Region of Murcia
The autonomous region of Murcia is one of contrasts ÔÇô mountains and plains, beaches and woodlands, semi-arid and irrigated lands. A third of the region is over two thousand feet and the highest mountain is at six and a half thousand feet. There are over one hundred miles of coastline. The one thing that is constant is the sun ÔÇô nearly three thousand hours a year makes this a region that tourists are belatedly catching-on-to. Murcia has a population of just over one million at a density of a hundred a square kilometres (national average is eighty). Its forty five towns are organised into seven districts. The capital city is Murcia.
Murcia's Coastline and beaches
The Costa Calida offers two seas - Mar Menor and the Mediterranean - on one coastline. The Mar Menor was originally an open bay of some 65sq miles that is now virtually enclosed and provides an ideal bathing and water sports sea of no more than seven metres deep.
The coastline ranges from impressive cliffs to inviting beaches of white sand that seem to go on and on, until they meet a fishing village or a cove with mirror-clear waters. One can enjoy all of this in almost three thousand hours of sun a year at an average daytime temperature of 18c.
But the coast is not solely about beaches and water sports; there are protected natural areas such as the salt marshes of San Pedro and the wildlife reserve of Calblanque close to La Manga and the village of Cabo de Palos.
Countryside and wildlife in Murcia
In environmental terms Murcia is halfway between Africa and Europe which helps to explain its variety of landscapes and habitats. In a relatively small area one can pass from mountains to arid, steppe-like, plains, to the forests of the Betis Sierras and then to the rich meadows of the Segura basin and finally to one hundred miles of coastline.
This environmental diversity is faithfully represented in the nineteen specially protected countryside and wildlife areas. The most important ones are ÔÇô Parque Natural de Sierra Espu├▒a, the regional parks of Carrascoy and El Valle, Sierra de Pila, the salt marsh of Don Pedro del Pinatar, Cablanque and Cape Cobo, and Calnegre Point, the Nature Reserve of Sotos, and the riparian forests of Ca├▒averosa.
Activities and sports
The region is an excellent place for activity holidays in the countryside. Throughout the whole length of the coast from Cabo de Palos and Portman, as far as Cartegena the Country park of Calnegre, offers great scope for walking and hiking. Further inland there are interesting routes for walking, horseriding and mountain biking as well as complete packages for the more energetic sports of climbing, caving, rafting, paragliding, hang-gliding and cave-diving. There are also courses on agro-tourism, including the traditional crafts of cheese-making and confectionary.
The Mar Menor offers an ideal location to take-up or to perfect such sports as sailing, canoeing, swimming, diving, water-skiing and similar sports in the many clubs and schools around the sea.
Getting there and about
The main airport of Murcia is at San Javiar, which is especially convenient for the resorts of the Mar Menor and is less than a hour┬┤s drive to Murcia city. International visitors, especially for the north of the region, can also make use of Alicante airport.
The region is well connected especially by the A7 motorway to all Mediterranean resorts and cities and by the N301 to Madrid and beyond. The motorway network is being extended from the A7 to serve the resorts in the south of the region.
Local roads serve the hinterland of the region and have the great attraction of being uncluttered.
Many visitors arrive at the port of Cartegena, either as part of a Mediterranean cruise or as a direct voyage to the region.
Heritage in Murcia
The artistic heritage of Murcia starts with the cave paintings at El Barranco de los Grajos and Serrata in Cieza, El Peliziego in Jumilla and Risca in Moratalla. They were declared by UNESCO in 1998 as of world heritage importance. The Roman inheritance is best seen at the Hermitage of the Encarnacion and the settlement of Cabezo de tio Pio in Archena.
The Moorish castles of Santa Catalina in La Alberca and La Mora in Alhama are well worth a visit, as too is the ancient city Medina Siyasa.
The cathedral of Murcia and the castles of Moratalla, Velez and Lorca are good examples of gothic architecture. Churches of renaissance influence include ÔÇô Magdalena in Cehegin, the Salvador in Caravaca and the Asuncion in Moratalla.
And one must not forget the Iglesias Moriscas, - Santiago in Totana and San Andres in Mazarron.
The baroque period is considered the high water mark of splendour in Murcia. Important churches are those of San Miguel and Santa Eulalia in Murcia, La Asuncion in Molina de Segura and San Salvador in Jumilla. But the masterpiece of this period is the┬ĘImafronte┬Ę of Murcia Cathedral.
Examples of popular architecture include the cubic houses of the coast and the dry-lands homes.
Murcia's festivals, traditions and cooking
The most important festival of the region is that of Santisima y Vera Cruz.(when?). The Easter-Week celebrations in Cartagena, Jumilla, Jorca and Murcia are spectacular. As too is the Patronal of the Purisima Concepcion in Yecla. Other notable festivities are the Tamborada and the many romarios (local pilgrimages), such as San Blas de Santiago de la Ribera(San Javier). And finally, mention must be made of the festivals of the Carthaginians and Romans, and the Moors and Christians.
Murcian dishes depend on the excellent quality of the region┬┤s market garden vegetables, which when added to the meat, especially pork, recipes and the plentiful fish choices one is spoilt for choice. The Romans left the art of fish preserving and seasoning. The Arabs introduced rice and how to cook it with a thousand spices, condiments and aromatic plants.
Given its location it is not surprising that the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Cathaginians all came to Murcia and left their mark. But it fell to the Romans to establish a period of some six hundred years of relative economic prosperity throughout the coastal region.
The Arabs, under Abdelaziz, conquered the army of the Visigoths in 713 at Cartagena and in turn fell under the control of Castile from 1243 onwards, to be eventually expelled in 1492.
Some three hundred years of, seemingly, agricultural anonymity was relieved in the eighteenth century by a period of baroque splendour.
The nineteenth century was a period of crises and droughts.
The twentieth century saw industrial growth (mining) and a transformation of agricultural processes which finally has given the region the necessary economic base to protect its enviable natural heritage and to enable residents and visitors to make sustainable good use of it.