Situated in the northwest of the province of Murcia, this Caravaca de la Cruz is of great historic as well as religious interest. After Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and
Santo Toribio de Liébana this town is considered to be the fifth holiest in the world.
The area occupied by Caravaca was previously inhabited by the Iberian and Roman Argaric peoples, but the origins of its current appearance are to be found in Arab domination. After the Christian Reconquest, these territories came to be governed by the Order of the Temple and later by the Order of Santiago. In this age, during the 16th and 17th century, Caravaca enjoyed its period of greatest splendour and was the political centre of vast territories, and the many historic buildings in the town proclaim its former importance.
One of the main features is its castle, which rises above the houses of Caravaca. Of Muslim origin, it was extended in the 15th century by the Templar Knights and later passed into the hands of the Order of Santiago. Fourteen towers guard the Sanctuary of the Santísima y Vera Cruz, which was built during the 17th century. The façade, which was added a century later, is in the baroque style. The whole site has Historic-Artistic Heritage status and houses the Museum of Religious Art and History.
Among its most outstanding pieces are the adornments of the Caballos de Vino (wine horses). These horses, lavishly harnessed, are the centre of attention during the Festivals of Santísima y Vera Cruz, celebrated on the 1stand 5th of May every year and declared to be of National Tourist
Interest. The beautiful horses can also be seen during the Romería de los
Caballos de Vino (Pigrimage of the Wine Horses) in September and also during the Horse Fiesta in October.
A religious building considered to be a crowning work of Murcia's Renaissance architecture is also located in Caravaca. It is the church of Salvador, which has been declared to be an Historic-Artistic Site. To complete a cultural tour of the city it is necessary to visit the church of La Soledad, today the Archaeological Museum; the Carmelite convent, founded by San Juan de la Cruz; and the Purísima Concepción, built in the 16th century on the site of old church of the Knights Hospitaller of San Juan de Letrán. Renaissance in style, inside it has beautiful Mudejar coffered ceilings and baroque reredos.
Caravaca de la Cruz is well worth a visit, and not just for its religious history. It is the largest of the towns in the area and because it is further inland than most, it has a delightful air of self sufficiency. In the old part of the town you can sample the local dishes and stay in an hotel which feeds the boilers with almond shells.
The surrounding countryside is lovely and within a short drive you reach a wonderful wilderness, where you can walk up mountains or in the beautiful pine clad ravines a little to the northwest. If you wish to explore a little further afield, to the northeast you will enter the spectacular terrain of the Sierra Segura and the National Park.