Small but perfectly formed! That could be one description of Bullas, a small town of not much over 10,000 people in the north west of Murcia just off the motorway which runs between Murcia City and Caravaca de la Cruz. It is a place well worth visiting. Why?
The landscape around the town can be quite stunning. There are many walks in the surrounding countryside, for which details can be obtained in the remarkably helpful tourist office near the town centre. Especially in the early spring, the blossom on the trees is eye-catching while the Rio Mula boasts a number of places, including old mills, worth seeing along its course near the town.
The town itself, however, has more than enough to occupy a day. True, for a Spanish town, its history is relatively “modern”. Although some prehistoric and Roman remains have been found, the first recorded mention of Bullas in a document was in the mid 13th Century, at a time when it was in the frontier zone between Christian and Moor and regarded as “the gateway to the north west”. Not until 1689 did Bullas become an independent entity (from Cehegín). True, there was a castle built by the Moors in the town, but today you will have to look carefully at some of the houses toward the bottom of Calle Peseta to see remnants of it incorporated in the stonework. Vestiges of the old town walls are still to be found in some of the cellars.
The nearby fascinating Plaza Vieja (Old Square) was the centre of life in old Bullas and it was here that the first election of a municipal corporation took place in 1690. Look at the brightly painted houses around the square, which give a very traditional Spanish feel to the area and the impressive archway, which is traditionally believed to be the site of the entry gate to that long disappeared castle. The Plaza Vieja has another interest for the visitor. Here, on the first Sunday morning of each month is held the “Zacatín”, or craft market, which extends down some of the side streets. Unlike some of the markets you may go to in Spanish towns, this one is truly traditional and focuses on a different theme each month – February is medieval, July woodworking, October wine. There are many different stalls and we have bought wine, bread, cheese and cakes, as well as fossils, during our visits to it!
The main square is just a stone’s throw away and is easily recognisable with the bronze statue of a wine grower in it (more about wine shortly!). Look at the striking, vivid blue painted Casa de Cultura, with its neo-Arab entrance at one side, then, there is the 17th Century Parish Church with its impressive interior. Just inside is an ornate baptismal font which was finally wrested from Cehegín in the late 17th Century, causing much resentment between the two towns and their inhabitants.
All of this is very much an appetiser and there are two jewels in Bullas which no visitor should miss. The House (now museum) of Don Pepe Marsilla is located immediately behind the Parish Church. It has been meticulously restored to recreate life in Bullas at the very beginning of the 20th Century. Its owner at that time was a rich landowner who was twice Mayor of Bullas. There are magnificent tiled floors and painted ceilings, a kitchen with a host of authentic 1900 items, a housekeeper’s bedroom complete with chamber pot, shoes, uniform and sewing machine, and much, much more. It is surprising just how much time you can spend looking around this warren of a building and its garden.
Then, there is wine! In 1994 Bullas was granted its own “Denominación de Origen” and we can certainly attest to the excellence (and usually very reasonable price even for Spain) of the wines produced hereabouts. Today, there is a marvellous wine museum which you can find in the Avenida de Murcia, right next to the Tourist Information Office. The museum is located on the site of an old wine cellar which had an annual wine production exceeding 350,000 litres associated with it. Many original features are retained in the museum, which takes you through wine making generally and in this region, the different types of wine (and glasses and bottles) and traditional equipment. There is even an introductory video in English after a surprising entry into the museum area (you will just have to go to find out what this involves!).
There is a small entry fee for both Don Pepe’s house and the wine museum, but they are splendid value for money. The wine museum opens every day except Mondays but only on a Sunday morning. It closes between 2 and 5pm. Visits to the museum can normally be arranged at the wine museum between Thursdays and Saturdays. However, Don Pepe’s house is also usually open when the Zacatín is held and you can arrange your timed visit at the Tourist Office stall in one corner of the Plaza Vieja.
Why not give Bullas a go? There is much more besides the above. Walk around the town and look at the interesting architecture of the 19th Century houses, visit the emblematic and highly visible Torre del Reloj (clock tower), or take a short drive to see some of the interesting places and features nearby such as the Cristo de Carrascalejo (a shrine which now attracts many visitors and is opposite the fine Palacio de los Marqueses de Pidal with a wine sales hut across the road from it!), or the grand but ruined Casa de la Fuente de la Higuera, also known as the Castle of Don Fabio.
There is a remarkable amount to do and see in this small Spanish town and do remember that the Tourist Information Office will very willingly give you a lot of further information on what is described above and other places and events in and around Bullas. There are also numerous fiestas, as you would expect and many have fascinating legends attached to them. Do beware if you go to Bullas on the Saturday morning before the first Sunday in October (the fiesta for Bullas’ Patron Saint). “La Diana” as it is known sees copious flour and eggs, as well as wine and music, in evidence. You have been warned!
Taken from”Exploring Murcia – Bullas”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer,which is available, price £4.25 (plus p&p) paperback or £10.99 (plus p&p) hardback from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies are also available in the Bullas Wine Museum.
© Clive and Rosie Palmer