Any cultural heritage and any tradition has its own roots, history, legends, and evolution. It’s about practices and customs that are carefully transmitted by those who mean to preserve their traits of identity which define us as a people and which enhance our spirit of community. It’s about traditions and festivities that in certain times, -and in the opinion of a surprised spectator-, can be deemed as extravagant or even unrelated to the cultural heritage itself. Hence it is necessary to go back to the origins and the past, to be able to explain the present, the now.
In Caravaca de la Cruz we are proud of our traditions and cultural heritage. However, we recognize that an explanation of these celebrations is always timely, since the best way to understand them is by knowing more about them. This way we avoid misinterpretations or spurious uses of our intangible heritage.
Caravaca de la Cruz, Medieval City
Caravaca de la Cruz is the main town of the northwest Murcia. It is surrounded by mountainous systems and has a pleasant climate, mainly mountain climate. As the head of the Northwest Region, Caravaca offers general services such as county hospital, courts, administrative offices, and so on. A number of beautiful landscapes and natural spaces frame this quiet and modern city.
The history of Caravaca de la Cruz is really exciting. The village was originally a Muslim settlement in Al-Andalus, and became a Christian one later on. The origins of Caravaca can be found in its fortress castle. From there, the first great protectors of the city, the Order of the Temple or Templars Knights, used to guard the dangerous border territory of Caravaca to contain the attacks launched from the neighboring Granada, which was a stronghold of the Muslims in the thirteenth century. After the Templars, in the fourteenth century another military order, the Order of Santiago, took control of Caravaca until the nineteenth century. It was under the Santiago government when Caravaca experienced its demographic, urban, and mainly cultural growth. In fact, the most important examples of the patrimony that have been preserved until now are from that period, including some of the many religious orders that founded convents and monasteries in Caravaca attracted by one of the most important relics in the world, the symbol and soul of the town since the thirteenth century: the Holy and True Cross of Caravaca.
It is critical to understand the medieval historical context: a period of wars and cultural clashes that, however, does not detract from the hospitable and welcoming character that our city offers to any visitor who wants to know and enjoy Caravaca de la Cruz.
Moors and Christians Celebrations
These festivals have their roots in the medieval period, in times of confrontations and struggles between different religious and cultural thoughts and feelings. Being as it was a border city, Caravaca de la Cruz was a defensive stronghold, a village fortified with a military castle and a defensive wall, of which today there are only vestiges left. Numerous battles have been fought in this territory for the control of the lands, iron governors ruled from the top of the walls of the fortress, and great was the Faith that was professed to the relic, the True Cross, which attracted infinite streams of pilgrims who would get here to prostrate themselves before the Caravaca Lignum Crucis. It was not unusual that the True Cross abandoned the security of the walls of the castle to go on procession after the entreaties of the inhabitants of the town, and it was thus necessary that the relic was well protected against a potential Muslim attack. Hence the reason why there was a Christian military escort for the True Cross in those turbulent times.
This medieval past must not be ignored: it is our history, our origins, and they deserve a special spot in our memories. In the context of the Celebrations in honor of the Holy and True Cross of Caravaca, Moors and Christians mean to honor those men who trampled Caravaca so many centuries ago, and whose legacy we enjoy today. Both Moorish and Christian groups composed by the Caravaca citizens themselves march in formation each year in May, uniformed like in medieval times and proud to be part of such a rich history. It is the spirit of the festivals, a spirit of tradition and history, which moves the feelings of the locals, all of them together, Moors and Christians, in a brotherhood that is only truly understood by those who are lucky enough to experience it closely. There is no room for grudges or hatred or anything other than loving end enjoying Caravaca de la Cruz.
The Wine Horses
This is an unusual party, extraordinarily unique, and full of light and joy. Wine horses take the streets every May 2nd to display their strength and beauty, exalting the union between man and nature. Animals are dressed in incredible embroidery of gold, silver, and precious fabrics and form a walking spectacle that transcends the senses and reaches the soul.
An old legend talks about a Muslim siege suffered by the Caravaca castle in the thirteenth century. As a result, a group of courageous Templars who were out of the siege loaded their horses with wine, the only thing that could be safely drunk. Then they climbed the slope of entrance to the fortress, breaking through the enemy ranks with blood and steel, and penetrating the walls of the castle to distribute the wine among the sick and thirsty people.
However, there are data from the eighteenth century on a race held annually among the boys of the town who brought the local wine to the Sanctuary, in the castle, for it to be blessed. This race would take place on the last section of the slope to the fortress. The competition between young people soon became important as an annual event and with the time it evolved into the race against the clock that is celebrated nowadays. In the same way, the homemade and humble embroideries with which horses used to be dressed more than a century ago gave rise to the impressive works of popular art that the animals look now.
It is a unique celebration, poorly described using only words. It can only be understood by experiencing it firsthand.