The Semana de la Huerta y el Mar in Los Alcázares was officially inaugurated last night by the Mayor of Los Alcázares, Anastasio Bastida Gómez, with the pregon, the opening speech given by Jose Antonio Ruiz Vivo, the regional deputy and PP parliamentary spokesman.
Prior to the inaugural session, the traditional floral offering was laid at the foot of the monument to the huertano in the Parque huertano in Los Alcázares, with the Queen of the Murcian huerta participating.
This whole event focuses around the Murcian traditions of folk music and the traditional food, customs and crafts associated with Murcian orchard living.
The word huerta means orchard, and refers to the irrigated orchards of citrus fruit and crop growing areas which surround the capital of the region.
Murcia itself (Medina Mur-siya) was built along the banks of the River Segura by the occupying moorish population who held most of southern Spain for a period between 711 and 1243 when it was handed over to the forces of young Prince Alfonso of Castile in the treaty of Alcáraz.
At this point in history, Murcia capital itself was a substantial walled arab city, traces of which still remain below the current buildings of the capital ( See Conjunto monumental San Juan de Díos and History of Murcia) fed by the irrigated and fertile flat lands around it, the Huerta of Murcia.
Murcia is still a substantial agricultural producer, its fertile lands and temperate climate producing millions of tons of fresh fruit and produce every year, much of the winter salad crops ending up in UK supermarkets, whilst its citrus crops of oranges and lemons, salad crops of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, vegetable crops of potatoes, broccoli and aubergines, and fruit crops of cherries, apricots, plums, pears, peaches and melons are exported worldwide, justifiably giving Murcia the name of the "vegetable basket of Spain."
The traditional "huertanos" of Murcia, the workers who produced the food in the Murcian orchards began to travel to Los Alcázares during the hottest weeks of summer, weeks when working was pointless and very little could realistically be cultivated in the intense heat of summer, becoming Murcia's first tourists.
They built temporary homes from reeds and mud, and spent their time by the cooling waters of the Mar Menor, a tradition which is honoured in the reconstruction of a charming barraca in the area where this characterful festival takes place, complete with live animals and all the tools and cooking implements these people would have used in their daily lives.
Last night the Queen of the Murcian Huerta for 2012 visited the little barraca, part of her official duties which begin with the glorious Fiestas de la Primavera in Murcia and continue very soon with the Murcia Feria which begins in the capital at the beginning of September.
She's selected prior to the Fiestas de la Primavera from amongst the members of the Peñas huertanas in a fiercely fought competition and is an ambassador of Murcian culture throughout her time as Queen. Last night she was wearing a dress with hand stitched beads and motifs, her hair painstakingly prepared in a process which takes nearly two hours. Little strips of woven esparto grass are traditionally used to create the waves of hair, set with water, whilst the length of her hair is painstakingly plaited into an elaborate fan of woven hair, set off with a comb of flowers from the orchard gardens.
The officials inaugurating the festival then visited the craft stands, all of which feature genuine Murcian craftsmen, and offer the perfect opportunity to purchase inexpensive gifts for the grandchildren, before enjoying the inaugural ceremony and the first of the weeks sessions of folk dancing, with invited dancers from other areas of Spain, as well as international folk dancers.
It's a lovely night out, and a chance to see the true Murcian folk culture, which has such a vast following within the region, as well as enjoy the best of real Murcian tapas, cooked by the folk peñas themselves. Tapas dishes are around a euro, and 2 people can enjoy a very filling meal , with drinks, for around 12-14 euros, and entrance to the folk dancing is around 3 euros
. Click for Programme Semana de la Huerta y el Mar 2012, and for Tapas guide, Semana de la Huerta, which gives details of some of the tapas on offer.
The festival continues throughout next week, so come and enjoy a night of tapas and traditional murcian food and folk music in Los Alcázares.
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