I’M IN VALENCIA, SPAIN, city of parks and paella, of rich and tangled history, with many outstanding architectural remnants thereof.
Valencia has 300 days of sunshine a year. Yesterday was not one of them. But gray though it was, it suited a walk from our hotel, the SH Valencia Palace, for some preliminary exploration.
My small group of travel journalists is here during a high point in Valencia’s calendar: the five-day Fallas festival, Europe’s largest street party. Our guide, Vito, told us it dates back to medieval times, when carpenters would gather and burn wood scraps in honor of St. Joseph at the end of the winter season. The piles became bigger and more elaborate over the centuries, morphing eventually into sculptural creations.
These days, 400 organizations spend some 10 million euros creating papier mache and polystyrene sculptures with the kitschy appeal of Disney animation figures, some fifty feet tall, and some satirical (there’s one of Barack Obama I have yet to see).
These ‘fallas,’ as the sculptures are called, will be burned in a culminating event this weekend; meanwhile, marching bands, costume parades, and fireworks are already in full swing, and the city is packed with visitors.
I am here primarily to see the architecture, and I’m not disappointed. Valencia tore down its old city walls in the 1860s and expanded beyond them along broad boulevards. Elegant apartment buildings went up in the city’s own brand of early modernism — somewhere between Nouveau and Deco, sometimes with a bit of baroque thrown in.
The area called Ciutat Vella, or Old City, is studded with monuments of all periods, including the Silk Exchange, or La Lonja, below, a late 15th century Gothic hall where merchants met and traded, with twisting columns on the interior and gargoyles along the roofline. Recently restored, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s spectacular.
Two amazing early 20th century market halls, made of iron and decorated with mosaics in the city’s characteristic ‘Modernismo’ style, bracket the Old City area — one still used for produce and foodstuffs, the other now housing craft stalls.
Mercado Central, one of Europe’s largest ongoing daily food markets, above
Mercado de Colon and details, above
We also peeked into the city’s cathedral which has a Gothic dome, Romanesque door, and ornate Renaissance chapels inside.
It’s a lot to take in, especially with the distractions of Fallas, and there’s plenty more to come.