1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Murcia (town)

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MURCIA, the capital of the Spanish province of Murcia; on the river Segura, 25 m. W. of the Mediterranean Sea. Pop. (1900), 111,539. Murcia is connected by rail with all parts of Spain, and is an important industrial centre, sixth in respect of population among the cities of the kingdom. It has been an episcopal see since 1291. It is built nearly in the centre of a low-lying fertile plain, known as the huerta or garden of Murcia, which includes the valleys of the Segura and its right-hand tributary the Sangonera, and is surrounded by mountains. Despite the proximity of the sea, the climate is subject to great variations, the summer heat being severe, while frosts are common in winter. The city is built mainly on the left bank of the Segura, which curves north-eastward after receiving the Sangonera below Murcia, and falls into the Mediterranean about 30 m. N.E. A fine stone bridge of two arches gives access to the suburb of San Benito, which contains the bull-ring. As a rule the streets are broad, straight and planted with avenues of trees, but the Calle de Plateria and Calle de la Trapería, which contain many of the principal shops, are more characteristically Spanish, being lined with old-fashioned balconies houses, and so narrow that wheeled traffic is in most parts impossible. In summer these thoroughfares are shaded by awnings. The Malecon, or embankment, is a fine promenade skirting the left bank of the Segura; the river is here crossed by a weir and supplies power, to several silk-mills. The principal square is the Arenál or Plaza de la Constitucioón, planted with orange trees ' and adjoining the Glorieta Park The cathedral, dating from 1388–1467, is the work of many architects; in the main it is late Gothic, but a Renaissance dome and a tower 480 ft. high were added in 1521, while a Corinthian facade was erected in the 18th century. There are some good paintings and fine wood-carving in the interior. Other noteworthy buildings are the colleges of San Fulgencio and San Isidro, the bishops' palace, the hospital of San Juan de Dios, the Moorish Alhondiga, or grain warehouse, the buildings of the municipal and provincial councils and the Contraste. which is adorned with sculptured coats-of-arms, and was originally designed to contain standard weights and measures; it has become a picture-gallery. There are two training schools for teachers, a provincial institute and a museum. Since 1875 the industrial importance of Murcia has steadily increased. Mulberries (for silkworms), oranges and other fruits are largely cultivated in the huerta, and the silk industry, which dates from the period of Moorish rule, is still carried on. Manufactures of woollen, linen and cotton goods, of saltpetre, flour, leather and hats, have been established in more modern times, and Murcia is the chief market for the agricultural produce of a large district. A numerous colony of gipsies has settled in the west of the city.

Murcia was an Iberian town before the Punic Wars, but its name then, and under Roman rule, is not known, though some have tried to identify it with the Roman Vergilia. To the Moors, who took possession early in the 8th century, it was known as Medinat Mursiya. Edrisi described it in the 12th century as populous and strongly fortified. After the fall of the caliphate of Cordova it passed successively under the rule of Almería, Toledo and Seville. In 1172 it was taken by the Almohades, and from 1223 to 1243 it became the capital of an independent kingdom. The Castilians tool; it at the end of this period, when large numbers of immigrants from north-eastern Spain and Provence settled in the town; French and Catalan names are still not uncommon. Moorish princes continued to rule in name over this mixed population, but in 1269 a rising against the suzerain, Alphonso the Wise, led to the final incorporation of Murcia (which then included the present province of Albacete) into the kingdom of Castile. During the War of the Spanish Succession Bishop Luis de Belluga defended the city against the arch ducal army by flooding the huerta. In 1810 and 1812 it was attacked by the French under Marshal Soult. It suffered much from floods in 1651, 1879 and 1907, though the construction of the Malecon has done much to keep the Segura within its own channel. In 1829 many buildings, including the cathedral, were damaged by an earthquake.