclassical style.
Another of the buildings it deserves our attention is the Baroque Monastery of Santa Clara La Real. The space is located on the remains of the Islamic houses from the 12th and 13th centuries. It is the first convent in Murcia and it was founded by the Alfonso X the Wise himself. It is not far away the Archeological Museum. Such space exhibits elements of the archeology since Neolithic to Middle Ages.
Other interesting buildings
If you take the Merced street from the square of Santo Domingo, you will reach the Church of La Merced (16th and renovated in the 18th century). Its churrigueresque facade is complemented with an interesting main altarpiece. Next is the University, that was built on one side of the convent cloister.
When visiting Murcia, we cannot forget the Fine Arts Museum. The museum holds Renaissance collections in the first floor. Meanwhile, in the second floor there are works by painters from Murcia of the 18th century such as Zurbarán, Ribera and Murillo. In the third floor are regional paintings from the 19th century.
Fine Arts Museum | Wikipedia: Pedro J Pacheco
The second proposal to visit Murcia begins in the square Martinez Tornell to the other side of the Gran Via. It starts on the banks of the Segura River, towards the Botanical Garden. The space is protected by the jetty, a retaining wall built in the fifteenth century to stop the floods of the Segura. From here it is good to approach the Church of Verónicas (18th century), turned into a venue for temporary exhibitions, and the bustling Market of the same name.
The tour continues along the squares you should visit in Murcia: those of San Pedro, las Flores and Santa Catalina. In the last one, one of the most important, is the Church of Santa Catalina. There is a image of the saint by Salzillo. It is a must see place. There is also the Ramón Goya Museum, that exhibit the works of this famous painter of the 20th century.
A good choice next is to come back towards the Gran Vía through the Platería street and continue along it until its crossroads with the street Acisclo Díaz. In this one is the Church of San Miguel and the Church and Palace of San Esteban, an old school of the Society of Jesus. Today it the seat of the regional government. The former church, with a Plateresque facade and an interior nave with Gothic vaults, is now an exhibition hall.
Acisclo Díaz extends to the Agustinas square, in the Convent of Angustias with several important Baroque images. Furthermore, there is the Museum of the City, which makes a journey through the history, art and ethnography of Murcia. Taking San Andrés street is the Salzillo Museum, where the most interesting works of the Baroque sculptor are brought together. From here, the ideal thing is to stroll around the area to get to know the churches and squares such as that of San Nicolás or the Plaza Mayor.
Salzillo Museum | Wikipedia: Sebasgs
The city of Murcia also has other interesting museums. On the other side of the Segura river, crossing the Puente Viejo, is the Molinos del Río Segura Hydraulics Museum. It has an interesting exhibition of the history and the technique of the water mills since the Middle Ages to the second half of the 20th century. The Science and Water Museum is another important museum in the city. It is an interactive and teaching centre that is pretended to explain the elements and the forces of nature. Lastly, the Museum Confraternity of la Sangre has the sculptural work of famous sculptor from 17th to 20th centuries.