Monday, 26 June 2017

Valencia: Medieval and later

The Town Hall

Valencia has a wonderful history: founded by the Romans in 138 BC, captured by the Moors, recaptured by El Cid in 1096 (you drive into the city from the airport on the Avenida del Cid), recaptured by the Moors and only made definitively part of Spain in 1238 by Jaime I, the Conqueror.

We started our walk at the main square, Plaza Ayuntamiento, whose dominating feature is the 18th century Town Hall. We headed along Avenida Maria Cristina to reach La Lonja de la Seda (the Silk Exchange) in Plaza del Mercado, opposite the wonderful art nouveau Mercado Central (see separate post). It was built between 1482 and 1498.

It has four parts: the main Tower, the Consulado del Mar (Maritime Consulate) on the left, the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange tree courtyard), and the vast Contracts Room.  The Contracts room is a vast space with numerous twisted columns, some of which are half set into the walls. The twisting ribs go straight into the roof without the usual capitals to intervene.

We headed east then to the strangely named Plaza Redona (round square). It was designed in 1837 and has recently been refurbished.

We walked past the handsome 18th century tower of Santa Catalina, a landmark in Valencia. (The church itself is much older and tucked away in a small square.)

This led us to the Plaza de la Reina where we encountered the extraordinary Cathedral (or Seu). It was consecrated in 1238 by the first bishop of Valencia, Pere d'Albalat, on the site of the Moorish mosque, which in turn had been raised in place of the former Visigothic cathedral. It is very hard to photograph, but here is the facade at the far end of the Plaza. The Miguelete (or Micalet) belltower is on the left, with the Baroque main door in the centre and the Chapel of the Chalice (of which more in a moment) on the right.

Once inside, we were struck by the fine, simple, nave, although with jarring baroque chapels at the apse end ...

 ... and the extraordinary Chapel of the Chalice, which is claimed to house the chalice used at the Last Supper. The wall that houses it is overwelmingly gilded, but the ceiling with its wonderful ribs and bosses is a great sight. The chapel was originally the Chapter House.

Further round in the same direction on the outside is the original Romanesque door, a thing of great simplicity and beauty.

Behind the sprawling Cathedral is the Plaza de la Virgen with the splendid Basilica de la Virgen de Los Desemparados on one side. It was built between 1652 and 1667 by Diego Martínez Ponce de Urrana, it is the only church in the old part of the city that was built new from the foundations up, and not on an existing parish church or convent.

Inside is a baroque oval church with small chapels on the outside. From the far side of the square there is a nice view beyond the fountain to the rear of the Cathedral and its bell tower, .

We walked along Navellos and Muro de Santa Ana, passing the Borja House, now the seat of the city government. Then we turned left at the ring road which runs inside the Turia Gardens (Jardines del Turia) which now occupy the river bid of the Turia river (see separate post). Soon we reached the astonishing Torres de Serranos. This great gate was completed in 1391 and was the main gateway to the city when it still had walls. It is said to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe.

We followed the Blanquerias and Guillem to Castro to reach the IVAM (Institut Valencià d'Art Modern) musuem. It is housed in a rather plain box shaped building which is more interesting inside. We diverted to have a look around and especially enjoyed the exhibition in the basement of work by Valencian artist Ignacio Pinazo (1849-1916). The other great delight of the basement was this section of the city wall uncovered during construction work and splendidly incorporated into the museum.

Continuing along the west edge of the old town we came to the late gothic Torres de Quart. The gates were Napoleon's point of entry into the city and the marks of his cannon balls can still be seen.

Now through some small streets to return to the Plaza Ayuntamiento, whose other great building is the Post Office. It was designed by the architect Miguel Angel Navarro and built between 1915 and 1922. It is an example of the eclectic style.

Conditions: hot (32 degrees) and sunny.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: five stars.

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