Part 1 – To Christian Times
There has long been human settlement in the area around the City of Murcia. In the first Millennium BC, a native Iberian presence existed and a remarkable temple to a local god has been found and excavated immediately adjacent to the La Luz Visitors’ and Interpretation Centre in the El Valle hills to the south east of the city.
Artifacts, including metal figurines, have been found in the area. Under the Romans, very little of significance to the present city area of Murcia seems to have happened. Likewise, as direct Roman power declined and Spain was invaded by tribes from the north, including the Visigoths, not much appears to have changed insofar as the future city of Murcia is concerned.
Thus, we arrive at the beginning of the Moors’ invasion in 711.
The area of Tudmir, by which the region became known at this time, was undoubtedly very lightly populated and was, of course, some distance from the Moors’ capital of Cordoba, but change was gradually afoot. Throughout the years after the Moors’ arrival, groups of people of Arab origin began slowly to settle, whether from Egypt, Syria or North Africa. With numerous different tribes and groups settling in the area, territorial disputes were inevitable and these flared up in the early 9th Century. It was at this point, that an armed force was sent out from Cordoba to pacify the area. To ensure that the new peace lasted, the Emir, Abd al-Rahman II, caused a new capital to be established on the site of the City of Murcia on Sunday 25th June 825.
Progress, nevertheless, was still slow and instability never far away. It is said that, only with the accession of Abd al-Rahman III in 929, did a period of stability and prosperity ensue. By the end of the 10th Century, the population of Tudmir is believed to have consisted largely of Hispanomuslims, with little left by which to remember the pre-Moorish invasion civilizations. By now, as well, farms were beginning to appear in the huerta (irrigated and cultivated area around the city), although the network of irrigation canals which was to become such a feature of the area, is no earlier than the 11th Century. There is a dam, La Contraparada, thirteen kilometres northwest of the city, at a natural narrowing in the River Segura, which allowed the collection of water and its distribution by two main acequias (canals) – Aljufía and Alquibla – forming the most extensive irrigation network of its era in Spain.
At this time, Murcia remained part of the Caliphate of Cordoba which finally broke up into separate kingdoms, taifas, or emirates, in 1031 giving an impetus to the local aristocracies to seize control and it was now in the mid-11th Century that the first independent Murcian State took shape. It did not last for long. Instability returned, augmented by a Christian advance on al-Andalus which actually saw them take and occupy Aledo for several years. A very few years later, another North African group, the Almoravids, were brought in and quickly restored order, with Murcia becoming just a province of their Empire.
Rivalries soon arose again within and between the Arab groups. There was also increasing pressure from the Christians in the north. Indeed, it was in alliance with the Christians, that the Governor of Valencia, Ibn Mardannis, seized power in 1147, expelling also the Almoravids and initiated one of the most brilliant periods in Murcia City’s history. It was probably at this time that the city was strongly walled, that the fortified palace-castle of Monteagudo was built nearby and other fortifications around the huerta were constructed. It is said that Murcia was the effective capital of al-Andalus and attracted a large population; perhaps 28,000 inhabitants at this time.
Intellectuals were resident in Murcia, such as the mystic Ibn Arabí, regarded as one of the most influential Islamic philosophers, who travelled widely throughout the Middle East, dying in Damascus in 1240, where his tomb is still the site of pilgrimages.
During the time of Ibn Mardannis’ reign, exports of fabric, ceramics and metalwork were sent from Murcia throughout the Mediterranean. To preserve his position, he even reached agreement with neighbouring Christian Kings and raised a mercenary army from their lands to resist another wave of invaders from North Africa.
It was during the time of Arab rule that silk and silkworm cultivation originated in Murcia. From the 11th to the 13th Centuries it is said that there are references to ‘al-guaxi’, a type of material derived from silk, which was widely exported to North Africa and the East. It is suggested that it would probably also have found its way to Europe through merchants from Genoa, Sicily and Pisa who were known to live in the Arrixaca district of Murcia City at the beginning of the 13th Century.
After Ibn Mardannis, things again deteriorated but there was still time for one more short period of splendour for Moorish Murcia before the arrival of the Christian Reconquest.
An individual by the name of Ibn Hud, attracted various dissidents and began to take power over an increasing area. He entered the City of Murcia on 4th August 1228 and by the following year controlled a large area of Southern Spain, excluding only the city of Valencia and a few places around Gibraltar. Murcia flourished, though the inhabitants paid huge taxes to finance the war efforts and by the time Ibn Hud was assassinated by one of his own officials in Almeria in 1238, the situation was very unstable and insecure.
It was, then, perhaps not entirely surprising when the Emir of Murcia sent envoys to Toledo to negotiate a treaty with the Christian Prince Alfonso with the Treaty of Alcaraz resulting in April 1243.
In exchange for certain assurances and military rights, the Castilians permitted the Moors to retain their properties and social systems. Don Alfonso entered the City of Murcia on 1st May 1243. This situation, however, was unsustainable and there was a widespread uprising against the Castilians in 1264. The now King Alfonso X, even had to ask his father-in-law, King Jaimé I of Aragon, for assistance in putting this rebellion down. It was the latter who entered the city in early 1266 after a new treaty with the Moors. However, the main mosque was consecrated as a church contrary to the treaty of ten days’ previously, and many of Murcia’s Moorish inhabitants who were now restricted to a defined part of the city, decided to go south to Granada. Even then, those who left, under the King’s protection, did not fare well – the men were slaughtered at Huércal and the women and children taken into captivity.
Taken from “Exploring Murcia – Murcia City”, 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 Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 646 005 017.