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Murcia, Spain

A chain of mountains surrounds the plain which Murcia sits upon, a city of Arab origin whose existence is closely linked to the fertile lands around the river Segura. From among its streets of guilds emerges the tower of the Cathedral, one of the symbols of the city.

Although Murcia has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years, the capital, Murcia, was not founded until 831, when the Emir of Cordoba Abderraman II commissioned a walled city on the banks of the Segura River and turned it into the Caliphate of Murcia.

It was then that the Moorish region of Mursiya started to gain importance, until it became part of the Kingdom of Castile in the 13th century. Today there are many places that speak of its Moorish past. Some important architectural remains are the Almunia Real or the second residence of the Moorish monarchs. They are about five kilometres north of Murcia and many pieces collected there can be seen at the Santa Clara Museum. There are also remains of monuments from the Moorish wall in different parts of the old quarter in Murcia.

The old town is situated next to the Segura River, with historical streets that keep the names of the guilds that used to work there, such as the commercial names of Platería (silversmith's), Trapería (drapers) andVidrieros (glaziers).

In Plaza Cardenal Belluga there are two architectural gems - the Episcopal Palace (18th century), with a Rococo façade and Churrigueresque courtyard; and the Cathedral. The latter, the construction of which began at the end of the 14th century, stands out because different styles are superimposed. For example, the unique Baroque façade is impressive, with rich sculptural details, and next to it is the formidable tower, which is 92 metres high. Inside the Vélez Chapel stands out - a magnificent example of flamboyant Gothic.

There are many examples of Murcian Baroque, with religious buildings such as the Church of La Merced, built in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, the Santa Ana Convent Church, and the Santo Domingo, San Nicolás and San Miguel churches.

Some of the most relevant 19th-century buildings are also worth visiting. The City Hall, the Romea Theatre and the Casino, the latter with a Neoclassical façade and beautiful interior courtyard with Moorish influence.

The neighbourhoods of San Pedro, Santa Catalina and the surrounding area of the Plaza de las Flores offer some of the most picturesque corners of the capital of Murcia. The route round the city can end in the beautifulPaseo del Malecón, which joins up the city with the irrigated region.

Murcia has a broad range of museums and exhibitions. The Cathedral Museum stands out because of a spectacular processional monstrance from Toledo, while the Salzillo Museum has a beautiful collection of processional sculptures by this artist, who is one of the most emblematic of the 18th century. At the Murcia Archaeological Museum we can admire remains of the different cultures that have lived in this land, including the Tesoro de la Finca Pinta treasure, made up of Moorish and Christian coins. The Fine Arts Museum displays works by Giordano and Madrazo, amongst others.Other museums of interest are the Santa Clara Museum, the Museum of the City, the San Juan de Dios Museum, the Science and Water Museum, the Museum of the Water Mills, the Craft Centre and Bullfighting Museum.

Festivities, gastronomy and the surroundings. The Easter week celebrations in Murcia stand out especially amidst the city's the traditional fiestas. The "salzillos" procession, held on Good Friday, is well worth seeing. Also outstanding is the "Entierro de la Sardina"(burial of the sardine) celebration held during the Spring Fiestas. It has the International Tourist Interest designation and includes a parade.

But one of the most deeply-rooted traditions in the capital is probably the"Bando de la Huerta", which has been celebrated every Holy Tuesday for over a century and a half. This celebration exalts regional gastronomy and folklore, with parades, regional costumes, tasting of typical products and reading of verses in panocho (language of the irrigated region of Murcia). Another quite popular festivity is the Virgen de la Fuensanta Pilgrimage, where a procession takes the virgin from the cathedral to the shrine, five kilometres from Murcia.

The gastronomy of Murcia is based on excellent fruit and vegetables that come from the irrigated region. Casseroles and typical dishes are made with these raw materials, such as pisto huertano (fried vegetables, with pepper, onion and tomato), chickpea and Swiss chard stew andzarangollo (courgette, egg and onion). And to accompany our meal, we can choose any of the Murcia wines with Designation of Origin label: Bullas, Yecla and Jumilla.

One of the main tourist attractions in Murcia is the coast, known as the Costa Cálida. The Menor and Mediterranean Sea bathe the 250-kilometre long coast and there are many beaches where you can take part in a wide variety of water sports: sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, water skiing, scuba diving, etc. Águilas and Mazarrón have some of the best seabeds in the country. Their clearness and visibility enable us to discover underwater flora and fauna in a place where is it also common to find remains of sunken ships. Cartagena is another place of tourist interest, where visitors will be able to enjoy the National Submarine Archaeology Museum, as well as the coast and the monuments.

La Manga del Mar Menor is very close to the town of Cartagena and is one of the main tourist destinations on the Costa Cálida coast. This area is unusual because it is a narrow strip of land running for some 24 kilometres (from the village of La Punta del Mojón to that of Cabo de Palos), dividing the great Mar Menor Laguna from the Mediterranean Sea. If you like water sports, here you will find a full range of facilities and services at the Marine Resort, where you can hire equipment, sign up for courses and book accommodation. Furthermore, La Manga del Mar Menor is almost a natural beauty centre in its own right, on account of the excellent therapeutic properties of its renowned marine mud.

Inland there are historical towns such as Caravaca de la Cruz and Lorca. This town is very attractive because of the many Baroque buildings - parish churches, convents, houses with coats of arms and palaces. San Patricio Collegiate Church and Lorca Castle are National Monuments. A few kilometres from this town is the Parador de Puerto Lumbreras, halfway between Levante and Andalusia, an exceptional place to stay if we want to visit these regions.

The province of Murcia has a rich landscape and environment, protected by regional parks. Golden sand beaches, with dunes and unspoilt coves are the places we find in Las Salinas and Arenales of San Pedro del Pinatar, Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas y Peña del Águila, and Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre. The mountain ranges and valleys inland are the main features of the regional parks of Sierra de Carche, Sierra de la Pila, Sierra de Espuña, and Carrascoy y El Valle. These places are the perfect setting to practise sports with a low impact on the environment and to discover more about nature in Murcia.

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