Valencia: Old Town
Last week, I put together a post showing the modern part of Valencia, Spain’s third city.
Post commenters expressed a wide range of opinions. Some of you liked the architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences but others didn’t. There were references to aliens, spaceships and, even, Star Wars. It was interesting to read all your thoughts.
Since last week was all about unusual shapes, white materials and turquoise reflecting pools, I want to use this opportunity to show you the other face of Valencia, the face that took me by surprise.
When visiting a city, I make every effort to stay close to what is considered the center. In Valencia’s case, I booked a room in a small hotel located at the Ciutat Vella (Old City).
The hotel was located less than a mile from the train station, so, we decided to walk. When we were about to cross the street to enter the ring that comprises the old part of town, I remember my husband looking back and shouting: “Look at all those buildings! We are surrounded by palaces.”
During our short walk, we saw wide avenues, dancing fountains, extensive plazas and palaces painted with the most beautiful pastel colors you can imagine. We kept looking at each other while moving ahead.
It didn’t take us long to drop the luggage and run back to the street. Here are some of the things we saw.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento
The largest plaza in Valencia is the Plaza del Ayuntamiento; it is home to the City Hall on its western side and the central post office on its eastern side, a cinema that shows classic movies, and many restaurants and bars.
The plaza is triangular in shape, with a large cement lot at the southern end, normally surrounded by flower vendors.
It serves as ground zero during the Fallas. There is a large fountain at the northern end.
There are many grand buildings in the streets surrounding this large Plaza. A quick walk can reveal many impressive details.
Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange)
The Lonja, built between 1482 and 1548, was the place where the merchants use to meet, deal and sign. The structure built in a late Gothic style was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site because it demonstrates the power and wealth that Valencia had during its golden trade years.
The main hall, Sala de Contratacion (The Contract Hall) is an enormous, lavishly decorated space supported by gorgeous twisted columns. This was the heart of the building where most deals were sealed.
I enjoyed taking a look at all the figures scattered around the building. A lot of them were symbols of the sin and corruption that was banned from the building. Traders were supposed to enter the Lonja to deal in an honest and honorable way.
In front of the Lonja, you can find the Mercado Central, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. This modernist building is not only gorgeous but it contains all sorts of produce, meat and seafood. In addition, it has cafes and places that sell food ready to eat.
I am keeping my lips sealed about the Mercado because the place deserves and entire post.
Catedral and Plaza de la Reina
This Cathedral, which many believe is located at the center of the original Roman city, has seen plenty of changes during its lifetime.
A Moorish mosque used to stand in its place. However, a Bishop decided it was unworthy to convert a mosque into a church. He laid the foundation for a Gothic church around 1262. Another bishop made additions and King James I added the tower (El Miguelete).
More changes and additions were made between the 15th and 18th centuries.
The Plaza surrounding the Cathedral is lively and full of cafes and restaurants.
Plaza de la Virgen
A stretch passage connects the Plaza de la Reina to the Plaza de la Virgen. This Plaza has different views of the Cathedral. Looks like one of the city’s top meeting spots.
This unusual work dates from the 19th century. It was designed with commerce in mind – circular so as to form an enclosed area. Traditionally known as “el clot” (the hole), its lower floor is occupied by shops selling all kinds of items. On Sunday mornings there is also an outdoor market. The square is topped by three further floors with wrought iron railings and single balconies. There is a fountain from 1850 in the centre.
Valencia has two, 15th-century towers which were part of the wall surrounding the city.
The Serrano Tower is located in the northeastern part of town. It is an important landmark and one of the best preserved monuments of Valencia.
Nowadays, the Tower is open to the public. From the top, visitors can enjoy an amazing view of the city. The tower is featured in the opening ceremony of the Fallas. The Fallera Mayor declares the Fallas open from a platform erected in front of the building, which is followed by the singing of the anthem of the Valencian Community.
The Puente de Serranos is located directly across the tower. From it, the old bed of the Turia River, which has been converted to a park, can be observed.
The second surviving tower is known as the Cuart. To me, this tower is more impressive than the Serrano Tower.
Horchateria de Santa Catalina
Horchata is a sweet, opaque drink made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts), into which you dip large finger-shaped buns called fartons.
All I can say is that this drink is delicious. Every time I had it, I had to go for seconds.
The Horchateria de Santa Caterina, located in the Plaza de Santa Catarina (close to the Cathedral), is a great place to try the famous drink. This horchateria has two centuries of history and also serves chocolate and artisanal ice creams.
I will not have room in this post to mention all the monuments and museums located in Valencia. There is plenty to discover when walking from one place to another.
I am happy I was able to enjoy this beautiful part of the city.
- A touristic map can be obtained at the Visitor’s Center (Plaza del Ayuntamiento) or in your hotel. The map will point out the monuments and museums. The Old Town is compact; therefore, a walking tour is feasible.
- For those which prefer guided options, Turibus (big large buses) passes can be bought in several parts of the city.
- Audio guides are available at the Lonja de Seda. A video explaining the history and features of the structure is included in the admission price (for those who do not want to buy the audio guide).
- The city is full of museums. People with time available may have the opportunity to visit several.
Have you visited Valencia’s Old Town?
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