From la Merced to the Plaza de San Juan
The Calle de la Merced leads into the Plaza de Santo Domingo, bringing a constant toping and froing of students.
At the end is the University, in a convent built by the Brothers of Mercy in 1628- it´s worthwhile popping into the cloister with its two levels of slender arches. Next door is the church of La Merced, enhanced in 1713 with a complex baroque doorway by Jose Balaguer. The rococo church has side chapels and two interesting altarpieces: the main one and another dedicated to the “Virgen de los Remedios”, also known as the “Wry- necked Virgin”, a stone carving from the 16th century. A legend states that it was found floating on the waters of the River Segura. The south side of the church faces the Plaza del Beato Imbernón, lined with bars and taverns: being so near the university means that a whole area of leisure facilities has grown up here where, as soon as twilight falls, thousands of young people collect to stroll, chat and make friends over a glass of local wine and a tapa, while traffic comes to a standstill in this, the old Jewish quarter. Murcia is a hospitable city: witness the development of the Jewish community from Moorish times, with its later protection by the Castillian monarchs. Alfonso X set up a Jewish quarter within the city walls, covering the following streets: Santa Quiteria, Selgas, Sardoy, Mesegueres, Horno, Paco, Victoria, Mariano Vergara, Luisa Aledo, Trinidad, Amores, Sémola, Torreta, Santa Rosalia, Rosario, Lomas and Cigarral. The lay out of these streets has not changed much at all; here they are narrower and more winding, the alleways show that nearby, buried underground, lies a section of Moorish wall, and at every step of our stroll we come upon peaceful corners, wam little squares bathed in the golden light of sunset. By the Saavedra Fajardo market the bells of San Lorenzo ring out, one of the seven parish churches built within the city walls; Ventura Rodríquez designed the present church in 1810.
In the Plaza Balsas we find the Pérez Calvillo mansion (18th century) and further on in Calle Obispo Frutos, the Municipal Art Gallery with its two carved doorways dating from the 17th century and commemorating the silk trade. Within the museum we find paintings by Ribera, Rosales, Orrente, Romero de Torres and Picasso, and by local artists from the renaissance to the latest trends in painting and sculpture.
The Jewish quarter was bounded to the south by the church of Santa Eulalia, or Santa Olalla as it was originally known as, being a popular place of devotion for the Catalans who came to Murcia with Jaime I. A statue to the wood- carver Salzillo looks out over the square where fairs are held to celebrate San Blas´s day and Candlemas; like those of the San Antón district, they are the last remains of the local fairs, present in the memory of the quarter where balconies are decorated and folk hang round their necks a clay replica of that great curer of sore throats, the ever- popular bishop San Blas. On the Saint´s day they wear plumes of red, green and yellow feathers and there is a procession with its band, typical sweetmeats, the smell of smoking fritters, the lucky dip, roundabouts, nuts, dried fruit and the parish priest craving protection for the children’s throats with the aid of two candles held aloft like windmill sails. The Plaza de Santa Eulalia was the site of coaching inns, and the well- earned fame of its bakeries, taverns and inns dates back from those days. Behind the church in the Paseo de Garay both the football stadium and the bull- ring bear the name of a nearby stadium is shortly to be moved outside the city but the bullring has just been refurbished; designed by Justo Millán and opened in 1877, it is considered to be of the largest category, as it is 53 metres in diameter, 18 metres high and has room for 18,000 spectators. Opposite the main gate is Calle San José, leading to the square of the same name, where King Jaime I made camp with his army before reconquering the city from the Moors. There lived the Count of Floridablanca, Carlos III ´s prime minister, whose palace and gardens gave onto the square; the work of Ramón Berenguer, the building has been made over for use as a hotel, and is the prototype of the 18th century Murcian neoclassical mansion. The parish church of San Juan dates back to the times of the Reconquest, but the present building was erected at the end of the 18th century; inside there are carved figures by Roque López, Sánchez Tapia, porcel and Nicolás de Bussy.
Around the square there are restaurants offering international cuisine and typical bars, so the food available is very varied. One is tempted to sit in the open, tasting some of the traditional tapas and just letting time drift by in this peaceful, sunlit square, which can be reached through the archway leading into Calle Ceballos, formerly called Caramajul because it was there that the great water wheel stood which was used to supply water for the Moorish palace.
Crossing an alleyway we come to the Convalecencia, a building inspired by the renaissance opened in 1915 and at present home of the University administrative offices. It stands on the site of the hospital set up by Ribera the Chantry priest in the 18th century to provide help and shelter for sick and convalescent priests. Its windows overlook the river and the tall eucalyptus trees, vestiges of the Ruiz Hidalgo Park, no longer in existence, which was a leafy Garden of Eden with carriage drives and avenues. It used to be the ideal setting for the Battle of Flowers and for livestock shows. Ricardo Codorníu, writer of a guidebook to the park, catalogued 144 species of plants there. On summer nights roses shimmer under the eucalyptus and the garden is cloaked in the incense- like aroma of the sweet- scented shrubs.