We have visited Bullas on many occasions over the last 10 years and have always found it both welcoming and offering a variety of interesting things to do –
perhaps the craft and artisan market, the Zacatin, held on the first Sunday of the month, the fascinating Wine Museum, or the Museum now to be found in the former house of one of Bullas’ prominent citizens of many years ago, Don Pepe Marsilla, to mention but three.
Today, Bullas is undoubtedly well known for its wine, having obtained its own Denominación de Origen in 1994, but what is the history of this small town in the hilly interior of Murcia? Like so many of the places in this part of the world it is both diversifying and varied.
Known settlement goes back some 5000 years when Neolithic (New Stone Age) people left remains at various places in the locality. Similarly, in the subsequent Bronze Age, there is evidence of the Argaric people, who then dominated the south east of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans, too, left their mark with the most impressive of local remains from Los Cantos showing that its inhabitants did not lack for luxury and comfort – a statue of the God of Wine Bacchus.
When Roman control began to crumble, Bullas and its surrounds almost certainly became a depopulated frontier zone between the Byzantine area centred on Cartagena and the Visigoths, with their major town and bishopric at Begastri, just outside the present Cehegin. When the Moors invaded at the start of the 8th Century, while the two towns of Mula and Begastri are named in the Treaty of Teodmiro of 713, nothing of significance seems to have existed in the area between. Indeed, it was only around the 10th to 12th Centuries that a settlement developed at Bullas during a period of prosperity for the region under the Moors.
On the dominant El Castellar hill to the south of Bullas are the remains of a Moorish castle of the time, with another, small castle in the town itself. In the mid-12th Century, there may have been a collection of houses by this small castle in the Plaza Vieja, together with a mosque and nearby cemetery. Today, the only remains of the castle are stone blocks incorporated in houses in Calle Peseta. In the cellars of some of these houses are remains of the old town walls.
When the Christian Reconquest arrived in the mid-13th Century, Mula was given authority over Bullas, whose Arab population joined an uprising in 1264. Thereafter, Christian settlers came and the Arab population disappeared, some heading to the area around Granada which was still under the Moors’ control. Along with Caravaca and Mula, Bullas then passed under the control of the Knights Templar. If, in 1347, it was decreed that a new castle should be built in Bullas, this regrettably did not foresee the ravages of pestilence which decimated the area so badly, that even in 1593, only three families were recorded as living in Bullas. Things seem to have picked up in the 17th Century with the population recorded as 170 in 1660 despite the ravages of plague and floods in mid-century. From 1444, Bullas had been under the control of Cehegin, but gained its independence in 1689, flourishing to the extent that the population grew to around 3400 by the end of the 18th Century. New buildings were constructed at this time such as the Church, the Town Hall and the Prison, with perhaps no more than 25 families being significant landowners.
The 19th Century, however, seems to have had more than its fair share of setbacks. 1801 saw a major snowfall decimating crops and various epidemics, including dysentery in 1821, followed. In 1855, in less than 6 summer weeks, 120 inhabitants died from cholera and another 163 from the same cause in 1885, when the inhabitants of Mula tried to stop the people of Bullas using the waters of the Rio Mula in consequence. In 1887, chickenpox, cholera and smallpox killed over 400! Incredibly, Bullas still continued to develop and in mid-century was recorded as having 966 houses of two floors, six mills and an olive oil mill, four brandy factories, one tile factory and two inns.
The 20th Century also had its ups and downs. At the beginning of the century, vines were devastated by disease and there was even a revolt against local taxes in 1916-17, but the Caravaca to Murcia railway began construction in 1922, being completed in 1932, although it is now closed and its track a walking and cycling route known as the Via Verde. Bullas even became renowned nationally when one of its sons, Diego Flomesta Moya, was the sole survivor of a battle in Morocco in 1921, but he starved to death when he refused to tell his Moroccan captors the location of the Spanish cannons. He is said to be the only Bullas native who has a street named after him in Murcia City.
In the Spanish Civil War, Bullas was in the Republican zone. Of the 2,000 who were mobilised from the town, about one-tenth failed to return. Subsequently, the town’s population fell by over 1000 between 1935 and 1940 with substantial outmigration thereafter. It was in the 1960’s that economic revival began with a new drinking water and sewerage system established. Since then, the path has been generally upwards, even if the first recorded royal visit in the town’s history, of King Juan Carlos, followed the economic damage caused by heavy snowfall in the 1980’s! Today, agriculture and especially the wine industry, remain very important, but the economy has diversified somewhat with numerous local crafts also in evidence. Even so, in very recent years, Bullas, like many similarly situated places has found it has a battle to retain its population given its size, location and limited industrial base. Thus, while the years between 1981 and 2011 saw a slow but consistent growth from 9,666 to 12,244 inhabitants, the period to 2015 has seen a reversal with a fall to 11,753. However, this in no way detracts from the town’s charm and offering to the visitor and it is well worth a good look.
Part taken from “Exploring Murcia – Bullas”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer. Clive and Rosie have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia which are available, from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. “Exploring Murcia, Days Out” and “Exploring Murcia – Cartagena” are available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 646 005 017