Friday, March 13, 2009

Caravaca de la Cruz

Nothing much to do today here in Paradise – so Mrs Rambeau and I took the car and went for a drive to the town of Caravaca in the next-door province of Murcia.
The route is easy enough – take the autovía from here as far as Lorca, the town with the castle and those amazing Easter parades, and then, just past the tunnel, turn off towards Caravaca de la Cruz, a medieval town some sixty kilometres north towards the rolling hills of the interior.
The road out of Lorca took us through some nice looking countryside, empty and slightly green with fresh shoots of grass or purple with swathes of wild flowers (it’s springtime). The almond trees are in furious blossom at the moment and they bring their rose-pink or white flowers to the scenic passage. There are a couple of small villages on the way, including one with the improbable name of La Paca. It’s a one-street town with a supermarket, a bank or two and a stop-light. The speed limit is rather optimistically put at 30kms. It’s a quiet and enjoyable drive. Old half-tumbled-down farm houses appear sporadically across the valleys and the road passes at one point between a nunnery and a chapel, at another time past a large cortijada, an old and apparently disused farm with barracks for several dozen workers. Some of the buildings we see have been left to their fortune, while others have been bought by Britons, anxious as always to shake the mud off their boots and turn their back on the country of their birth.
Apparently, between Cehegín, Calasparra and Caravaca, an unknown part of Spain by any standards, there are in all about 4,000 Brits living there, bringing with them some useful additional income to the area: particularly to the chemists.
Caravaca starts as another large and ugly southern Spanish town. The scenery turns from dust and the odd tree to an avenue between four and five storey apartments in an instant. The Spanish are partial to apartments, preferring them to the old, cold and leaky farmhouses that the Northern Europeans gratefully buy off them for a song. The avenue is ugly, with contradictory lanes and lights which, after a few forgivable detours, eventually took us to the approaches for the small original town of Caravaca de la Cruz, famous not only for its churches, chapels, hermitages and nunneries, but for its Cruz – its double-sided cross located since the XIII Century in the ‘Santuario de la Santísima y Vera Cruz’ and for its fame as one of the seven pilgrimage centres of the world because the Cruz in the Sanctuary contains a sliver of the ‘lignum crucis’, a piece from the Lord’s Cross itself.
We drove through an arch into a small square. Beyond this, with the walls pressing in on both sides of the car, we continued through to a place where some limited parking was available. Here the town had narrowed to a single street crossing a narrow bridge with water flowing slowly below. Houses and no doubt more churches began again after the crossing.

Walking around the medieval streets, we saw a few shops open – selling souvenirs, the ‘double cross’ and so on, a cake shop, a vegetable and flower shop and a place that gloomily attempted to sell out-of-date fashions - and a lot more shops which were boarded up. Through the windows upstairs, as often as not you could see the sky. We ducked into the tourist office (the man looked surprised and pleased to see someone) and later into the beautiful Church of El Salvador. In this old and almost forgotten part of Caravaca, far away from the hurly burley down below in the ‘new town’, there are at least ten other churches. They don’t pack them in anymore though.
Caravaca is also blessed with a seemingly endless number of museums (where, it appeared, no one also goes) all housed in old palaces. There is a magnificent collection of ancient musical instruments in one (so says the tourist guide), a collection of miniatures in another, an archaeological museum in a third and a strange and presumably temporary art exhibition of paintings and metal monsters in yet another. Besides these attractions, there is the 'Caballeros del Vino' tradition (the horse races through the streets, the Moors and Christians festival and the brightly coloured costumes all in evidence during the May fiesta) which, inevitably, spends the rest of the year in yet another museum, this one appropriately called ‘El Museo de la Fiesta’.
The people, the few who scampered past us about their business, are all remarkably short. Medievaly so, methought. Methinks.
We went back down towards the newer part of town to meet some people who were trying to sell us a house.

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