Valencia – An Amazing History

The unique name of the city of Valencia reveals the incredible age and history held within the city’s walls.  Gate towers still stand, scattered on the outskirts of the old city, indicating the city’s former boundaries.  Old Valencia thrives within the city center where cathedrals and museums tower over the undulation of buildings – none of which exceed a few stories high. Age is evident in the small markets that can only be found wandering alleyways and have carved their own niches into the city.  In the early morning, the worn-down hands of an elderly Spanish woman circles tirelessly on a embroidered linen whos purpose has yet to take form.  She sits placidly just off-center in a market dedicated to ribbons and linen; unaffected by the fact that only a few stalls in the market are open.  Age seeps through the cobbled streets and gothic-styled lampposts to the Central Market where residents still gather to sell fresh meats, fish, and produce.  Tradition is strong in Valencia.  Mom-and-pop stores that litter the inner city are closed from 4-8pm when locals relax on their daily siestas.  The streets are almost empty during these lazy afternoon hours, stranding tourists with inactivity.  Age is so evident that you can feel the grip of past traditions on the Valencia of today.

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, but it feels so much smaller than Madrid and Barcelona.  There aren’t too many attractions in Valencia, but they are all within a short distance of the old city.  I spent a few hours at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, where they have several exhibitions on Valencian artists.  One section of the museum is dedicated to Joaquin Sorolla, an impressionist artist who specialized in portraits and landscapes from his native land.  Sorolla travelled to Paris and Madrid to receive an education, gained international recognition, then returned to Valencia.  He was inspirational to many local artists, including his daughter and son-in-law, and some of his works were donated to Spanish museums.  This museum was one of my favorite that I encountered.

A painting of Sorolla's children.  You can see the tenderness in his brush strokes and colors.
A painting of Sorolla’s children. You can see the tenderness in his brush strokes and color choices.

Another notable attraction is the Cathedral de Valencia, which houses one of the cups that is suspected to be the Holy Grail.  The audio guide for the church was extremely informative about the cathedral’s paintings and architecture.  The chalice is over 2000 years old, and the history behind such an artifact is truly amazing.  Kings and armies fought to protect this treasure, sending it to Valencia in the 1500s to hide it from invaders.  The influencial and symbolic effects of what seems to be a fancy cup amazes me.  Religion was such a huge power in European history.

Holy Grail
You’re so unfair sipping from your cup / Till it runneth over, Holy Grail.

Outside these city walls, modern Spain has created an urban atmosphere, as if a wave swept over the Valencian countryside and halted at the now-eradicated circular walls of the old city.  Just outside the historical gates that indicated the boundaries of the old city walls is a well-kept park that runs along half the outskirts.  The park follows urban trends of clean lines, an abundance of greenery, and themed play areas for children all in the shadows of the aged buildings of the old city.

Children's Play Area in Valencia
Children’s Play Area in Valencia

Travelling a little further, the new century has produced more modern architecture in the City of Arts and Sciences.  The assembly of these buildings demonstrate the common trope of old vs new, past vs future, and statis vs advancement.  As obviously as the city center sticks out among its surroundings for its age, so does the sharp angles and reflective glass of the complex for its modernity.  The buildings are the embodiment of the struggle of a hefty sum of a 1 billion public euros on the people of Valencia whom value their age and history, albiet with a stunning outcome.  I regret not being able to visit the insides of these museums, nevertheless the buildings were stunning.

City of Arts and Sciences at night.  The IMAX theater looks like an eye.
City of Arts and Sciences at night. The IMAX theater looks like an eye.
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