As you recall, we’ve just enjoyed a refreshing and very sweet glass of horchata. Let’s resume our walking tour at the Plaça de la Reina, where we slip further back in time. This is the oldest part of the city, dating to Roman and Arab times. 

Just to our left as we leave the Orxateria, we can’t miss the freestanding tower tower of the Church of Santa Caterina. While the church itself was built over a few centuries starting in the Middle Ages, the tower comes from the 18th century. Mostly it’s an elegant Baroque accent in the cityscape.

At the other end of the Plaça, the Catedral de Valencia scrunches into a corner. A Roman Temple was here first, then a mosque. What we see today was started in the 13th century. At the time, there was a plaza straight out the front door. Over the centuries, the plaza evolved to its current location, leaving the cathedral facing away shyly.

A famous, tourist-attracting aspect of this cathedral is that some believe that this is the final resting place of the Holy Grail (the cup that Jesus Christ drunk from at the Last Supper). This artifact has been officially ordained by three separate Popes, and it has the largest claim out of any grails in the world. (There are quite a few other pretenders for the home of the Holy Grail: in addition to the Catedral de Valencia, there’s at least the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña in Jaca, Spain; the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, England; the Château de Montségur, France; Rosslyn Chapel, in Scotland; and the Western Wall Tunnel in Jerusalem.  Who knows? We mean, really, who knows?) Anyway, not quite our grail of tea, so we didn’t explore further.

Just behind the cathedral is the Plaça de la Verge with its relaxing Túria Fountain. Old Man Túria, pretending to be Neptune, reclines amid eight women. He is Valencia’s River Túria, which is extremely important for the history of Valencia, both nurturing and brutal. We’ll visit the river a bit later. These little women encircling Túria represent the eight major irrigation ditches that feed Valencia’s agricultural areas. The otherwise naked women wear plough women’s head-dresses in order to acknowledge the Valencianos who work the land. The fountain may look classical but it’s only been here since 1979!

Also in this quarter, we couldn’t miss the The Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas, which is now the National Ceramics Museum. Mostly, we were attracted to the building because of its grand confident scale, vast panels of faux marble, and baroque sculptures.

This palace began its life in the gothic period, but what we see now comes from a complete baroque renovation in the 18th century. It was a time of great prosperity for the current Marquis, and he wanted you to know it. That’s when all the rococo sculptures around the windows and atop the facades appeared. All the flat panels of the facades were elaborate frescoes that depicted allegorical themes, undoubtedly shining a very positive light on the Marquis and his family. Alas, the frescoes were too hard to maintain. Around the original gothic entrance, a writhing alabaster sculpture depicts Valencia’s two largest rivers: the Túria, whom you’ve met, and the Júcar. 

La Lonja de la Seda, or the Silk Exchange, is a remarkable gothic building, both because of its attractive design and because it’s a secular commercial building rather than a religious building. It was built between 1482 and 1533. It’s a product of Valencia’s Golden Century. The Golden Century was a time of great economic expansion, thanks to trade, and of great artistic productivity. It didn’t hurt that two Popes in this period were Valencianos.

The Sala de Contratación, or Contract or Trading Hall, is a magnificent hall in Flamboyant Gothic style. The interior is meant to represent paradise, with its soaring columns symbolising palm trees reaching towards the sky. The ceiling was originally painted blue to give the feeling on being outside. On the walls, a Latin inscription in Gothic characters reminds the merchants of their duties as merchants and good Christians: not to revert to usury in their trade, so as to be able to attain eternal life.

Next to the Trading hall, on the street level, the Consultado del Mar is a room where maritime merchants bargained and negotiated accompanied by their merchandise.

Right across the street from the Lonja de la Seda is Valencia’s main market, the Mercado Central or Mercat Central. We are back to the era and spirit of Valencian Art Nouveau. 

The Central Market of Valencia is one of the largest in Europe; it covers more than 8,000 square metres (86,000 sq ft), with a predominantly Valencian Art Nouveau style. Its unusual roof comprises original domes and sloping sections at different heights, while the interior seems to be lined in a range of materials such as iron, wood, ceramics and polychromed tiles. The beauty of the building stands out especially on account of the light that enters through the roof at various points, and through coloured window panels.

The style blends a modern Valencian Art Nouveau look but mirrors some of the architectural influences of nearby buildings such as the Valencian Gothic style Lonja de la Seda and the eclectic Gothic-baroque church of Sants Juanes. It celebrates the power of iron and glass to permit the construction of large open spaces, but still utilizes domes at crossings. (source)

The market is great fun. Unlike some other big-city central markets, this one is spacious and light-filled. It may be tasty for the tourist, but locals also shop here for produce, meat and fish. This is the region and country of pork and ham, as in cured thinly-sliced Iberico, Pata Negra, Bellota and more. We aren’t at all experts in Iberian ham, but we’re continuing our studies — thanks to markets like this one.

Another Art Nouveau market in Valencia has been transformed into a, well, upscale restaurant, café and boutique mall. It’s the Mercat de Colón. 

The Valencian architect Francisco Mora Berenguer designed it between 1914 and 1916, fully in the Valencian Art Nouveau style. The celebration of Valencian oranges and roses is lovely.

The work of Gaudí and Domènech i Montaner in rival Barcelona must have influenced the drooping tile surfaces and uplifting glass and metal.

As far as we can learn, at the end of the 20th century, the market had become rundown, and merchants had aged, retired or quit the business. We can’t find out if the city, or private developers, or both, were responsible for the market’s transformation. When we visited, on a nice late-spring day, the cafés were buzzing. It’s very upscale, probably relatively expensive. We wonder how it really fits in its neighborhood. But it sure is pretty!

On the other side of the historic center, we find the Torres de Serranos. This tower is one of only two remaining city gates from the medieval city wall. Formerly, the city had 12 gates through which to enter the city. Unfortunately, they were destroyed in the nineteenth century by Civil Governor Cirilo Amoros who wanted to open up the narrow unsanitary streets of the old city, and allow the city to grow. 

The Torres de Serranos sits right against the edge of the River Túria. When the city walls still stood, the river ran very close by. The banks of the river were lively and essential points of trade for Valencia; this was the busy waterfront. Until the 1960s, even without the city walls, this side of the old city led directly to the river banks.

Then, in 1957, disaster struck. Torrential rains in Valencia and upstream created a devastating flood. In some areas, the streets were under 5 meters (16 ft) of water. The city’s water, gas and electricity services failed. The flooding disrupted about 75% of commercial and industrial activity. Around 5,800 homes were destroyed, leaving approximately 3,500 families homeless. The final death toll was at least 81 people.

The following year, the city embraced a bold plan to divert the river around its western outskirts, sending it on to the Mediterranean Sea. It was time to remove vicious Old Man Túria from Valencia’s doorstep. The centerpiece of the plan, known as “Plan Sur,” was a new concrete channel for the river on the other side of the city. It was completed in 1969. 

Green is the original Turia River course. Blue is the constructed bypass.

The new channel is purely and engineering solution, like the so-called Los Angeles River in the US. However, the remnants of the old riverbed became a chance to create the landscape network which has become today’s Jardín del Túria.  A park wasn’t the city leadership’s first idea; aiming to alleviate traffic congestion, they envisioned an elaborate highway system through the heart of the City. But by 1970 the citizens pushed back and protested the highway proposal under the motto “The bed of Túria is ours and we want green!” By the end of the decade, the City approved legislation to turn the riverbed into a park and commissioned Ricard Bofill to create a master plan in 1982. The plan created a framework for the riverbed and divided it into 18 zones. Currently, all but one of the zones have been developed.

Part of the vision for the new Jardín del Túria was a vision of the future. About which, next time…


Restaurant 2 Estaciones

This is an extraordinarily lovely little restaurant in an up-and-coming artsy neighborhood. It’s a tiny place, maybe 5 tables inside and 5 outside. Half of the interior is dining; half is the open kitchen. The two young owners are both chefs, and we watched them work.

They created visually attractive plates, but, much better, they are masters of complex flavors in ways we haven’t experienced before. Check out the ingredients of the asparagus dessert; sounds bizarre, but was out-of-this-world good.


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