Calasparra has two museums which we would recommend as worthwhile visiting. The first is The Archaeological Museum, itself housed in a magnificent building known as La Encomienda, which was built as a grain store between 1730 and 1731 for the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who controlled the administration of the Calasparra area until the mid-19th Century.
The public entrance is on the other side of the building from the Calle Mayor, around the corner from the church and through an alleyway into the Plaza de los Templarios. The museum covers Calasparra’s history from prehistoric times to the early Middle Ages, plus a unique geological collection on the top floor.
In the first arched room, there are numerous remains from the Stone Age (Palaeolithic) up to Roman times. Among exhibits found locally and dating from the Middle Palaeolithic are various knife-like tools and scrapers. From Neolithic times there are scrapers, arrow heads, an axe, the tooth of a wild boar (jabali), fragments of pottery, knives, a hand grinder for grain and idols/small figures. The Argars (a civilisation found in this part of Spain in the second millennium BC) have bequeathed vases, a necklace of shells and bones, a large axe and a strikingly large burial pot. From the Iberians, immediately before the Roman invasion, there are weaving weights, bronze buttons, a knife and various parts of lances on show.
The area has rich Roman remains and the museum has a variety of relevant exhibits – a large “dolia” (clay jug), an amphora, various weights, necklace beads, rings, a bronzed jug, votive figures, small metal bells, a fragment of a herringbone (opus spicatum) mosaic floor, and even a medical instrument! There is also a separate case of Roman coins, many from unknown locations but some from near Calasparra and a Roman sundial.
The next floor is given over to a very important part of Calasparra’s heritage – the 12th and 13th Century Arab settlement nearby known as the Villa Vieja. You will see a large “tinaja” (earthenware jar) from the 13th century, as well as one of the most prized finds, a decorated double-handled vase – the jarra esgrafiada – also from that century. Other display cases contain various cooking pots, basins, jugs, plates and crockery and there are also smaller, more personal items such as rings, needles, bone buttons, a jabali tooth (presumably from a necklace), arrow heads, a key, fragments of glass, bronze thimbles, and an iron shovel. At the end of the room there is a display of coins covering the period from the Christian Reconquest (12th Century onwards) as well as some Arab coins from the 9th Century, although these are not from the local area.
The top floor contains something entirely different – a collection of rocks, minerals and fossils. The items displayed in the room are from all over the world though there are some local examples. The first two cases begin from about 550 million years ago with numerous fossils, especially of trilobites. Further cases bring the earth’s story to more recent times, with a whole host of other fossils including a dinosaur (Hadrosaurus) bone, a mammoth bone and a relatively modern horse tooth (only about 2 million years’ old!). Finally, there is a display of a wide variety of mineral samples from Murcia, Spain and around the world.
The Rice Museum, which reflects Calasparra’s international fame for its rice, is our second recommendation. When we visited it in September 2012, entry (as at the Archaeological Museum) cost the princely amount of 1€! The Rice Museum is also housed in an historic building, the Casa Granero, constructed in 1808. It is situated near the top end of the Calle Mayor, on the other side from the Tourist Office, off an entrance area to what would once have been an impressive house and courtyard. Some knowledge of Spanish is useful, as there is virtually nothing in English. Even so, much is purely visual and even if you do not speak Spanish, the visit should nevertheless be thoroughly enjoyable.
The first room contains a variety of large posters about rice growing and harvesting, and about the flora and fauna in this part of the Segura Valley and the surrounding hills. Two main varieties of rice are grown – Bomba (perhaps the most famous) and Balilla. They are not cheap, but this is because of the nature of their cultivation which is said to be totally organic, assisted by the purity of the river water in the area. Other factors are said to help, including the climate, the maintenance of a traditional seed stock and the slow maturation of the grain. We were told that one result of all of this was that there was no need to advertise Calasparra Rice and the entire crop was sold well in advance of it being harvested. Like wines, it has its own “Denominación de Origen”, being the first rice in the world to have such a label (1986). The following room concentrates on gastronomy and the dishes in which rice is used. One large explanatory poster details the host of vitamins it contains. In a third room is an old machine which was used to separate the rice from the chaff. It was made by John Baker Ltd of Wisbech! There are also photographs of what local rice is used for, including the giant arroz con conejo (rabbit) paella which feeds 3000 at Calasparra’s July fiesta.
The top floor exhibits are rather more varied. Among items of old furniture were two cupboards made of apple wood which had proved to be immune through the ages to insect pests, especially woodworm. These had belonged to the Count of Calasparra. One of the cupboards contained items which were more typical of a poorer Calasparran household in the past and the other contents which would have graced richer premises. Among further striking exhibits was a brightly coloured water carrier with four large jars, which would once have been slung over a donkey or mule. The stained glass windows in this part of the building are also worth looking at closely, as each of them depicts a scene relevant to the rice heritage of Calasparra. The corridor to the final display room on the top floor again had numerous examples of old, some restored, furniture, including a very striking walnut chair and a cherry wood display cupboard similar to those in apple wood on the floor below and a host of other antique items.
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. These can be seen at, and obtained from, www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Clive and Rosie’s book, “Exploring Murcia, Days Out” is now available to buy from the CHM/Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books including the follow-up “Exploring Murcia, More Days Out”), or phone Patti on 968 433 978.