From the Malecon to the Auritorium
The Malecon footbridge, work of Manterola, represents a lighthouse on a quay. It crosses the river from the Plano de San Francisco to the Plaza de la Ciencia, which takes its name from the Science and Water Museum, situated in one of the huge cistens which were used to hold the city´s water supplies; the museum specializies in displays to do with water, the solar system and interactive exhibits aimed at the young. There is a children´s planetarium and there are temporary themed exhibitions. Near the museum are the walls of the old Artillery Barracks, which can be reached down the Calle Cartagena. Behind the guardroom and the amin gateway is a magnificent parade ground, surrounded by four three- storey buildings and shady gardens; the whole area is due to be made over to the city, with cultural, entertainment and sports facilities to be set up.
Calle Caballero run as far as the Avenida de Floridablanca, and from there to the Gonzalez Conde square, formerly known as the Half Moon, it is only a few steps. Although there is no evidence to support it, local historians believe that the Alhariella mosque and then the Hermitage of San Benito originally stood on the site of the church of El Carmen. It is true that the Carmelite friars established themselves in the vicinity in 1586. Rebuilt on several occasions, work on the church was begun in 1721 under the orders of the Carmelite architect Jose Hover. Two towers flank the main door, and inside is the venerated carving of the Inmaculate Conception by Salzillo and the Christ of the Sacred Blood, work of Nicolas de Bussy, which stands in the Museum of the Sacred Blood where we can admire the wood carvings belonging to the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, carried out by Roque López, Nicolás de Bussy, González Moreno, Dorado, Hernández Navarro and Sánchez Lozano.
The El Carmen quarter grew up from the hamlet of San Benito, lying on the right bank of the River Segura, near the Carmelite and Capuchin convents. The economic growth which took place towards the middle of the 18th century, which brought the paving and lighting of the streets, the building of the highroad to El Pal mar, the Reguerón flood prevention channel and the Puente Viejo, 1740, encouraged citizens to move over from the other bank. This way the time when the leafy avenues were laid out, with fairs and markets held in their shade. Diáz Cassou recalled that in the winter of 1787 one of them was set up between the Convents of El Carmen and the Capuchins: it was in the forerunner of the Floridabla gardens, the most beautiful in the city and the first public gardens to be opened in Spain. Recently refurbished, it now displays once more the Moorish philosophy of garden design with flowerbeds in line, the murmur of running water and an avenue of poplars, which recalls the original tree-, lined walks. A rose garden containing 1,400 bushes lends colour and scent, along with many rosemary, broom, jasmines, lavender and myrtle bushes, the “arrayán” of the Moors who gave Murcia its name. There are groves of bamboo, with patches of light and shade, ferns, yellow broom, Sparta grass, rockroses and “ruscos”, a local plant to be found wild in the Espula mountains. Opened in 1848, the garden was named after the Count of Floridablanca, whose statue, the work of Santiago Baglieto, The Matadero gateway that used to stand in the Plaza de la Paja lends importance to the garden. Through it we come to the Marqués de Camachos square, work of the ubiquitous Jaime Bort, who planned it for bullfighting, giving the houses private balconies for the ecclesiastical and municipal authorities. It was opened in 1759 with a bullfight, when the San Benito quarter was composed almost entirely of farmland and garden plots. Now, edged with mulberry trees, it keeps its original shape and the Camachos archway which leads through to the Molinos del Rio Hydraulic Museum, set up in the famous mill with its 24 stones, which in 1808 replaced the former mills known as El Batán and Las Coronas; memories of the water mills which used to dot the surrounding market gardening area are to be found in the millstones and machinery and tools for grinding com. The neighbouring Sala de las Caballerizas surprise us with its handsome dome and stone arches: exhibitions are held from time to time.
Until 1901, when the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was opened, the Puente Viejo, also known as the Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge), only joined the El Carmen quarter to the rest of city. Toribio Martínez de la Vega, the Toen Council´s Master Mason, began work on it in 1718 and within three months the foundations were already laid, but lack of funding meant that work did not conclude until Jaime Bort arrived on the scene in 1740, when the bridge was finally opened. A good view of the city can be had from the Puente Viejo, where an effigy of the Virgin de los Peligros (Virgen of Dangers) watches over her devotees as they cross the bridge from a neoclassical altar piece by Cayetano Ballester. On the evening of Holy Wednesday, as nightfalls, the famous procession known because of the bright colour of the robes of the penitents as “The Reds” leaves the church of El Carmen. The guild was founded in 1411 and is the oldest in Murcia; between 1701 and 1744, because the old wooden bridge was considered unsafe, it left temporality from the church of Santa Eulalia. Locals love to watch the procession as it crosses the Puente Viejo once darkness has fallen: the lifesize carved figures are reflected in the waters with their lamps like bunches of grapes.
But any days is a good day to learn over the balustrades of the Puente Viejo and admire the lovely view: the Malecón, the Manterola footbridge, the Plano de San Francisco, the Glorieta with the City Hall, the former Bishop´s Palace, the Cathedral tower, the former Theological College, the Convalecencia building and the spectacular road and footbridges designed by Santiago Calatrava. All along the river side, downstream, a sort of traffic free “green corridor” has been planned, ideal for strolling under shady eucalyptus, palm trees and jacarandas which line the river banks. On your way you will come upon the modern, welcoming quarters of the city, with their wide avenues and gardens, inviting you to sit and rest a while. Beyond the ultra- modern Hospital road bridge and Jorge Manrique footbridgelies the remarkable silhouette of the Concert hall and Congress complex, rising like the prow of a ship from the riverside, work of the architects García de Paredes and García Pedrosa, and clad in stone from Arabán. Its two main halls hold 1,800 and 500 spectators respectively. It stands on the very edge of the city: beyond nothing is to be seen but the deep green of citrus trees.