A Fiesta in Murcia

If you’re a curious type, you should most definitely go to the region of Murcia.

Here there is a story around every corner, under every stone and on the tip of the tongue of everyone.

And in Murcia there’s always something going on all year around: music festivals, art exhibitions, theatre, markets and festivities.

Now, I like a good old festival as much as the next person, but what I was about to endure was even more than I had imagined.

Because the astonishing Running of the Wine Horses fiesta I witnessed that takes place in Caravaca De La Cruz each May was really something else.

This is a festival whereby horses are paraded about in amazing embroidered mantles, streets and squares filled with people and if you didn’t know what was going on, you would be constantly pinching yourself thinking you had travelled back into time and stumbled upon an ancient era in a dream.

The myth of the wine horses dates back to the legend of the brave Knights Tempular running up the hill to the Christian residents who were under siege from the Moorish armies camped at the base of the Cuesta.

Their water had been contaminated and they were weak and dying of thirst.

Hearing of their plight, the knights hunted for water but could only find wine so they tied skins of the precious liquid onto the backs of their horses, and ran them up the hill to the residents inside before the moors realised what was happening.

Once inside the Holy Cross of Caravaca was bathed in the wine which miraculously healed the sick and enabled them to continue their fight and expel the invaders.

And so to this day the ritual of the horses pelting up the hill continues. And it was very exciting to have been part of it.

What’s more, the fiesta has turned into a competition, bringing together thousands of people from the surrounding villages to the area to compete.

The horses are held by four runners, the winner completing the course in the shortest time receives no less than six thousand Euros.

But the competition doesn’t stop with just the four runners, there are also prices for the best dressed horse and the ladies of the town slave all year around to create the most elaborate and fancy mantles worn by the horses during the race.

The average cost of these mantles which are heavy and some made of real gold thread, can run to 6000 euros, I was told.

It really was a marvel  to see this craftsmanship so up close and personal that at times I forgot how close I was to the horses, most of whom would jump up with a mixture of fear and excitement as the crowds cheered on.

And the people of Caravaca really do know to party. They start celebrating the day by swigging red wine straight from the bottle as early as 9 in the morning.

It makes our binge drinking culture in England seem rather tame in comparison.

The drinking coincides with the parading of the horses around town through the tiny winding alleys.

Each horse is escorted by a group of friends who have worked together all year around for the common cause of wanting to win the race.

They wear the same uniform to promote their solidarity and support most of them complete with it’s own brass band.

Everyone was cheering, dancing and clapping, whether they are part of the group with the horse, or members of the public watching admirably from the sidelines whether that was in the Plaza del Arco, on the balcony above it, or along a huge weaving route around the town.

So on to the most crucial part, the beginning of the race.

To get the best view of the race, we positioned ourselves up into the basilica, so we could see the horses run up the hill.

It wasn’t until this point that I realised how dangerous this race actually was.

It was hard enough to get the horses to get going up the hill as the speaker announced when they were ready to go, with the added problem of excited crowds taking their time to clear the race path.

This made the horses panic and once that happened it was difficult for the runners to hold them with a lot of them crashing into the crowds and falling flat on their face as they struggled to grasp the horse with the rope.

The run is void if all four runners aren’t still with the horse when it reaches the top. So in those mere few seconds, a whole year’s hard work is undone and the pain of that reality etched all over the runners’ faces.

A total of 60 horses were to run up that hill and each time I waited there with abated breath.

I so wanted to see the runners succeed in their mission to reach the top of the hill, with all four of them in tact with the horse.

But many, thanks to the crowds who refused to clear the path in time, failed to get to the top of the hill in one piece.

It all happened in such a flash that trying to capture the moment on the camera was a tough task.

I watched as many as I could before retiring for food and watching the remaining competition on a big screen in the restaurant I was dining in.

As fascinating as it was, watching the real event and being in the middle of it was truly remarkable.

But you don’t have to wait until May to visit Murcia to take in all the culture and traditions it has to offer.

Murcia is seeped with history, culture, hosts amazing cultural events, fiestas and musical events which virtually take place on a weekly basis.

Situated in south-eastern Spain, the city has a hot semi-arid climate and is known for its mild winters and hot summers. With 300 days of sunshine per year, you can afford to go whenever you fancy.

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