Spain has a great number of pearls which are worth a visit but for sure, there is one certain place in the country where I was amazed with the colourful intensity of the place, the mixed cultural and extremely rich historical heritage, and nature which go hand in hand. This is the third largest Spanish city – Valencia, which is one of the country’s leading economic centres. The city has various developed industries like textile and metal, the production of toys, cars, chemicals and azulejos (coloured ceramic tiles). The city is also a very important commercial hub and its sea port and shipyards are among the five busiest ones on the Old Continent.
V A L E N C I A
Valencia was first mentioned around the second century BC. It was a Roman colony originally situated on the south bank of the Turia River. It was the place where the river intersected with the Via Augusta (the major Roman road connecting Rome to Andalusia). The name of the city originates from this period of time, i.e. it comes from the Late Latin word “valentia” which means “valour” or “bravery”. Actually, there was a Roman practice to recognize the “power”, i.e. the “valour”, of the former Roman soldiers after a war. Thus the Roman soldiers who gained a victory over Iberian rebel Viriatus settled down and founded the town as a Roman colony in 138 BC.
The town was under the Moorish dominion from the 8th to the 13th century and it was a seat of an independent state twice in that period of time. The town was ruled by Cid later, more precisely from 1094 to 1099. I will open a bracket here. Cid Campeador was a Spanish soldier and national hero whose real name was Rodrigo (or Ruy) Díaz de Vivar. He gained fame and distinguished with his fights against the Moors under the reign of Ferdinand I and Sancho II of Castile. Unfortunately, Alfonso VI banished him from Castile in 1081. That way Cid entered the service of the Moorish ruler of Zaragoza which was a usual practice among the Castilian nobles at that time. He fought against both the Moors and Christians till the time when he invaded the Kingdom of Valencia. Bracket closed.
The flourishing of the town started after the invasion of James I of Aragón in September 1238. It became a powerful and important commercial and cultural centre that rivaled even Barcelona. As to the 15th and 16th centuries, this was the Golden Age of Valencia when it was the richest and most populous city of the Kingdom of Aragon and literature and painting flourished enormously. The Valencia University was established in 1501. All this splendour of that period of time is on display in the historic centre of Valencia which is one of the largest and most splendid ones in Spain, occupying approximately 169 hectares.
What could be seen in the Old Town? The answer is – plenty of things which couldn’t be seen and visited in just one day. So, if you wanna admire all of the treasures of the historic centre make your plans and leave two days for them at minimum. Let me stop here and let us enter the town passing through one of its gates, i.e. Torres Quart (Quart Towers). They were built by Pere Bofill in the 15th century. The Gothic cylindrical gate towers are a splendid example of the military architecture. The defence towers encompassed the walled city and they also served as a women’s prison for a short period of time. My humble piece of advice is to climb up to the top from which you will get amazing views of modern Valencia and the old quarter with its blue-tiled church domes and narrow, winding streets.
While wandering somewhere there along the Old Mercantile centre you will pass by Plaça del Tossal which will lead you to Mercado Central (Central Market). Despite being a modern building among the medieval ones, the contrast is not shocking. It was designed by architectures Francisco Guardia and Alejandro Soler in 1914 and it was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII in 1928. Nowadays the Central Market of Valencia houses plus minus 1000 stands on a territory of 8000 m2 divided into various sections – fresh fish, vegetables, fruit , meat, typical souvenir stands, etc. In other words said, it is the Mecca of all admirers of nice food and fresh ingredients, the Italians in particular. 🙂
Going out of the Central Market you will stumble upon La Lonja de la Seda (the Silk Exchange). The imposing 15th century building dates is a UNESCO site and one of the most notable examples of the Late Gothic civil architecture in the entire Mediterranean and an emblem of the Golden Age of Valencia. Its purpose was commercial and it was the headquarters of all mercantile transactions and commerce in Valencia.
Having visited this splendid and magnificent place, take some time and have a walk along the nearby small souvenir stands and small artistic markets until you reach the Plaça de la Reina. It is not one of the traditional southern beauties of Europe because there is space for both vehicles and pedestrians. In spite of this, it’s a real gem in the beating heart of the city from where you can start the explorations of both the Old Town (on foot) and modern city of Valencia (by bus).
The Square, like any other, is lined with excellent caffés (e.g. the 200-year old cafeteria Horchateria de Santa Catalina) and restaurants that offer typical meals and sweets from Valencia. The centre of la plaza hosts small patches and spaces filled with flowers as well as benches on which lost visitors and locals alike can admire the beauty of the place and its greatest landmarks – the Cathedral of Valencia with the Gothic Bell Tower and Plaza Santa Catalina with its charming Iglesia.
Catedral de Valencia or also known as La Seo was built on the site of a Roman Temple of Diana which turned into a mosque under the Moorish dominion. The Cathedral itself was constructed between 1252 and 1482 and it incorporated a great number of architectural styles from Romanesque to Baroque. A piece of proof for this is the style of the three doors of the Cathedral. La Puerta de los Hierros (the main door) is Baroque, la Puerta de los Apóstoles is Gothic and the last one – la Puerta del Palau, is Romanesque.
What are you expected to see in the Cathedral? Its interior is really amazing with its opulently decorated altar, stained glass windows and small chapels. Two Goya’s paintings are on display in one of the chapels. One of his works there is thought to be the first of his paintings that show his characteristic demon-like creatures. Then, a mummified hand of San Vicente Martyr (the patron saint of Lisbon and Valencia) is kept there. As to the cathedral museum, it houses a vast collection of paintings as well as a 2300-kg gold-silver monstrance covered with jewelry, donated by the locals.
Last but not least, the Valencia Cathedral is supposed to be the host of the Santo Caliz (Holy Chalice) or the Holy Grail which is the authentic, the very cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Although the Vatican has recognized it as the potential Holy Grail, it hasn’t agreed officially on that fact up to now. And how has this ancient stone cup attached to a medieval stem and base appeared in a very simple stone chapel in the corner of the Valencia Cathedral, actually?
The chalice is thought to have been left in the house of the family of St Mark the Evangelists where the Last Supper was held. Later he himself went to Rome and took it with him. It was used as a Papal chalice while within the Church. The relic left Rome owing to St Lawrence but unfortunately, a persecution followed and the Holy Grail appeared in the hands of a Spanish soldier who was on his way to Huesca in Spain. When the Moorish dominion occurred on the Iberian Peninsula, the chalice was carefully hidden. After the dominion was over Santo Caliz found home in numerous Spanish monasteries and cathedrals. Its home was one small monastery in the northern parts of Aragon in the Dark Ages. Thus after “having wandered” here and there the Holy Grail was finally presented to Valencia in 1437 and since then it hasn’t left the Cathedral and the city.
Standing in front of the main entrance of the Valencia Cathedral it’s impossible for you not to see the adjacent octagonal, about 51-metre high Micalet Tower. The Baroque tower was built by Andrés Juliá Torre in the 13th and 14th centuries and it’s the city’s highest religious structure. La Miguelete possesses a narrow, spiral stairway and if you are brave enough to climb the 207 steps you will get the most breathtaking and awesome panoramas of the entire city, the countryside and the sea. So, take a bottle of water, take a deep breath and off we goooo. 🙂
The stroll in Ciutat Vella of Valencia continues in Centre Arqueològic de l’Almoina on Plaza de l’Almoina. The Archeological Museum offers a true journey underneath the ground and through various historic periods. The Square was a site of heavy and large-scale archeological excavations for about 20 years (1985-2005). As a result of this long archeological dig numerous artifacts (like buildings, walls, wells, pottery, coins, etc.) were discovered. All of them belong to various historic periods starting from the Roman period of the foundation of the town of Valentia (e.g. Roman thermal baths, a temple dedicated to water gods and a granary), the Visigoth and Arab eras.
Moving to the charming square of Saint Luis Bertran, you will be astonished by the Escriva Palace (built in the 15th century) and Almodí (whose construction over a former Muslim palace started in the 15th century and the arcade was built in the 16th century). The Almudin served as a depository of wheat in Valencia at that period of time. It was the major building where wheat was stored, distributed and sold out while nowadays it is an exhibition hall.
Probably you have already got hungry? Am I correct? 🙂 No worries. One friend of mine always says there are not problems but only solutions. In this case, your solution is to find out one quiet restaurant either on la Plaza de la Virgen or la Plaza Redonda and order paella and one glass of White Sangria. Mmmmm …..How nice. 😀 What more do you need?!
After having got refreshed, let us head to the other ancient city gate of Valencia – Torres de Serranos, where our journey will end in Ciutat Vella. I will bring you back to our starting point, i.e. Torres Quart to the west. The Quart and Serranos Towers are the only two left city gates out 12 of the medieval town of Valencia (unfortunately, the city’s walls have disappeared). The Gothic northern towers were built in the 14th century and most probably they obtained their name because of their location to the north-eastern part of the Old Town, which made them an entry point for the road linking Valencia to Saragossa and Barcelona.