04 February 2020
The architectural pleasures
of walking around the streets
and squares of Valencia
The architectural delights during my visit to Valencia last week included the cathedral, some of the city’s many historic churches, the heart of the city’s former Jewish quarter, the City of Arts and Sciences or Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, designed by Valencia’s world-renown architect Santiago Calatrav.
But there many other architectural delights too – too many to take in a short, two-day visit. So, this is merely a taste of some of the other buildings I enjoyed in Valencia:
1, The Mercado Central
Valencia’s Central Market, the Mercado Central, an imposing modernist building dating from the early 20th century, built in 1928 on the site of one of Spain’s oldest food markets.
This may be the most beautiful covered food market I have ever visited. The vast Modernista structure of iron and glass is brilliantly ornamented with luminous ceramic tiles.
Vividly coloured glass windows and cupolas house hundreds of vendors and stalls selling over extraordinary fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, candy, bread, wine and cheeses, meaning the market is a riot of colour, sounds and smells.
But you’ve got to get there early in the day, because it is closed by mid-afternoon.
2, La Lonja, The Silk Market
La Lonja, or Silk Market, beside the Mercado Central, is an imposing late Gothic Monument to the mercantile power of Valencia. This splendid building is a Unesco World Heritage site and is one of Spain’s finest examples of a civil Gothic building.
La Lonja was built as the city’s silk and commodities exchange designed by the architect Pere Compte. It was built in the late 15th century, at a time when Pere Compte was at the peak of his career and when Valencia was booming.
The main entrance was the Puerta de las Pecados or the ‘door of sin,’ is decorated with tendrils and figures on both sides. The name was a warning merchants about the dangers of sharp business practices.
Two main buildings flank the inner courtyard filled with orange trees that were in full fruit when I visited last week.
The Sala de Contratación is a magnificent room, with twisted columns and Gothic windows with intricate tracery. This was the centre of the silk and wool trade, of banking and commerce.
The Consulado del Mar was the seat of a tribunal adjudicating on maritime mercantile cases. The ground floor chamber has a fine Renaissance ceiling, the Sala Dorada on the top floor has an artesonado or intricately decorated, 15th century wooden ceiling.
3, Estación del Norte:
The Estació del Nord or North Station is the main railway station in Valencia. The entrance is on Calle de Xàtiva in the city centre next to the city’s bullring, just a 200-metre walk from the city hall.
The station was designed by the Valencian architect Demetrio Ribes Marco, and was built in 1906-1917. Before its completion, trains used to run right through the main doorways of the unfinished building to their final destination at what’s now the Town Hall Square.
The building is one of the main works of Valencian Art Nouveau and was listed as an Historical Artistic Monument in 1961 and a Cultural Heritage site 1987.
Walking into the entrance hall is like stepping back in time. This is a grandiose, Modernista-style building and it is a visual feast of colours, with ceramic mosaics and vegetable, flower, orange tree and orange blossom motifs decorating every square metre.
The main foyer is decorated with ceramic mosaics and murals, with mosaics wishing travellers bon voyage in a variety of languages. The wooden ticket booths have survived, and there are ceramic paintings by Gregorio Muñoz Dueñas in an exhibition room to the right of the main entrance.
Although the station is on the south side of the inner city, its name come from the Caminos de Hierro del Norte de España (Railways of the North of Spain), the railway company that built it and opened it in 1917. The company was later nationalised and incorporated into RENFE, and later separated into Adif, the company that now runs and owns it. The station has millions of passengers each year.
4, The City Hall:
The Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the central hub of the city and many buses terminate outside the handsome, neoclassical Ayuntamiento or city hall, which gives its name to the square.
Inside the city hall is the city museum, the Museo Histórico Municipal, where the exhibits include the sword said to have been held by James I when he conquered the city from the Moors.
5, The Post Office ‘Palace’:
Across the square from the City Hall, the Post Office has a magnificent dome and a grand interior. The official name of the building is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, although the inscription on its façade has led to it being known as the Edificio de Correos y Telégrafos, or the Posts and Telegraphs Building.
The palace was officially by King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia at the beginning of the 20th century and was completed in 1923.
6, Palau de Música
A short walk from Calatrava’s Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, the Palau de Musica towers over the linear park on the dry riverbed of the Turia.
This is a beautiful concert hall, hosting mainly classical-music recitals. Beautiful fountains that perform a display to music, synchronising the water jets in time which each crescendo and every beat. This is amazing to watch and often happens around mid-day, but I missed this during my visit last week.
7, The Bull Ring:
The Plaza de Toros, beside the Estación del Norte, is Valencia’s bullring. It was built in 1850-1859. It was designed in the neoclassical style by the Valencian architect Sebastián Monleón Estellés, who was inspired by the Colosseum in Rome and the Arena of Nîmes in France.
When it was built, the arena was outside the city walls, near the Ruzafa Gate. It is an early example of a building that used cast iron columns that provide remarkable transparency in the boxes.
I have been a pacifist and a vegetarian all my adult life, so I have no fondness for or interest in bullrings. Indeed, the only bullrings I have enjoyed visiting are small squares in Wexford and Drogheda.
But the Plaza de Toros in Valencia is an eye-catching building. It is formed by a 48-sided polygon, with 384 external arches, and a capacity for around 10,500 people.
8, The Archbishop’s Palace
The Archbishop’s Palace, facing the Romanesque south doorway of Valencia Cathedral, dates back to the 13th century, although only the pointed arches survive from the original building.
The palace stands on the site a grain market during the time of the Moors. It is simple in design, with an inside cloister and a handsome chapel. The arch that connects it the palace with the cathedral was built in 1357.
Continuous pillaging and many fires made it necessary to rebuild this palace in the 20th century, although the earlier chapel and cloister have survived. There are portraits of the Archbishops of Valencia in the council chamber.
9, The City Walls and Gates
Over 1,000 years ago, a formidable set of city walls and 12 monumental gates defended Valencia against marauders and invading armies. Today, the medieval walls have disappeared, although two gates survive: the Torres de Serranos to the north, and the Torres de Quart to the west.
To the east, La Puerta del Mar (or ‘Gateway to the Sea’) was built in 1946 in imitation of the city gate that once stood on the site. The original gate was built in 1801 and demolished in 1867, along with a large part of the original city wall. The gate replaced a mediaeval one that actually stood nearer to the river. Both were inspired by the triumphal arches of the Romans.
10, The streets and squares of Valencia
One of the real architectural pleasures of Valencia is the collection of narrow, cobbled streets and small squares, lined with small shops, cafés, restaurants and colourful buildings.
It is truly worth taking time to sit down and simply watch life passing by.