Not Hemingway's Spain: Exploring Valencia's city centre, part 1
Zach Frohlich extols the underestimated virtues of Spain's third largest city with his historical and cultural tour of Valencia's top must-see sights.
Today I'm going to talk about Valencia. This entry, or really these entries since this is the first of a four-part series, is _long_ overdue. First, it is worth saying that Valencia is Spain's third largest city. I'm going to say it again. Valencia is Spain's third largest city. No, not Sevilla. No, not Bilbao (not even close!). Yes, Valencia. It is not just some pitstop for beach paella, as Hemingway and many others would have you believe. I wouldn't be representing Valencia accurately if I didn't open with this common rant by other Valencia travel writers, and by sharing with you what is a deeply felt sentiment of Valencians: that their city is under-appreciated, always overlooked by others, and short-changed all around.
There. I said it. There is something about being number three in a country Spain's size: "always a bridesmaid, never a bride". Call me a whiner if you want (but it's sooo true!). Well, if I have won any of you over with my other blog posts, and if you don't suspect me of complete and utter bias (guilty!), I'm going to go on record here and say it: Valencia is a _must visit_ for anyone coming to Spain. Though maybe (hopefully) this no longer needs to be said. As early as 2005, Sala de Exposiciones" walled with "azulejos" and classic regional and agrarian iconography.
Heading north from the train station, the tourist centre of Valencia flows out of three main plazas: Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Plaza de la Reina, and Plaza de la Virgin. Today I can only provide you a whirlwind tour, only briefly touching upon the main highlights of each. The Plaza del Ayuntamiento, as the name suggests, is home to the Town Hall. Opposite it is the Edificio de Correos (Central Post Office), whose metal and glass dome ceiling was recently renovated and is worth a look inside. Just to the west, on one of many pedestrian streets, you will find a great place to try typical Valencian dishes prepared by a quality and knowledgeable chef: Restaurante Navarro (C/Arzobispo Mayoral, 5, Valencia 46002; phone: 96 352 96 23).
To the east of this plaza, walking along Calle de las Barcas (called such because allegedly in olden days the sea once reached here), you will see a lot of impressive building facades, not the least of which is the Edificio del Banco de Valencia. To the north of the Banco de Valencia shoots out Calle del Poeta Querol, Valencia's equivalent of the "Golden Mile". (It is there that you will find the Baroque Palacio del Marqués de dos Aguas, which includes the Museo de la Cerámica.) And starting at the foot of the Bank is a pedestrian shopping area leading east into the Colón shopping area (including the beautiful Mercado de Colón). For more on Valencia's shopping geography, see this guest post by Chic Soufflé.
ordinary functioning post office. This is also a peaceful place to sit and take a break.
Before continuing on north to the Plaza de la Reina, turn west on Calle de María Cristina to head towards the Mercat Central de València. This beautiful, main market is located in a modern building built between 1914 and 1928, which is easily one of the largest and most impressive still-functioning marketplace buildings in Spain. I'll discuss this more in-depth later, but must say a couple of things about it here. First, it is a must visit, but you have to go in the morning (only open in the morning, until 3pm; closed on Sundays) and I'd avoid Mondays when the fish market is closed. Opposite the Market is La Lonja de la Seda, the 15th-century Silk Market. Impressive if for no other reason than that it is an old, historic building in Spain that is _not_ religious in nature, the interior of this building is breath-taking, and I highly recommend the tour, since the history and iconography inside is really interesting. Rounding out this whirlwind detour is La Plaça Redona, a.k.a. the Round Square. There is little more to this square than its peculiar shape, but it is also home to market stands which sell traditional handmade products.
|Evidence for the descent in popularity of los Borgia: In the 17th century these 15th-century frescoes, commissioned by a Borgia, were covered up, only to be uncovered again in 2004.
Historian's digression: The key to understanding what I will call "la Valencia profunda" is to think back to 1492 and its many cultural and economic ramifications for Spain. 1492? "What?!?" you might say. Well back in the 15th century Valencia was a cultural centre not only for Spain, but for all of Europe. I have had many a medieval historian friend pass through Valencia and "go gaga" over all of its fascinating historical landmarks and namesakes for this period. For historians of science, for example, Valencia was one of two major ports of entry for important scientific ideas imported from the East and Mideast (the other port city being in Italy). Thanks to the silk trade among other things (whose importance is marked by the building of La Lonja), the city was also an economic powerhouse. (Another case in point, Valencia's most famous family, the House of Borgia, was at the height of its power during this period, giving the world two popes and investing in the city's local buildings and arts.) So when tanto monta, monta tanto Isabel and Fernando (through Christopher Columbus) opened the way to the West, the New World and all its riches, they were essentially undercutting Valencia's importance as a port to the East.
In the next post I will continue through the city's centre, where we turn to those two oh-so-important genres of Spanish tourism: religious sites and art museums. And then we'll shift to one of the city's oldest and most vibrant neighborhoods, El Carmen.
Originally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and has been living in Valencia for the last few years. He is a historian by training and is married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights on Spain at Not Hemingway's Spain.
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