Residents driving to the Mercadona supermarket in Fuente Álamo may have cast a glance at the structures set back from the roadside behind a neatly clipped hedge just opposite the rambla, without realising what they´re actually looking at.
This is an open-air museum, dedicated to the management of water before the construction of the Tajo canal system which brought water down to the south of Spain and gave the farmers and residents of this region access to not only piped tap water, but also irrigation water and the irrigations systems which have completely transformed the economy of Murcia in the last 50 years.
Before the arrival of these systems, rainwater was collected and stored in domed aljibes, the remains of which can be seen across the region today, pulled out of the ground via deep, hand-dug wells, raised to the surface using animals and tripod pulleys, or collected from springs and ramblas, ( Fuente Álamo means the spring of the poplar tree, referring to the freshwater spring from which the town derives its name) the volumes of water available depending on the climatical fluctuations which have brought floods and droughts throughout the centuries.
Here in this little street corner, a collection of exhibits has been gathered together to reflect the daily task of water management, the exhibits clustered around the largest aljibe in south-east Spain.
The Aljibón de Corverica dates from the 19th century, and is considered to be the largest water well and deposit of its kind in the Region of Murcia, and indeed the whole of the south-east of Spain. It is five metres deep and has a radius of 6 metres.
It has the shape of a hemispherical vault and is made from limestone, finished with sand and quicklime. It was built on the land of the Corverica estate, which belonged to the Marqués de Galtero, in order to collect rainfall and, together with the Aljibe de las Ánimas, which no longer survives, to supply water to the inhabitants, farmers and cattlemen of the town of Fuente Álamo.
Popular legend has it that whilst the vault was being built it collapsed several times due to the unusual size and shape of its design. As a result, three brothers from the town - two of them known as Ramón Antonio and Paco Muñoz, who were master builders - were called in to supervise the work, and decided to fill the vault under construction with tons of straw in order to support it until the work was completed.
Following this, the vaulted roof was completed satisfactorily, and remained intact.
Even now it is still possible to read an inscription painted in red clay, supposedly made by Ramón Muñoz, boasting that this is the "biggest vault", and that it was made despite people saying it would collapse. The inscription also bears the name of Eduardo Casanova, the Marqués de Galtero, and is dated 17th August 1883.
The Aljibón de Corverica was restored in 2001, maintaining the original dome in perfect condition and was incorporated into what is now known as the Museo del Agua.
The displays include the square which bears the name of the Aljibón. The museum has a total floor area of 2,450 square metres, and the open-air exhibits include all kinds of hydraulic structures, such as water wheels, siphons used in the irrigation ditches and tripod structures which were used to take water from the old hand-dug wells.
The park is an open-air structure, so there are no opening times, just wander in and have a look.
There is also a shaded area to sit in during the summer.
So next time you´re picking up a bag of dog food and a pack of bananas, walk across the road and have a look at this little open-air museum - it certainly engenders a sense of respect for the facilities we enjoy today and a realisation of just how precious water supplies were to the residents who have inhabited this whole area in the last 5000 years.
Click for map, Avenida de Los Reyes de España.
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