Lorca, located on the southern slope of the Sierra del Cano mountain in the region of Murcia in southeast Spain, can well be described with one word: dramatic. Not only does this refer to the abundance of medieval and baroque monuments that grace the city, but also to the violent past, which has seen fierce battles between Visigoths and Moors and other prior civilizations, leading to Lorca also being called City of 100 Coats of Arms.
Also, Lorca has seen more than its fair share of natural disasters: floods, the plague in the Middle Ages, and earthquakes. The latest happened in 2011, causing nine deaths and severe damage to the mighty castle that dominates the city.
Of course, it's also dramatic in a positive sense: Lorca is said to have the best and most colorful Semana Santa celebrations in all of Spain, surpassing even the more famous in Seville. Like Phoenix from the ashes, Lorca has recovered from all adversity, even the latest earthquake, and welcomes visitors with renewed splendor, great weather, excellent food, and many beautiful things to do and see.
Climb Up to the Castle of the Sun
Visible from miles away, one of Spain’s largest castles, the medieval Castle of the Sun, dominates the city of Lorca. Two rectangular towers catch the eye first; the older Alfonsi Tower and the Espolon Tower are connected by defensive walls, which total more than 3,000 feet in length.
Built between the ninth and 13th centuries, the castle served Moors and Christians alike as a fortress against the enemy of the respective times, mostly each other. Much of the earthquake damage has been repaired, and you can walk around without danger. The castle also serves as a background for re-enactments of the various battles.
Fun and education meet at any visit to the castle, in the form of a full-size reconstruction of a siege engine or a giant sundial in the form of a sword or a guided tour in English explaining the complicated and violent history of the place.
Think of St. Patrick in the Collegiate Church
It’s a curiosity that Lorca’s most famous church is dedicated to St. Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland. It’s also the only church in Spain that is. The reason? This being Lorca, it was a battle, of course—to be precise, the Battle of Alporchones, which was fought between the Moorish Caliphate of Granada and the Catholic Kings and won by the latter on St. Patrick's Day on March 17, 1452. The collegiate church, which has a Baroque façade and Renaissance interior, wasn’t finished until 1533. Located on Lorca’s Plaza de España, the cathedral-sized church forms part of several palatial buildings featuring the same baroque design, typical for Lorca.
Sleep in Style in the Parador
Lorca may be a town of just under 100.000 inhabitants, but there is so much to do and see, not only in the city itself but also in the surrounding areas, that you may well think about spending the night. No better place to do so than in a parador, the Spanish state-run hotels which are usually located in historical or otherwise remarkable buildings.
Lorca’s parador forms part of the castle, the Alfonsi Tower. (It was during its construction that the synagogue and Jewish quarter were discovered and excavated.) You can hardly stay in a more historical site than one combining three cultures, Islam, Jewish and Christian, and several centuries in history.
Learn About the Jewish Past
While visiting the castle, you can also take an exciting side trip into Jewish history. During excavations, a synagogue and what’s called House VII were discovered, which bear witness to a rather large Jewish community during the 15th century. Built into a hill inside the vast castle complex, a Jewish Aljama found shelter and was able to live under their own rules. The center point is the synagogue, with houses located around it, 11 in total.
Until the Jews were expelled from Spain after the Catholic Kings had completed their conquest from the Moors, they played an integral and essential role in the life of Lorca, adding to the city’s wealth through trade and craftsmanship. This discovery is of great importance because of the many finds which remain intact, among them 20 glass lamps, which once adorned the synagogue. Unlike many other synagogues in Spain, a Christian church was never built on top.
Admire More Baroque in the Palacio de Guevara
The palace of Guevara, also known as the palace of columns because of its inner courtyard, is the most significant secular Baroque building of Lorca, completed in 1705.
Sadly, it was damaged in the 2011 earthquake, but you can still admire the richly decorated façade and visit the inner courtyard.
Enjoy Lorca's Wild Beaches
Lorca's dramatic nature also applies to its five miles of coastline. Forget the vast, golden beaches of Alicante and the Costa Blanca; the beaches between Cope Cape and Puntas de Calnegra form a regional park and are made up of cliffs, coves, and coastal trails. No construction is allowed, so you’ll only find the odd fishing village. The beaches aren’t easy to get to, but once there, you’ll enjoy nature pure.
Browse Through the Panadero de Ganados
In Lorca, even buildings that may seem as mundane as grain storage have historical values, as is the case of the baroque panadero. Located close to the town hall, the two-story building served two purposes: the upper floor was used for storage of grain and flour while on the lower floor merchants sold meat and bread.
The building served its purpose up until the turn of the 20th century, but in 1979, it acquired another important use: it’s now the Historical Archive with thousands of invaluable documents about all the history of Lorca.
Watch Roman Luxury in Alhama de Murcia
Just 18 miles northeast of Lorca, you come to the sedate village of Alhama de Murcia, famous for its mineral springs and the discovery of luxurious Roman baths. Whichever part of the world the Romans conquered, they brought with them the essentials of their culture, among them their baths.
Making use of the thermal springs in the mountains around Alhama de Murcia, they built a luxurious spa, with different pools, rest areas, and pretty mosaics.
After the Arabs took over, the baths fell into disarray until a five-star luxury hotel and spa was built in 1848, integrating part of the baths. But, alas, after a few years, the springs dried up, and in 1972, the colossal hotel was demolished without a trace.
Be Dazzled by Embroidery
Semana Santa or Holy Week (Easter) is the most important celebration in Lorca and surpasses even Seville. One of the reasons is the dazzlingly embroidered coats and cloaks which are worn by the brotherhoods, who walk in processions or ride on horseback.
There are two main brotherhoods: Cofradia de Señora de Rosario (white) and Hermandad de Labradores (blue), with each trying to outdo the other in the processions of Holy Week in the splendor of their embroidered coats, the beauty of horses, or chariot races.
If you can’t make it during Semana Santa, you have the chance to see the fabulous hand-embroidered pieces in not only one but four museums; MuBBla being the largest. The silk of the cloaks is specially dyed, and the thread used for the embroidery is pure gold. It sometimes takes a year to make just one cloak!
Pay a Visit to Lorca’s Archaeology Museum
Back in Lorca, round out your visit with a few hours in Lorca’s archaeology museum. The building itself, a splendid example of baroque architecture, made possible because of the wealth of two families, originally from Genoa, dates from the 16th century.
The exhibits which reach from the Bronze Age to Renaissance include pieces of the oldest cloth ever found in Europe as well as the 20 lamps mentioned above from the synagogue.
It was damaged in the 2011 earthquake, which resulted in a complete remodeling of the exhibits and the construction of earthquake-proof exhibition cases to protect the artifacts. The lamps survived!