Many of Murcia’s towns possess architectural gems and curiosities from relatively modern times. Jumilla in the northeast is no exception and a short walk through the central urban area provides some interesting viewing, especially of the flowering of the town around a century ago.
Undoubtedly the most emblematic building of this era is the Teatro Vico (Vico Theatre) which is to be found on Cánovas de Castillo Street at the eastern edge of the historic core of the town just by the Jardin (Garden) de la Glorieta. It is also the beginning of a tourist route through the town (the “urban route”, details of which you will be able to obtain from the Tourist Office).
The theatre was named after a 19th Century actor, Antonio Vico. It was designed by the famous Murcian architect Justo Millán and, both internally and externally, it is very similar to the Teatro de Romea in Murcia City, though somewhat smaller and with a capacity of just over 500 people. Nevertheless, it would seem more than adequate to cater for a town the size of Jumilla! The theatre opened on 14 August 1883 with a performance of the Spanish Light Opera “La Tormenta”.
On the external facade are representations of some of Spain’s thespians – Lope, Calderón and Quevedo are some of the names we were given. The statement lights just outside the front of the theatre are one more original feature. In the late 1980’s, the theatre was almost totally restored as near as possible to its original state, with Queen Sofia reopening it on 25th April 1991. Further restoration works were completed in 2010. Inside it has an impressive art deco foyer and an interior which was described to us as being of “Italian Style” and is brightly and meticulously decorated. The painted ceiling is quite magnificent and has in fact had little more done to it in the restoration other than cleaning. We were told that it was oil on canvas and is allegorical with angels and muses depicted carrying musical instruments. Around the edges are paintings of Murcian actors.
The stage safety curtain is again painted oil on canvas, representing Italian style muses of the theatre. It is the only one of its kind in Murcia, obviously restored, but, we were told, not greatly so. There are two balconies which encircle the main body of the theatre and a small orchestra pit. The area occupied by the stage, plus that for the scenery backstage, is surprisingly large and airy. If you are able to go inside, take some time to look around the balconies. The forged iron railings are particularly impressive. The upper balcony consists of several rows of wooden benches which encircle the theatre almost at ceiling height. It is quite a vertiginous area! The lower balcony has boxes entered through heavy red velvet curtains, with elegant wood and red material-covered chairs. Boxes also surround the ground floor with entry through very smart black and gold lacquered doors.
If, after viewing the theatre, you walk down Calle de Cánovas del Castillo in the direction of the Archaeological Museum, you will very quickly come across one of Jumilla’s most celebrated modernistic buildings, described as being in Neogothic and Gaudi style. It is a house built in 1911 to the design of a colleague of Gaudi, Juan de Alsina. An imposing iron framed window is in one corner and reproduces plant decorative forms. The forged ironwork was done locally and is attributed to a Jumilla blacksmith by the name of Avelino Gómez.
If you continue to walk down the main street from the Casa Modernista, you very quickly arrive at the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) which is another very impressively fronted building. It hardly falls within the category of a modern building, having been built between 1580 and 1583 as the Church and Hospital of the Holy Spirit (Santi Spiritu), but it is well worth a glance. In the middle of the 19th Century, it was transformed into the Town Hall. Even if, like us, you were in Jumilla at a weekend and unable to penetrate into the building itself, do look at the magnificent iron balcony which was added in 1984 and of local manufacture. Internally, it is said that the building has a courtyard with a wooden balcony, a magnificent internal staircase and an impressive main meeting room (salon de plenos).
A little further still down Calle de Cánovas del Castillo in the direction of the Archaeological Museum, is the Plaza de la Constitución which contains the pleasant public garden, Jardin de las Ranas (Garden of the Frogs) in which there is a fountain with frogs at its base. At the back of the square is a museum, the Museo Municipal “Jerónimo Molina” which covers natural science and ethnography with collections of minerals and fossils and items related to grape cultivation among its contents. The striking blue building at the bottom of the square is the information point for the celebrations of Holy Week (Semana Santa) which are among the oldest in Murcia, dating back to the 15th Century. Interestingly, if you continue further from here up Calle Castellar, you are on the route down which bulls used to run to the Plaza de la Constitución during fiestas. We were told that there were three essential components for fiestas in this part of the world – parades, explosions and bulls!
Today, of course, Jumilla and wine are inextricably linked. Indeed, viticulture in the area can be traced back to Iberian times when cereals, vines and the olive were all known to have been cultivated here. Though viticulture continued in the area in Roman times, it received something of a setback when the Moors occupied the region. Revival began in the Middle Ages, but it was not until the 17th, and principally the 19th Century, that the industry saw major growth. The modern industry is regarded as dating from the mid-20th Century with Jumilla’s Denominación de Origin, dating from 1966.
The predominant grape variety in the area, the distinctive Monastrell, is well adapted to the soils and the normally very dry climate. The numerous days of sun mean that the grape harvests are normally quite early, beginning in September and the resultant wines are less acid. Today, you can visit Jumilla and follow “The Wine Route” which is one of those developed throughout Spain for tourists to become acquainted with the tradition and customs of wine-growing areas, as well as to sample some of the products! There is a choice of formal visits developed through the Town Hall, ranging from a one day visit to two wine cellars (bodegas), to one including an overnight stay with typical local menus as well as visits to the bodegas. Group visits can be arranged, including in English. Alternatively, individual arrangements can be made with a bodega and there are often ad hoc excursions organised by outside organisations or the Town Hall.
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 available to buy from the CHM/Costa Cálida Chronicle office, 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.