What most travelers probably relate Murcia to would be the enchanting coastline of Costa Calida, but there is more to this southeastern city than its pristine waters and sandy beaches.
Often overlooked and passed over for its glitzier and more cosmopolitan neighbouring cities, Murcia has a traditional charm that is best explored to be appreciated. It is called by many names – “Europe’s orchard” because it is one of the continent’s major producers of fruits, vegetables and flowers, and “University town” because of its large population of students and prominent universities.
Another ancient city, Murcia was founded by the Moors in 825 A.D who named it “Medinat Mursiya.” Its glorious periods were in the 11th century when it attained prosperity through ceramics, silk and paper, and then again in the 18th century with the revival of the silk industry and the consequential building of churches, palaces and monuments. Most of what it now considers its architectural showpieces came from that period.
Exploring Murcia is not difficult to do as most of its interesting sights are within walking distances from each other and there are plenty of well-paved pedestrian areas. But best not to do it in the summer – the climate in Murcia is semi-arid and temperatures can climb to over 40 degrees Celsius.
The city is also known to get over 3000 hours of sunshine each year which is why most locals and visitors head for the beaches. Nevertheless the city holds so many reasons to just stroll around. Its best landmark is the Gothic-style Cathedral of Murcia that towers over the city from where it stands in the Plaza Cardenal Belluga. The cathedral has a 96-meter tower and 25 bells. Also in the square is the 18th century Bishop’s Palace. Nearby is the Glorieta de Espana where more interesting attractions lie – the Convent Church of Santa Ana (where the Sisters of the Enclosed Order sell freshly baked sweets and pastries), the Church of San Miguel, the ayuntamiento (City Hall) and the Almudi Art Palace.
Inspired by its Moorish past is the Casino del XIX in Calle Traperia – its ballroom is lavishly decorated in the neo-Baroque style and boasts of a splendid Moorish patio. The museums are worth visiting too: the Museo Salzillo holds a collection of the works of Murcian sculptor Francisco Salzillo especially those that are used during the annual Holy Week processions, Museo Arqueologico displays artifacts starting from the city’s prehistoric past, and the Museo de la Ciudad gives visitors a thorough history of the city and a glimpse into its rich traditions and heritage. For shopping and dining, locals head out to Traperia and Plateria streets, the Plaza de Flores as well as the Murcian Market-Garden where fresh local produce and seafood are sold.
Traditional festivals are as colorful as in other Spanish cities and towns. Locals celebrate the Holy Week with processions and music. Then there is the Feria de Murcia in September, a fiesta in honor of the Virgin of Fuensanta. A unique festival which only happens in Murcia is the Three Cultures International Festival in May where three of its predominant communities- the Christians, Jews and the Muslims- come together for music, dancing, exhibitions and conferences.