Although dwarfed by other Spanish cities, Valencia packs a wealth of ancient opulence and contemporary creativity into 50 square miles, concentrated in and around the historic Ciutat Vella. From its early recorded history as a Roman colony in the 2nd century BC, through medieval German invasions, five centuries as a Moorish taifa, and its 13th-century conquest by Spain, Valencia’s cultural heritage is complex; the official language, Valenciana, is closest to Catalan, though Spanish is also universally spoken.
After the Reconquista, James I the Conquerer established Valencia’s landmark cathedral (Església Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de l’Assumpció de la Nostra Senyora de València) on the site of a former Moorish mosque, previously a Visigoth church. Trekking up the 207 steps of the 15th-century Micalet Tower made for a sprawling city view.
Valencia thrived for centuries on the accessibility and protection of the Túria River, which skirted its borders before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. An anthropomorphic fountain in the Plaça de la Verge immortalizes the Túria in a figure of Neptune by Valencian sculptor Manuel Silvestre Montesinos. But the river also brought tragedy, in the form of dozens of recorded floods; the Gran Riuà of 1957 took at least 81 lives, provoking the Spanish government to undertake a dramatic engineering project rerouting the river away from town.
The bridges around the former city walls now overlook a lush greenway populated by playgrounds and sculpture gardens. And since 1998, the southeast end houses the stunning Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a cultural complex designed by famed architects Calatrava and Candela. Walking through the Ciutat’s planetarium, aquarium, science museum, visual and performing arts spaces was a vacation in the future.
Valencian cuisine was another potent sensory experience. The Mercat Central, one of the oldest markets in Europe, dates from the early 19th century and was bursting with gourmet olives and vegetables, seafood, pork, and tourists.
By night, the sleepless city glowed gold under a constellation of low-pressure sodium lamps.
Thanks to Ramón for coordinating a central home base for our Spanish excursion!