The 17th Century was not a period of particular prosperity for Murcia and Murcia City itself. Bad harvests, the plague and floods in the middle of the century caused major losses. Add to them locusts and an increase in banditry and you could be forgiven for thinking that there may have been better places to live at the time. Unfortunately, just as it seemed that the 18th Century might bring a change of fortunes, Murcia became embroiled in what was effectively Europe’s first great modern war – the War of Spanish Succession. The war arose, following the death of King Charles II of Spain in 1700, over competing claims to the Spanish throne and a great fear, especially in England, that this could see a uniting of the Spanish and French thrones. On one side were Spain (including its Italian territories) and France, and on the other England, the Low Countries, many of the German states and Austria. The former supported the claims of the Bourbon, Philip, Duke of Anjou, the grandson of King Louis XIV of France to the Spanish throne, and the latter the claims of Archduke Charles, the son of Leopold I, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, who had married a daughter of the former Spanish King Philip IV.

Although the war was very much a European one, for Spain it was also a civil war. Valencia strongly supported the Austro-Hungarian (Hapsburg) side. Murcia, especially when one Luis de Belluga, the Bishop of Cartagena, took charge of military operations and Government in the region, totally supported the Bourbon cause.

The beginning of the war saw the Hapsburg cause in the ascendancy. If the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim on the banks of the River Danube in central Europe is well known, a less remarked event was the taking of Cartagena by Admiral Lake and a British squadron in 1706. If things looked bad for Murcia, the tide began to turn when Belluga flooded the huerta around Murcia City to impede the advance of the Hapsburg troops in the area. The city was saved from being taken in the subsequent Battle del Huerta de las Bombas in September 1706. Even so, Yecla was later sacked by an army of English, Dutch and Portuguese troops. But it was in April of the following year, that the Battle of Almansa, near Albacete, began to bring the war to an end in this part of the world, even if it took until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 for the wider conflict to be settled with the Bourbon, Philip V, confirmed as the new King of Spain but at the cost of many of Spain’s European territories, including Gibraltar.

But what about this Battle of Almansa? It was a bloody battle between an army of British, Dutch and Portuguese troops and the victorious one composed of French and Spanish forces, which saw thousands of dead and captured. It was also a battle in which the British commander triumphed over his French counterpart. Confused? Well, the English side was commanded by Henry, the Duke of Galway (he had earlier temporarily occupied Madrid), who was originally, Henri de Massue, a French nobleman, soldier and diplomat who came to England after the expulsion of the Huguenots from France and entered the service of King William III. However, if a Frenchman leading the English and Hapsburg troops is strange, even more so was the fact that the Spanish and French army was led by Lord Berwick, an Englishman! James Fitzjames, the Duke of Berwick, was the illegitimate son of King James II by Arabella Churchill, who went into exile after his father was deposed from the English throne. Just to make things even more weird, Arabella was the sister of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, the victor at Blenheim.

As a result of all of this, Murcia was to prosper in the 18th Century, with the new Bourbon monarchy rewarding the city with a seventh crown on its coat of arms, and money was available for many new building projects, including the flood defences and walkway of the Malecón. Murcian baroque architecture flourished, including the magnificent facade which now graces the Cathedral. Many of the principal families built new urban houses or palaces. Why not go and look at some of them? You are not short of choice – the Bishop’s Palace in the square in front of the Cathedral, the Palacio de Floridablanca, the Palacio González Campuzano, or the Palacio Vinader are just some of them. The Tourist Office in the square by the Cathedral will be able to give you details of their locations nearby and of other historic buildings, including churches, many of which were also built, or remodelled, in the 18th Century.

Then, of course, this was also the century of that most famous of all Murcian sculptors, Francisco Salzillo, whose work can be seen in many of the city’s churches and in the processions of Easter Week. Even if you are not especially interested in religious sculptures, do visit the Salzillo Museum (Museo Salzillo) by the Plaza San Agustín in the centre of Murcia City. It provides a magnificent insight into the city’s life and development in the 18th Century.

No wonder the 18th Century was seen as a Golden Age for Murcia City as well as being called the century of the Kingdom’s repopulation, with the city having around 70,000 inhabitants by the end of it. It has left a magnificent legacy for the present day which you, too, can enjoy at leisure.

Taken from “Exploring Murcia – Murcia City”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer, which is available, from (price £8.98 plus p&p), or contact Copies may also be available from the Best Wishes bookshop on the Camposol Urbanization.