Still stuck here in Cartagena waiting for a new switch and for a diesel mechanic to finish replacing our corroded exhaust pipe, so we decided another little excursion was in order. This time we just took a day trip on the bus to Murcia, the capital city of the Murcia region of southern Spain. After a pleasant hour cruising through farmlands and over the mountains, we arrived just a short stroll from the centre of town for a late Spanish breakfast of coffee and tostas. Like everywhere in Spain, you are rarely more than 100 metres from a café, bar or restaurant, which are hard to distinguish because they all serve coffee, beer and food at any time.
First off we headed for the Salzillo Museum, as it is only open in the morning. Francisco Salzillo was a Spanish sculptor who lived and worked in Murcia (then a kingdom) through most of the 18th century. He trained as a painter, but later took up sculpture in clay and wood. He specialised in church effigies, particularly the icons that are carried by worshippers around the old towns on saints’ days and at Easter. Many of these are collected here at the museum, which is also a chapel. The first display we come upon is an extraordinary Nativity scene which is also a vignette of Spanish village life. 556 figures include the usual shepherds, wise men with entourage and holy family with angels, oxen and donkeys but also the local markets with sellers of every kind of produce, bakery, fishermen, winemakers, pottery, butcher … all beautifully painted and crafted in incredible detail. You could spend hours looking at it, both for its beauty and the record it provides of the clothing and customs of times past.
Moving on through the display, the life size figures of John the Evangelist and St Veronica with the shroud of Christ appear, looking as if they could step down off their pedestals any moment. Several of the figures on display are dressed in sumptuous silk clothing, a product for which the local Murcian mills were famous. Even these superb figures can’t prepare you for the chapel, however, which contains full size effigies of the betrayal and crucifixion designed to be carried by penitents during Easter week. With vivid costume, and powerfully evocative gestures and facial expressions, Salzillo has captured all the drama and emotion of the story. In times when few were literate, these tableaux would have served to educate/ indoctrinate the populace with the correct ideas and attitudes. It is surely no accident that all the bad guys – supposedly Roman soldiers - look decidedly Moorish.
|St Peter takes down a guard|
The museum is designed to allow you close views of the figures, so you can see the details such as eyelashes and lacework. Salzillo’s clay ‘sketches’ are on display, along with drawings, embroidered church vestments and interesting things like the glass and precious stone eyes used in the sculptures. Well worth a visit if you’re near Murcia.
Also worth seeing is the cathedral, its façade an amazing baroque confection of saints, demons and symbolic figures; and near it the Palacio Episcopal. The cathedral square is surrounded by pleasant shopping and café areas, with the Placa de Flores and its restaurants close by. We walked down to the river Segura with its avenue of trees and variety of bridges, then back to the station via some of the city’s public gardens. Well worth spending a day in town.