Rural Murcia, colourful traditions, rich gastronomy and striking scenery
Abanilla is a small municipality in the north-east of the region of Murcia, bordering on the province of Alicante. It is currently home to approximately 6,500 inhabitants, a figure which has fallen over the last forty years from almost 9,000 as its neighbour Fortuna has grown correspondingly.
Despite the small population, though, Abanilla occupies 236 square kilometres, and the area is sub-divided into 23 outlying areas, the most heavily populated of which are Barinas, Macisvenda and Mahoya.
Historically, the town’s origins lie in the time of the Moorish occupation of southern Spain between the 8th and the 13th century. Indeed the name Abanilla itself is derived from the Arabic “Al Banyala” or “Al-Bayada” (white town), and in the 13th century, following the Reconquista of Murcia, the Christians adapted the name to Favanella (in Valenciano) and Havanilla (in Castilian Spanish).
Little is left of that Early Middle Ages settlement, although the layout of the town centre recalls the typical narrow, winding streets of the time and there are remnants of the old Arab fortress in El Lugar Alto (the hill above the town on which the statue of Christ now stands). The Town Hall building dates from 1762, and other recommended stops on a tour round the town include the Casa Pintada and the Casa de la Encomienda, where the local governors used to live and collect taxes, the baroque church of San José, which was built by the military and religious Order of Calatrava, the fountain in the Calle Mayor and the Casa Cabrera.
The church is also home to the Santa Cruz, a religious relic consisting of a fragment of the cross on which Christ was crucified. This is an object of great devotion in Abanilla, and is central to the annual fiestas which are held in late April and early May. On 1st May the “Kábilas Moras y Mesnedas Cristianas” parade is held, with around a quarter of the population taking part, and two days later this is followed by a Romería in which the Santa Cruz is taken up to the small church in the outlying district of Mahoya where it is believed to have appeared miraculously centuries ago.
These buildings make a walk around the town centre a pleasant and interesting experience, but no visit to Abanilla is really complete without a trip out into the countryside. The climate here is among the warmest in the south-east of Spain, with an average year-round temperature of 19ºC, and the landscape is among the most spectacular in the Region of Murcia. The River Chícamo, for example, still contains water but also acts as a floodwater run-off channel, starting in the outlying area of Macisvenda, and among the most spectacular parts of it is the El Cajer canyon. Visitors are strongly advised to take a camera: you won’t be disappointed by this “desert river”, or by the “badlands” which lie on the other side of the town!
The same rocks which make the Chícamo such a unique place to visit have traditionally provided the backbone of the local economy, and according to some estimates as much as a third of the Region of Murcia’s building stone is extracted from the numerous quarries in the area. These also supply arids and marble-related limestone.
At the same time, there are plenty of hostelries to enjoy the local cuisine, which specializes in roast meat, locally-grown beans and artichokes and a variety of desserts and sweets. Wine and olive oil are also produced in Abanilla, and they can be enjoyed not only in bars and restaurants in the town and outlying villages, but also in some of the converted cave houses which lie alongside the Chícamo.
Located just a 25-minute drive from the regional capital and 50 minutes from the beaches of the Mar Menor and the southern Costa Blanca, Abanilla is within easy reach for those who are interested in seeing the “other side” of the Region of Murcia.
Where is Abanilla?
Click for map, Abanilla, Murcia
Abanilla Tourist Information Office
Calle Pío XII, 12b
Telephone: 968 684 075
Click to contact the tourist office via email
Images: Murcia Today and Ayuntamiento de Abanilla (Joaquín Zamora)