The first five days of May see one of Murcia’s best known and loved fiestas take place in Caravaca de la Cruz. All of this is reflected in a superb museum in Caravaca – the Museo de la Fiesta (Museum of the Fiesta), located in Calle de las Monjas, beyond the end of the road in which you find the Tourist Office. You really cannot miss it as it is located in an imposing 16th Century building with a large sign outsided.
Entrance to the museum when we were last there (September 2012) was 4€ per person (3€ for concessions) and this included an audio guide in English to listen to as you walked around.
The tour begins in an upstairs room which deals with the origins of the May Fiesta. The wall panels tell of the miraculous appearance of the True Cross of Caravaca at the mass celebrated by a captive Christian priest, before the Arab King, Abu-Ceyt, in Caravaca on 3 May 1232. Another panel deals with the origin of the spectacular Wine Run and a third concerns the part played by the Bands of Moors and Christians in the Fiesta. It is said, in the descriptive material, that in the 13th Century, when Caravaca was on the frontier of Christian Spain against the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, the town was besieged and the water supply had putrefied. Consequently, several knights rode through the encircling Moors to search for clean supplies. None was to be found – only wine! As a result, wine was put into the skins and the knights returned to Caravaca. Less romantically, it is believed that rivalry among those transporting wine to an annual blessing led, in the 19th Century, to the development of today’s competition racing the horses up the hill to the Castle.
From the first room, you pass on to another which chronicles the daily progress of the Fiesta. Thus, on 1 May, there are flower offerings and a competition to find the best horses. The serious part of the Fiesta, however, begins the following day, 2 May. There is a dawn chorus of bells from the Church of San Salvador, but the “official” start of the Fiesta comes with a mass to celebrate the True Cross of Caravaca and numerous parades of the horses which will later participate in the Wine Run. Moors and Christians follow and their processions come together as they make their way to the castle precincts. If you are in Caravaca at the time, you cannot help bumping into one band of Moors or Christians (or more) as they wander through the streets.
It is the race of the Wine Horses up the hill to the entrance to the castle which has always struck us as a truly remarkable event. The 80 metre course starts at a bend in the road, with around 60 horses participating one by one. Each is decked out in a bright livery from head to tail and has four “handlers” holding on to the sides. If any one of these handlers lets go, then the horse is disqualified. The runs are timed electronically and the fastest take less than 10 seconds. What has also been remarkable when we have been there is the way that crowds throng the narrow road up which the horses run and part to allow them through. It is something, in our view, well worth going to see, although you may want to try and position yourself in a rather less challenging place than many of the locals so you are in no danger from the horses!
There are further processions on 3 May, which also sees a solemn mass. The main event of the day, in the evening, and after an unsuccessful meeting between the Moor and Christian monarchs sees mock battles take place, is the blessing of the water at the Templete in the town. The Templete is a hexagonal baroque construction of the mid-late 18th Century on the site of a former chapel into which the waters from the nearby Fuentes del Marqués flow. The cross is bathed in the waters to bless them amidst a massive crowd. The following day sees the cross taken around the houses of those who are ill in Caravaca and the grand, colourful procession of the Moors and Christians. On 5 May the cross returns home to the grand Church in the castle precincts. The inevitable fireworks follow!
All this (and more) is explained in illustrated panels in the museum, and we hope that this brief description might whet your appetite to go to Caravaca on one of the principal days of the Fiesta, even if you may have to be very careful if you attend the Wine Horse races.
What else is there in the museum?
The next room on the tour concentrates on the Christian bands who participate in the Fiesta, showing their costumes and equipment. If nothing else, it will emphasise to you the care, time and expense lavished by a very large number of people in Caravaca in preparing for, and participating in the great May celebrations. Each group of Christians has two or three costumes to wear at different times during the Fiesta. At one end of the room were the even more richly clothed models of the Christian King and Queen.
Not surprisingly, the next room deals with the Moors in a parallel way. Each of the Moorish groups has its own distinctive costume to wear between 2 and 4 May. There are wall panels in both rooms which show photographs of the processions.
Downstairs toward the end of the tour, there are full size representations of the Wine Horses and their handlers in all their finery. The embroidery, especially on the decorative coverings for the horses, is extremely fine and detailed and note the wine skin which is also shown in the room.
If you wish, you can also see a DVD showing images of the Fiesta, a representation of the appearance of the Caravaca Cross in 1232, as well as scenes from the Wine Run.
The Fiesta is a great time for both townspeople and the hoards of tourists who descend on Caravaca alike. The museum gives you a good feel for it, and its importance, although you really have to be there to savour the full effects. Best of all is to see some of the actual May events and then contemplate the whole thing at greater leisure in the museum!
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 email@example.com. Clive and Rosie’s most recent book, “Exploring Murcia, Days Out” is now available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle Office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 968 433 978.