Tara Fitzgerald

Valencia, officially València, is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. Valencia is Spain's third largest metropolitan area, with a population ranging from 1.7 to 2.5 million. The Port of Valencia is the fifth busiest container port in Europe and the busiest container port on the Mediterranean Sea.

The city is situated on the banks of the Turia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, fronting the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Its historic center is one of the largest in Spain, with approximately 169 hectares; this heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

Origin of the name

The original Latin name of the city was Valentia, meaning ‘strength’, or ‘valor’, the city being named according to the Roman practice of recognizing the valor of former Roman soldiers after a war. The Roman historian Livy explains that the founding of Valentia in the 2nd century BC was due to the settling of the Roman soldiers who fought against an Iberian rebel, Viriatus. During the rule of the Muslim kingdoms in Spain, it had the nickname Medina bu-Tarab ('City of Joy') according to a transliteration, or Medina at-Turab ('City of Sands') according to another, since it was located on the banks of the River Turia. It is not clear if the term Balansiyya was reserved for the entire Taifa of Valencia or also designated the city. Now, by gradual sound changes, Valentia has become Valencia.

History

Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain, founded in the Roman period, c. 138 BC, under the name ‘Valentia Edetanorum’ by the consul Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus. A few centuries later, with the power vacuum left by the demise of the Roman imperial administration, the church assumed the reins of power in the city, coinciding with the first waves of the invading Germanic peoples. The city later surrendered to the invading Moors (Berbers and Arabs) about 714 AD. The Muslims occupied the city, introducing their language, religion, and customs.

In 1238, King James I of Aragon, with an army composed of Aragonese, Catalans, Navarrese and crusaders from the Order of Calatrava, reconquered the city and divided the land among the nobles who helped him conquer it, as witnessed in the Llibre del Repartiment. The city endured serious troubles in the mid-14th century, including the decimation of the population by the Black Death of 1348 and subsequent years of epidemics — as well as a series of wars and riots that followed.

The 15th century was a time of economic expansion, known as the Valencian Golden Age, in which culture and the arts flourished. Some of the most emblematic buildings of the city were built during this period, including the Serrans Towers (1392), the Silk Exchange (1482), the Micalet and the Chapel of the Kings of the Convent of Sant Domènec. Following the discovery of the Americas, the Valencians, were prohibited participation in the Cross-Atlantic commerce, and with this loss of trade, Valencia eventually suffered an economic crisis. The crisis deepened during the 17th century with the expulsion in 1609 of the Jews and the Moriscos, descendants of the Muslim population that had converted to Christianity.

The Valencian economy recovered during the 18th century with the rising manufacture of woven silk and ceramic tiles. The 19th century began with Spain embroiled in wars with France, Portugal, and England—but the War of Independence most affected the Valencian territories and the capital city.

During the second half of the 19th century, the bourgeoisie encouraged the development of the city and its environs; land-owners were enriched by the introduction of the orange crop and the expansion of vineyards and other crops. This economic boom corresponded with a revival of local traditions and of the Valencian language.

Things to do

Starting in the mid-1990s, Valencia, formerly an industrial center, saw a rapid development that expanded its cultural and touristic possibilities and transformed it into a newly vibrant city. Many local landmarks were restored, including the ancient Towers of the medieval city (Serrans Towers and Quart Towers), and the Sant Miquel dels Reis monastery. Whole sections of the old city, for example, the Carmen Quarter, have been extensively renovated.

In its long history, Valencia has acquired many local traditions and festivals, among them the Falles - a local festival held in March, and La Tomatina - an annual tomato fight, draws crowds to the nearby town of Buñol in August. There are also a number of well-preserved traditional Catholic festivities throughout the year. Holy Week celebrations in Valencia are considered some of the most colorful in Spain.

Les Falles

The Falles is a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph in the city of Valencia, Spain. The term Falles refers to both the celebration and the monuments burnt during the celebration. Each neighborhood of the city has an organized group of people, the Casal Faller, produces a construction known as a Falla which is eventually burnt. Neighborhood groups vie with each other to make the most impressive and outrageous creations. Their intricate assemblages, placed on top of pedestals for better visibility, depict famous personalities and topical subjects of the past year, presenting humorous and often satirical commentary on them.

The five days and nights of Falles might be described as a continuous street party. There is a multitude of processions: historical, religious, and comedic. Crowds in the restaurants spill out into the streets. Explosions can be heard all day long and sporadically through the night. The Mascletà, an explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays, takes place at 2:00 pm every day of the festival. On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March 19, these falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as La Cremà (the Burning), the climax of the whole event, and the reason why the constructions are called falles ("torches").

Architecture

Valencia has buildings dating to Roman and Arabic times. The Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, is primarily of Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque architecture. Beside the Cathedral is the Gothic Basilica of the Virgin (Basílica De La Mare de Déu dels Desamparats). The 15th-century Serrans and Quart towers are part of what was once the wall surrounding the city.

UNESCO has recognized the Silk Exchange market (La Llotja de la Seda), erected in early Valencian Gothic style, as a World Heritage Site. The modernist Central Market (Mercat Central) is one of the largest in Europe.

World-renowned (and city-born) architect Santiago Calatrava produced the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències), which contains an opera house/performing arts center, a science museum, an IMAX cinema/planetarium, an oceanographic park and other structures such as a long covered walkway and restaurants. The Music Palace (Palau De La Música) (es:Palacio de la Música de Valencia) is another noteworthy example of modern architecture in Valencia.

Cathedrals

The Valencia Cathedral is situated in the center of the ancient Roman city where some believe the temple of Diana stood. In Gothic times, it seems to have been dedicated to the Holy Saviour; the Cid dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin; King James I of Aragon did likewise, leaving in the main chapel the image of the Blessed Virgin, which he carried with him and is reputed to be the one now preserved in the sacristy.

Beside the cathedral is the chapel dedicated to the Our Lady of the Forsaken (Mare de Déu dels desamparats).

Squares and gardens

The largest plaza in Valencia is the Plaça del Ajuntament; it is home to the City Hall (Ajuntament) on its western side and the central post office (Edifici de Correus) on its eastern side, a cinema that shows classic movies, and many restaurants and bars. It serves as ground zero during the Les Falles when the fireworks of the Mascletà can be heard every afternoon.

The Plaça de la Mare de Déu contains the Basilica of the Virgin and the Turia fountain and is a popular spot for locals and tourists. Around the corner is the Plaça de la Reina, with the Cathedral, orange trees, and many bars and restaurants.

The Turia River was diverted in the 1960s, after severe flooding, and the old riverbed is now the Turia gardens, which contain a children's playground, a fountain, and sports fields. The Palau de la Música is adjacent to the Turia gardens and the City of Arts and Sciences lies at one end. The Valencia Bioparc is a zoo, also located in the Turia riverbed.

Albufera Natural Park

The Albufera is a freshwater lagoon and estuary on the Gulf of Valencia coast of the Valencian Community in eastern Spain. It is the main portion of the Parc Natural de l'Albufera ("Albufera Natural Park"). The natural biodiversity of the nature reserve allows a great variety of fauna and flora to thrive and be observed year-round. The most important human use of the lagoon has traditionally been and continues to be fishing