Murcia is the seventh largest city in Spain with a population of around 450,000. It’s the capital of Región de Murcia, Spain’s smallest autonomous region, which is squashed between the Med to the east and the larger regions of Valencia to the north, Castile La Mancha to the west and Andalucia to the south.
I’ve been a couple of times; for two nights in July 2012 and again in August 2018 when I stayed for five nights, so I’ve had time to check a few good places out. This post is about stuff to see, the next is about the food scene. You’ll find everywhere I mention on my Google map.
The political and spiritual centre of town is Plaza del Cardenal Belluga. On the eastern side is the impressive baroque facade of the Catedral de Murcia, built in 1394 on the site of an 11th century mosque.
At ninety metres, the bell tower is the tallest campanile in Spain. As usual, my favourite features are the gargoyles studding the side walls. Click on the photos for a closer look.
The cathedral museum and the guided tour of the bell tower are worthwhile apparently but I left them for another time.
On the southern side of the square is the rococo facade of the Palacio Episcopal, built in the mid-18th-century. I didn’t know at the time but you’re allowed to wander inside for a look at the courtyard and staircase.
It has a second facade around the back in Plaza De La Glorieta De España which was the former central square.
Other impressive historical buildings can be in and around the squares.
Facing the cathedral on the west side of Plaza del Cardenal Belluga is the controversial Edificio Moneo which houses the Ayuntamiento de Murcia. I quite like its severe simplicity but I can understand how some people might feel this isn’t the best location for it.
My favourite building however is the Real Casino de Murcia www.casinomurcia.com, at 18 Calle Trapería. Originally conceived in 1847 as an elite social club, it still has a private membership, although the building is now open to tourists. Construction began in 1853 and was completed in 1902, and the building shows a mix of architectural styles. It was declared a national historical-artistic monument in 1983 and after the completion of restoration works in 2009, King Juan Carlos I of Spain conferred the title of Real upon it.
The facade, by Pedro Cerdán, dates from 1902. It’s designed in an eclectic style with modernist and historicist influences.
The most eye-opening room is the ticket hall, the Patio Árabe, designed by Manuel Castaños. The Neo-Mudéjar decoration (or more precisely Neo-Nasrid), takes inspiration from the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville, uses more than 20,000 sheets of gold leaf. It’s worth watching this video to get the full impression.
The Arabic inscription that runs around the room reads “Nothing greater than Allah”.
A glazed east-west gallery leads from the patio and adjoins a second north-south gallery at the end. Various rooms with different functions lead off from the galleries.
The first room on the left is the beautiful English Library, housing over 20,000 volumes. I love the iron flamingos supporting the upper walkway.
A lot of the decoration in the adjoining Tocador (ladies’ powder room) is a bit too saccharine for my taste. The startling ceiling paintings depict the goddess Selene having a bad hair day.
Across the way is a magnificent neo-baroque Ballroom, dating from 1875. The five glittering chandeliers, featuring 1800 pieces of Bacarat crystal, were made in Paris by Chalier and Jean in 1886. Video here.
The ceiling is decorated with allegories of the arts and portraits of famous Murcians.
Many other sculptures and painting are displayed in the other rooms and galleries, including a replica of La Dama de Elche (see also previous post).
Entrance was 5€ in 2018 and they are open for visits from 10.30 to 19.00. I’d be interested to check out the restaurant next time.
Elsewhere in town, another building I quite like is the Teatro Romea www.teatroromea.es in Plaza Julián Romea, which is one of the most famous theatres in Spain.
The neoclassical facade has modernist details such as the canopy and the wrought iron gates.
Another eyeopener is the Mannerist Palacio Almodóvar on Calle Trapería where it meets Plaza Santo Domingo.
The figures above the door aren’t in fact wookies but rather heraldic motifs known as tenantes ( in this case ‘savages’ or ‘wild men‘) which served as warnings to thieves and anyone else with the intention of violating the buildings they guarded.
Various other bits and pieces caught my eye while walking around.
Some rather unexciting remains of the Arab city walls can be seen over in Calle Verónicas but otherwise I’m not aware of any viewable archaeology in town.
The city market, the Mercado de Abastos de Veronicas, is also located here but I didn’t get time to check it out.
Which is a shame because for me the best thing about Murcia is the food…