In early April we headed down to our neighbouring province of Murcia to enjoy the spring festival in the capital city Murcia. The city was alive with music and people dressed for the parades that are the centrepiece of the festivities. The old town provided a beautiful backdrop with its squares, lanes and magnificent buildings lending an atmosphere of casual elegance to the occasionally somewhat frantic celebrations. Seeing throngs of young people “dressed” for brazilian carnival sambering their way through tight medieval spanish alleyways is not a sight easily forgotten!
We took the opportunity to slip into Murcia’s cathedral for a little peace and quiet and were rewarded with unexpected marvels.
The cathedral of Murcia traces its history back to the great mosque or Alamia that was the centre of muslim worship in the city when it was capital of the powerful and highly cultured mediaeval muslim kingdom of Murcia. When the city was conquered by christian forces in 1266 the great mosque was converted into a church consecrated to the Virgin Mary. The current building was started in 1385 and completed in 1467. Since completion however the cathedral has undergone alteration resulting in an extraordinary hybrid that is mostly a spectacular baroque exterior combined with a largely untouched late gothic interior.
It is the playful and frankly theatrical exterior that most visitors first notice, in particular the main facade on Plaza del Cardenal Belluga is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of baroque in Spain. The real architectural gems however are within. The cathedral largely preserves its late gothic interiors including rare metal work screens on many of its 23 side chapels. The most impressive part of the cathedral is the chapel of Los Velez completed in 1507. This was an extension to the main building and is almost octagonal in form. The quality of the stonework and carving is exceptional both on the exterior and interior surfaces. The style is late gothic Spanish Plateresque but its execution is spectacular and probably the most impressive we have yet seen in Spain. The design includes recognisably gothic elements as well as humanist and classical motifs in a building that shows the transition from medieval to renaissance styles. The ceiling is formed by a ten pointed star vault lit by lantern windows which stream soft light down to the interior stone box of the body of the chapel. The chapel was also a statement of aristocratic power and prestige by the Chacons Fajardo family; the striking carved stone chain encircling the entire exterior of the chapel building is a stark symbol of power and control that seems to have little Christian content!
The chapel was declared a national historical monument as early as 1928.
The cathedral also includes other side chapels of equal importance. Of particular note is the Junterones Chapel of 1525. This little gem of a space is a perfect renaissance design showing the full transition from the gothic style of Velez Chapel only 20 years earlier. The Junterones Chapel is particularly notable for the wonderful vaulted ceiling over the altar space which is entirely encrusted with renaissance classical and pagan motifs. Again, the quality of the workmanship is exceptional.
We strongly recommend a visit to the Cathedral of Murcia which contains real architectural marvels that astonish just as they did when they were constructed several centuries ago; we believe it to be one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain.
Our visit to Murcia wasn’t entirely cultural and we included a little shopping in the excellent shops that line the narrow alleyways of the old town, purchasing shoes by southern spanish companies. Lunch was at a recently opened restaurant serving a fresh and inspiring menu de dia specially planned for the festival.
Afterwards we walked off lunch with a stroll through the delightful streets around the Plaza de Santo Domingo and Plaza Julian Romea which are dotted with more historic buildings.
The city of Murcia never disappoints and delivers culture, shopping and cuisine of a high standard, that is perhaps not as well known as it deserves to be.
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