There are two other features in Sierra Espuña which you really must not miss.
Firstly there is the Santuario de Santa Eulalia de Mérida, or La Santa. This is a collection of well signposted buildings centred on an historic church a few miles up the hill into the Sierra Espuña from Totana and well before you reach Aledo, never mind turn off up into the park itself. The whole complex has something of a monastic air to it. It is, however, an extremely attractive area which has been progressively improved over recent years for visitors. The buildings (including some high class accommodation) are set in a picturesque area with squares, gardens and fountains. There is a bar and a restaurant, and even a small tourist information centre. You must also go inside to look at the magnificent church which dates from the late 16th Century, although there was probably an ermita situated there much earlier. Look at the fantastic Moorish style, mudejar ceiling above the nave and the small wooden boat hung there as a thanksgiving by a group of sailors for their deliverance from a storm. Look also at the inscriptions about St Eulalia at the entrance and the fabulous painted murals. The story of Christ is depicted on the wall by the entrance with other religious paintings on the opposite wall. There is an extremely ornate altar with a statue of St Eulalia in a domed area behind. Today, La Santa is still very much a place of pilgrimage for the people of Totana. In early December, the statue of St Eulalia is conveyed in procession from La Santa to Totana, returning in a similar fashion a month later to a celebratory fiesta.
As well as being a place to rest, relax and look around, the complex of La Santa is also a good start point for some walks in the lower Sierra Espuña, including to the village of Aledo. Across the road from La Santa, there is another walk which passes the ornately sculpted Stations of the Cross, en route to a large statue of Christ on a small hill, from which the views of the surrounding countryside are again outstanding.
Secondly, there are the remains of the Snow Houses, or Pozos de la Nieve, which were built, generally above 1300 metres (about 4250 feet), to produce ice for the surrounding towns. Most were built between 1580 and 1700 and, although well past its time, the final extraction of ice took place in August 1926 from one of the Murcia City pozos. Today, there are the remains of more than two dozen pozos which were quite incredible structures with walls up to 1.5 metres thick, an average depth of 6.5 metres and diameter of 8.5 metres. A cupola or dome of brick or stone topped them.
Today, it is difficult to appreciate the efforts required to fill the pozos with snow (it is said that the Sierra Espuña had abundant winter snows especially in the 16th to 18th Centuries) and to transport the ice so created to the surrounding cities. At the beginning of the 18th Century, it is said that over 300 workers were employed to service the seven pozos belonging to Murcia City, with four days required to fill one. Matting separated the layers of ice which formed through compression in the pozos. Subsequently, blocks of ice would be hacked out, wrapped in blankets or sacks and taken by mule each night to the relevant town, where there would be designated points from which it was immediately sold during the June to October period. Often, one third of a load would be lost in transport. Nevertheless, it is said that about 800kg of ice a day was sold in Murcia per day in the mid-17th Century. The ice was a highly prized commodity. While it could be used for cooling drinks etc, it was also widely believed until the mid-19th Century, that it had positive medicinal qualities in its own right.
The remains of the pozos are undoubtedly worth a visit – but do be careful and do not approach the rim too closely of those which are particularly ruinous. They are sheer and very deep! The easiest access is again from the Collado Mangueta car park with one group, including the Pozos de Cartagena a short distance in one direction, and a great collection of buildings and pozos formerly belonging to Murcia City a little further in the other. One of the former group has even been reconstructed in an attempt to show what a complete structure looked like. It is easily recognisable by its white dome. However, we were told that when this dome was rebuilt in the traditional brick, it had to be supported by a metal frame as the skill of building one without had been lost!
Taken from”Exploring Murcia – A Guide to Totana, Alhama de Murcia, Aledo, Pliego and the Sierra Espuña”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer which is available from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies may also be available from the Best Wishes shop in the Camposol urbanización.
© Clive and Rosie Palmer