The original Latin name of the city, Valentia, meant ‘strength’ and ‘vigor’, and by regular phonetic changes it came to be known as Valencia. Valencia is a charming old city in the province of Spain. It is located approximately four hours from Barcelona and three hours from Madrid. It is situated in the centre of the Spanish Mediterranean coastline and overlooks the Gulf of Valencia.
Valencia has a lot to offer and is particularly known for the Fallas festival, for being the birthplace of paella, for hosting the 2007 America´s Cup, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called ‘The City of Arts and Sciences’. And if you are more artistically and culturally inclined, you can find some of the most outstanding artistic heritage where the marks left by the Romans lie hidden beneath Arab ruins and modern churches and palaces.
The district or Mercat was the center of commercial activity and accordingly, its two most symbolic buildings are still used for trading purposes. La Lonja, declared a heritage of humanity by UNESCO, features a beautiful columned room where the old tables on which trading transactions took place are still in use today. Outside the wide pavements, broad landscaped thoroughfares and countless instances of modernist architecture enthrall visitors.
The region has a Mediterranean climate - warm and dry summers, and mild winters. The rainy season falls during spring and autumn, which often brings torrential rainfall. September and October are good months for the beach and springtime in March is when people take to the streets to enjoy the glorious weather. The temperatures are pleasant all year round, with the exception of the mountain areas, where temperatures can fall below freezing.
Through the Times
Long before the arrival of the Romans in Spain, Valencia was inhabited by the Iberians. The city of Valencia is in the region known in ancient days as Edetania. Later it was a Roman military colony. The city was founded by the Romans in 137 BC by the river Turia.
The city was intensely romanized but even greater was the subsequent Muslim influence, to the extent that except for a short-lived conquest by the Cid (Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar) in 1088, the population of the city was fundamentally Muslim. The Cid, during his reign, turned nine mosques into churches, and installed as bishop the French monk Jerome.
In 1238 King James I conquered the city of Valencia and made it into an autonomous kingdom within the group of States under his scepter. Thus Valencia became a national community with a political identity of its own with a special parliament and institutions.
After the Middle Ages, economic growth was subject to disruptions, such as the war of the 'Germanias' (1519-1522) and the expulsion of the 'Moriscos' in 1616. At the beginning of the 18th century, in the War of Succession, the Valencian people sided with the Archduke of Austria while most of the nobility were in favor of Philip V. The success of the latter brought about the abolition of local charters and the end of the region's traditional autonomy. During the last two centuries, Valencian politics has been a reflection of the Spanish situation.
In 1957 the city suffered a severe flood by the Turia River, with water up to 2 m deep in some streets. After the event it was decided to drain and reroute the river, which now passes around the western and southern suburbs of the city. A plan to turn the drained area into a motorway was dropped in favor of a picturesque 7 km park which bisects the city.
Valencia was once again granted Autonomous Statutes in 1982.
On the move
Valencia Airport is just 9 km from the city center and a bus service can take you to the Turia station. There is also the Aerobus which can take you directly to the city center.
If you prefer the slower pace of the trains, there are many connecting Madrid, Barcelona, and other cities. The main train station Estacion del Norte is located in the city near the Town Hall.
Renting a bike is increasingly becoming a popular way for visitors to explore this essentially flat city. The city’s metro, Metro Valencia is also a good way to commute within the city, although it doesn’t have an extensive network. Aside from going to the beach and the City of Arts and Sciences, exploring the hub of the city requires almost no public transportation. Much of this city can be done walking with an occasional stop for a coffee or a beer.
Taking it all in
You can spend hours and days and weeks exploring the city’s treasures and monuments, and still feel the need to stay on for a bit longer. But if you are pressed for time, make sure to visit some of the more prominent sights of the city.
City of Arts and Science is located where the Turia used to flow. Now you will find a Science Museum, a Planetarium, an IMAX cinema, an Aquarium and, the Arts Museum. It is famous for its architecture by Santiago Calatrava.
The Barri del Carme neighborhood is in the old center. It is the perfect place for a stroll where you can see the transition from a forgotten area to a modern, diverse neighborhood. The area has many outdoor cafes and trendy shops that make the stroll in this neighborhood even more pleasurable.
The Seu is an intriguing cathedral with doors from three distinct architectural periods. A trip up the Miguelete tower gives you a splendid view of the city.
The Llotja is the site of the ancient silk trade in the region. It is also a UNESCO landmark and has recently been refurbished. Keep an eye out for the gargoyles.
Walk along the old Turia river bed, now a park with soccer and rugby fields, an artificial boating lake, athletics track, playgrounds, fountains and trails. Abundant bike paths make it an ideal place to get in a little exercise and sun, while taking in the magnificent surroundings.
The Torres de Quart and the Torres de Serrano are medieval towers that were part of the ancient wall that surrounded the old city.
Beaches: Soak in some sun at the various beaches within the city, relax, catch up on your reading, take a dip or try some water sports to keep you active. Some of the more famous beaches are Levante, Pineda, Saler, Devesa, and Perellonet, among many others.
Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM): The Valencia Institute of Modern Art’s program of activities includes permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, conferences, courses, workshops and the publishing of works.
Fallero Museum: The first figure to be spared from burning in the history of Las Fallas festival was ‘Grandmother and Granddaughter’, dating back to 1934. From then onwards, those figures chosen each year by popular vote to be the best, escaped ritual burning and were placed in the palace.
Cathedral Diocesan Museum: This contains two large canvases by Francisco de Goya, painted in 1799, paintings by Rodrigo de Osona, Yanez de la Almedina, Vicente Masip and Juan de Juanes, among many other greats. There are original sculptures on the Gothic doorway of Los Apostoles from the 14th century, the world's largest Processional Monstrance (6m high), images-reliquary (14th and 15th centuries) and chalices, just to name a few.
Some of the other museums that you could visit are the Old Municipal History Museum, Museum of the City, Benlliure House Museum, the Blasco Ibanez House Museum, Central Military Region Historic Military Museum, Maritime Museum, Natural Science Museum, and the La Casa de las Rocas.
Botanical Gardens: Established in 1802, the gardens have had over 3,000 different plant species many from extremely different climates. There still exist early 19th-century style greenhouses.
Monforte Gardens: These 19th-century neoclassical gardens have a large number of marble statues, pools, fountains, streets and summerhouses, giving the garden some very remarkable landscape effects.
Jardines de los Reales Viveros (Royal Nursery Gardens): Of Arabic origin, the park's size, its gardening wealth and the profusion of sculptures and fountains, which highlight the surroundings, make these the city's most outstanding gardens.
Gardens of the Old Course of the River Turia: After the floods of 1957, the course of the river Turia was artificially diverted south of the city. The old river bed turned into a series of gardens. Gulliver's children's park and the gardens opposite the Palacio de la Música are of special interest.
If you feel you need to get out of town, take a day trip to the Albufera fresh water lake and the surrounding area where rice is grown. The Albufera is also known to host an interesting variety of migratory birds. Manises, 15 km southwest of Valencia is an important center for pottery. Some 100 ceramics factories can be found in the municipality where the art has been practiced for over 700 years.
For a taste of the true Valencian meal, try the paella - made with rice, chicken, rabbit and greens, it is the most typical Valencian dish. Other local specialties you should try are arroz banda (the rice and the fish are cooked separately, for the flavor to be taken in, and it is served with garlic and oil); rice cooked in the oven in an earthenware dish had with beet, cuttlefish, cauliflower and spinach; flideau (similar to rice with seafood, but noodles are used instead of rice); gazpacho (a cold soup of bread, tomatoes, garlic, salt, vinegar and oil); olla churra (pieces of pork and black pudding); gachas (a form of porridge); and hervido (a dish of green beans cooked with potatoes and served with an oil and vinegar dressing.
To wash it all down, try the regional thirst quenchers like the Agua de Valencia (with an orange juice and Cava, the local champagne, base); Orxata (earth almond milk); Cibada (an iced malt drink); Llima Granizada (Iced Lemonade); Cafe del Temps (Espresso on Ice); and Blanco i Negre (Iced Coffee with Leche Merengada).
The city’s events calendar is always overflowing with activities all year round. Some of the activities on the list are as follows:
America’s Cup 2007: Valencia will host the America's Cup 2007, making it the first European venue since 1851 for sailing's oldest tournament. Valencia, was chosen for its tourism infrastructure and because steady summer breezes guarantee start times for the 32nd edition of the race. Here the western Mediterranean could rely on good, steady winds during the summer months.
Mare de Deu dels Desemparats: It is the fiesta of the city’s patron saint. The Placa de la Verge is covered with a carpet of flowers, and the image of the saint is carried from the basilica to the cathedral in a hail of rose petals. You'll see crosses made of flowers throughout the city during this period.
Bienal: Valencia's excellent biennial festival of the arts attracts some big-names. There are special art exhibitions in most of the major venues plus theatre and dance performances.
La Tomatina: The world's biggest food fight takes place in Bunol. Thousands of tons of tomatoes are used as ammunition in an annual street battle, attended by a massive crowd of revelers from all over the world.
Fallas: people build big papier-mâché models depicting just about anything. Fallas are constructed of smaller figures called ninots (dolls). The fallas take a whole year of planning and construction. Another feature of Fallas is the fireworks all through the day, throughout the week! The last night’s display is called ‘la nit de foc’ (the night of fire), and this is the most impressive. At the end of a week displaying the 'fallas' they are burnt.