Every town and village across the Murcia region has its annual fiesta, summer (or other season) fair and patron saint’s day, plus a whole array of religious processions and cultural festivals. Some have grown so much in popularity and renown that they have become events of national and even international acclaim. Here we introduce you to 10 such events that are a must-see for lovers of spectacular local culture and folklore (the dates vary from year to year)…
“Floración” in Cieza
Cieza, capital of the Vega Alta del Segura area, is just a 30-minute drive north of Murcia, and is famous for thousands of hectares of peach trees that come into blossom during March. The “Floración”, as this impressive phenomenon is called, is a term that invokes the charm and beauty of springtime in Murcia.
During the month, Cieza offers visitors extensive cultural activities to celebrate the annual spectacle. Orchards provide the backdrop for numerous walks, guided tours, artisan markets, exhibitions, tapas trails, art and photography workshops, concerts and gastronomic tastings. Many sporting events take place during the month, including wild water rafting on the Segura River.
Whatever time you choose to visit Cieza during March, you will be able to enjoy the town’s culture, cuisine and memorable traditions, but be sure to take some time to stroll among the blanket of soft pink blossoms, taking in the picturesque farmlands and heady aromas that herald the promise of spring.
More info: floraciondecieza.com
When: February to April
Cante de las Minas Flamenco Festival
La Unión, near Cartagena, is where the stage is set every summer for the world’s most prestigious international flamenco festival, the Cante de las Minas. Artists from around the world, from the most famous household names to the brightest new talent, perform the artistry of authentic flamenco in the three main disciplines of song, dance and guitar.
The public market hall in the old quarter of La Unión is the venue for this major event that represents the history of flamenco in the area’s mining industry.
Flamenco is spectacularly showcased during an event that was inaugurated in 1961 to promote the genre, from its most classical to contemporary, avant-garde and fusion styles. The festival acts as a platform for new upcoming artists, as well as presenting the historic roots of La Unión’s mining traditions over the past 150 years, traditions that had been in danger of disappearing completely.
The festival includes a competition, with the participation of young artists who have qualified during several months of pre-competition stages. The longest-running category is for song performance, in which singers compete for the coveted first prize – the gold “Miner’s Lamp”. The second competition is “El Toque”, for guitar playing, in which the best of the emerging talent compete for the “Bordón Minero” trophy. The dance competition is the latest addition, completing the three aspects of flamenco. During the festival, there are exhibitions, wine tastings, projections, flamenco soirées, literary presentations, poetry recitals and flamenco workshops.
Tickets are available at the theatre box office on the day of the show, at the tourist office in La Unión, or online if you would like to purchase in advance.
More info: festivalcantedelasminas.org
Contact details: Tel. +34 656 989 843 / +34 968 541 792
February is carnival month in Spain and every locality has its own parades of greater or lesser degrees. However, the extravaganza in Águilas is more than deserving of its status as one of the best and most important carnivals in Spain. So much so that the Águilas carnival has been declared an event of “National Tourist Interest”.
In Águilas, the carnival is much more than just a pageant: it is a tradition, a labour of love, a way of life. Large teams of helpers spend the entire year dedicated to painstakingly creating the floats, costumes and accessories. The traditions and skills, handed down from generation to generation, make this carnival one that really needs to be experienced first-hand.
Carnival falls just before Lent, so the dates each year vary; most often it is the second or third week of February (check with the tourist office). The carnival is spread over a week, with at least four major parades that increase in size until the grandest on the last day, followed by a prize-giving ceremony.
When: week before Lent
More info: www.carnavaldeaguilas.org
Festival of Vera Cruz de Caravaca
Caravaca de la Cruz is a mediaeval city in the mountainous region of north-west Murcia and is the administrative capital of the area. Caravaca is the fifth Holy City of Catholic Christianity, together with Santiago de Compostela, Santo Toribio de Liébana, Rome and Jerusalem. The honour was bestowed on the city in recognition of a legendary miracle said to have occurred during Moorish rule in the 13th century.
The Miracle of Caravaca
Arabs and Berbers occupied the territory and ruled for almost 800 years. In about the middle of that period, in 1231, a miracle reportedly occurred in Caravaca de la Cruz, which was at that time ruled by Zeyt-Abuzeyt. A Christian missionary, Don Gínes Pérez Chirinos de Cuenca, had been captured and taken before the Muslim king who, curious about the Christian faith (in particular the celebration of the Last Supper), asked the missionary to demonstrate the procedure.
He reluctantly agreed, and the king ordered the arrangements: an altar draped with a pall cloth, bread and wine, and some candles. However, one important element was missing: the cross. The missionary explained that the presence of a cross was critical to the Eucharist and he could not continue without one. The king pointed to an apparition at the window. From the heavens, two angels appeared carrying a cross, which they placed on the altar and then disappeared.
The priest continued with the Mass, and when he reached the consecration stage the king saw a beautiful baby instead of the bread (Host). He was so amazed that he, and his family, converted to Christianity. Many believe that the cross, delivered by the angels, included a piece of the True Cross, the Vera Cruz.
From 1 to 5 May Caravaca de la Cruz celebrates the festival of the Vera Cruz with three major events: the Running of the Wine Horses, the Moors and Christian re-enactment, and a procession of the True Cross.
Moors and Christians Celebrations
This festival celebrates the religious and cultural struggles between the Moors and Christians, which culminated in the Reconquista (Reconquest) of the region by the Catholic Monarchs.
Caravaca de la Cruz was a defensive stronghold, a village fortified with a military castle and a defensive wall; and numerous battles have been fought in this territory over the centuries for control of the lands.
Moorish and Christian groups represented by Caravaca citizens march in formation each year, uniformed like in mediaeval times and clearly proud to be part of such a rich history. There is no room for grudges or hatred, or anything other than enjoying Caravaca de la Cruz.
Running of the Wine Horses
An old legend refers to a Muslim siege suffered by Caravaca castle in the 13th century. As a result, a group of courageous Templars loaded their horses with wine, the only thing that was safe to drink, climbed the slope of the fortress, broke through the enemy ranks with blood and steel, and penetrated the walls of the castle to distribute the wine among sick and thirsty people.
This celebration is full of colour and tradition. Wine horses take to the streets every 2 May to display their strength and beauty, exalting the union between man and nature. Animals are dressed in an incredible embroidery of gold, silver and precious fabrics, forming a wonderful walking spectacle. The week culminates in a spectacular procession of the True Cross through the streets of Caravaca.
Where: Caravaca de la Cruz
When: 1-5 May
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
Murcia region’s Holy Week offers an irresistible mixture of passion, colour and religious fervor. Experience its spectacular parades and baroque imagery – and the richness of its thrones and the floral profusion of its floats. Each city, town and village celebrates Holy Week in a special way, with various brotherhoods walking through the streets and performing episodes from Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. A centuries-old tradition that remains one of the most anticipated of Spain’s religious celebrations…
Wherever you decide to view the week’s spectacle of processions, you will find emotion, passion and reverence, but if you want to see the largest and most spectacular pageants it is best to head to Cartagena, Lorca, Jumilla, Murcia or Mula, where the processions have been declared of “International Tourist Interest”, reflecting the history and culture of Holy Week.
The exceptional style of Murcia’s Holy Week can be seen in the clothes people wear, a combination of traditional pieces and local garments (such as esparto-grass shoes); and in the penitents with their faces exposed, leading other penitents along their walk.
Where: towns and villages of Murcia region
When: Easter (Semana Santa)
More info: www.semanasantamurcia.com
Entierro de la Sardina (Funeral of the Sardine)
The funeral of the Sardine is an original festival celebrated on the Saturday following the end of Holy Week, and is in essence a spring festival.
The funeral has its roots in old pagan myths in which fire fulfills an essential purifying function; while, at the same time, the carnival returns to rejuvenate the populace after the long solemn Holy Week.
The origin of the celebration dates to the mid-19th century, when a group of students who met in Calle Vidrieros in the San Antolín neighborhood (Murcia) decided to form a funeral procession presided over by a sardine. From then on, the party became an annual event.
During the days leading up to the funeral, Murcia is alive with brass bands and parades awaiting the arrival of the sardine. On Saturday night a colourful parade begins to meander through town, a giant articulated dragon leading the procession of floats dedicated to the gods of Olympus.
After the passing of the floats, with their customary distribution of toys, the final part – the burning of the sardine – takes place next to the Old Bridge. The event is accompanied by a huge fireworks display.
Where: streets and plazas of Murcia
When: first Saturday after end of Easter
More info: www.piccavey.com
La Mar de Músicas Festival
The La Mar de Músicas Festival is held annually in Cartagena – one of the most important events in the sphere of global music.
The festival focuses on folk music from all over the world, transforming the town into a major festive forum. All kinds of art forms are welcomed at this event, with 50 groups and solo artists performing on various stages prepared for the festival. Each year the festival focuses on a specific country, organising conferences, exhibitions and other parallel activities related to different aspects of its culture.
More info: www.lamardemusicas.com
Tel: +34 968 128 813
International Jazz Festival in San Javier
Dating to the end of the 20th century, the International Jazz Festival in San Javier keeps getting bigger each year, featuring well-known performers as well as rising stars of the jazz world.
The event brings together famous jazz acts from around the world, with the town of San Javier – on the shores of the Mar Menor – swinging to their sounds. The festival has been declared of “Regional Tourist Interest”.
Where: San Javier
More info: www.jazz.sanjavier.es
Tel: +34 968 191 588/ +34 968 191 568
Murcia Feria (Fair)
The Feria de Murcia takes place annually at the beginning of September in honour of the city’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Fuensanta. During the fiesta, her statue is carried down from its usual resting place in the Sanctuario de la Fuensanta, in El Valle regional park, to the cathedral in the centre of the city.
The fair has grown over the years and now includes: Huertos del Malecón, which offer traditional food; Gastrovin, where wine can be tasted; a fun fair; and an artisanal market along the Paseo del Malecón.
More info: www.turismodemurcia.es
And in Alicante…
Fogueres de Sant Joan (Bonfires of San Juan)
Across the Murcia border, Alicante’s most important festivity, the Bonfires of San Juan, is synonymous with fire, giant papier-mâché figures, music, parades and an irresistible atmosphere of fun and high spirits all rolled into one. This is the best possible way to celebrate the arrival of summer with its ocean of fireworks, lights and colour, and to experience all the exuberance of this Mediterranean city.
Over several days Alicante city is filled with large papier-mâché and wooden sculptures, fireworks castles, fireworks displays, music and giant bonfires. This vast popular celebration reaches a spectacular peak on the night of 24 June when purifying flames engulf hundreds of sculptures and tinge the sky with orange.
Throughout the year, locals carefully prepare celebrations that completely transform the city’s streets. The sculptures are genuine satirical works of art and are placed at numerous sites all over the city. On the night of San Juan they will be burnt and destroyed in a magical ritual. Make sure you get up close to these colossal monuments wrapped in flames. This is the only way to experience the mystery and enchantment emanating from the bonfires, which are the supreme symbol of the whole celebration.
Where: streets and plazas of Alicante
When: 20-24 June
More info: www.turismosantjoan.es