SHALL WE CLIMB THE MICALET?
If you want to enjoy one of the city´s best views, a great option is the Micalet: the bell tower of Valencia Cathedral.
From this beautiful Gothic tower, you can see Valencia from a height of 51 metres, but be prepared to climb the spiral staircase with 207 steps made of stone blocks.
This fantastic bell tower, one of the most famous symbols of Valencia, was built in 1.381 and finished in 1.420. Its principal architect was the great Andreu Juliá.
We will pass through the three sections of bells on three superimposed floors.
On the way up, we can see eleven of the thirteen bells of the Micalet bell tower, each one named after a saint.
The largest of all, weighing 7.5 tons, cast in 1539 and 2.35 metres in diameter, is located on the belfry of the tower´s terrace and is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel to protect the city from storms and other evils. This is the origin of the name of the tower, the "Micalet", a word in the Valencian language that translates into Spanish as "Miguelito".
This is one of the most giant bells in the Iberian Peninsula still in operation and the largest in the former Crown of Aragon.
Due to an old agreement between the city council and the cathedral chapter, this bell only rings to mark the hours and cannot be used for other chimes (with very few exceptions). It is impressive to arrive on the terrace of the Micalet when it is about to strike the hour, as the sound of the bell touches the heart.
Above this enormous bell, another much smaller bell is dedicated to Jesus, Saint Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Joachim, and Saint Anne in the belfry. This one is named The Quarts bell from 1736, which is responsible for ringing the quarters.
There is another interesting bell, the Manuel, which fully reproduces the traditional ringing called "Tancar Les Muralles" "close the walls", in the Valencian language, which indicated the closing of all the gates of the medieval walls until 1865.
The "Tancar Les Muralles" sounded from 20.00 to 20.30 in winter and one hour later in summer. People who did not enter the city within the walls before these chimes would have to remain outside the city until the following morning, thus staying "at the moon of Valencia".
The ringing of all the bells of the Micalet at the same time is reserved for an exceptional date: at noon on the day of Corpus Christi.
The entrance to the Micalet costs €2 and can be purchased at the cathedral itself. The viewpoint opens every day at 10.00, and it closes at 19.30 and the rest of the year between April and October, from Monday to Friday at 18.30, and Saturdays and Sundays at 19.00.
Address: Plaza de la Reina s/n
AN ORXATETA EN FARTONS!
If we want something sweet and very Valencian to nibble on, I suggest the traditional orxata en fartons, horchata with sweet sugared bread, the perfect match. We can have it mid-morning, but we do it at around 5.00 or 6.00 as a snack, especially in summer.
Horchata is an entirely vegetable drink, although it looks like milk. It is drunk cold and can be liquid, granita or mixed, half liquid glass, half granita.
Its main ingredient is the tigernut, chufa in Spanish, a tiny tuber that looks like a small potato of about 1 cm, and if you eat it raw, it tastes like coconut.
The recipe is very simple: the dried tigernuts are left to macerate in water overnight, and the next day, once hydrated, they are crushed with water, strained, and sugar is added to taste. It is most traditionally eaten with fartons, baked sweets in the shape of sticks.
The history of the tigernut is curious. The first reference to the tigernut dates back to the 15th century BC, as samples of this tuber have been found in an Egyptian sarcophagus.
The most widely accepted theories indicate that it was a species introduced by the Arabs in the 8th century when they arrived in these lands.
Due to the characteristics of its soil, the region of L´Horta Nord in Valencia is the only area in Spain where this tuber is grown, mainly in the municipality of Al-boraia, close to the city of Valencia and considered to be the birthplace of horchata. This drink is consumed in the so-called horchaterías.
As for its nutritional value, Persian, Arab and Chinese authors have already highlighted in ancient times the great digestive and antioxidant benefits of tigernuts and tigernut milk.
In terms of health benefits, we can say that it does not contain lactose, is gluten-free, facilitates heavy digestions, has anti-diarrhoeal properties and prevents and improves constipation problems, as well as hypertension, controls cholesterol and triglycerides and can be consumed by people with diabetes as long as it is without added sugars.
Where to have horchata with gourmets? Valencia has many options, but a super classic is the Horchatería Santa Catalina, right in the centre of the city and open for two centuries. It is the oldest horchatería of them all and is decorated with beautiful ceramic panels depicting different historical moments in Valencia or traditional scenes.
Address: Horchatería Santa Catalina
Plaza Santa Catalina n° 6.
Calle Colón or Carrer Colon is the shopping street par excellence. It is a one-way street with a cycle lane and is increasingly pedestrianised. It is the most important shopping street in Valencia and the fifth most expensive street in Spain.
However, Calle Colón has not always existed, and its origins date back to just over a century ago.
It was from 1865, during the time of the industrial revolution, when the walls of Valencia were demolished as a result of the city´s need to modernise, expand and grow to meet the new requirements of a Valencia that was updating by leaps and bounds.
The demolition of the wall that enveloped the city gave rise to Calle Colón. Even today, at the Colón Metro stop, in the Plaza de Los Pinazo, we can still see the ruins of this wall that passed right through the middle of the left-hand pavement. We can also see the remains of the so-called Gates of the Jews. The Valencian Jewish community settled inside this area inside the walls until the Catholic Monarchs decreed their expulsion in 1492.
Today, you can find the Corte Inglés and the main seat of the University of Valencia, founded in 1499, the Calle de las Barcas, full of benches and many narrow streets of the so-called Barrio de la Xerea, which was the medieval ghetto.
And what was on the other side of the street? That is to say, on the right-hand pavement: fields and orchards, and some farmhouses called "alquerías", reminiscent of the times of Arab domination, who settled in Valencia for no more and no less than 500 years, from 711 to 1.238.
With the removal of the wall, a space was opened up for building, where today the Ensanche de Valencia is located. In the middle of the so-called golden triangle, you can find the beautiful Mercado de Colón, in a modernist style from the beginning of the 20th century.
Nearby, at the end of Calle Colón and the beginning of Calle Xàtiva, is the bullring and the modernist Estació del Nord, Valencia´s central train station built-in 1917. It is no coincidence that most of the customers of the shops in and around Calle Colón arrived and continue to arrive by train from nearby towns.
So, from the Puerta del Mar square to the Plaza de Toros in Valencia, the approximately two-kilometre walk allows you to buy clothes, shoes, bags or accessories, cosmetics, etc., and see a great collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century buildings. It´s not all about shopping and splurging!
Address: Calle Colón
IN THE CHICEST PART OF VALENCIA
The City of Arts and Sciences (CAC) is Valencia´s great bet on modernity.
It is a complex of cultural and leisure buildings located at the eastern end of the old bed of the River Túria, whose enormous gardens, more than 10 km long, form part of the port of Valencia.
It consists of five separate buildings and two double bridges across the river, designed by the famous Valencian architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, well-known for his distinctive white buildings and bridges.
These buildings are flanked by extensive shallow pools and re-covered with his characteristic trencadís, white ceramic, small pieces of white tiles glued side by side, an ancient Valencian technique for covering surfaces, brought to the fore by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí in his Barcelona projects.
These pools remind us that there used to be a river here. Also, at night, when these buildings are illuminated with attractive artistic lights, which reflect in the water as a mirror, it is fantastic.
Construction of the complex began in the early 1990s and was completed in 2008.
The first building constructed is L´Hemisfèric, with glass eyelids raised or closed in the shape of a human eye. There is a large hemisphere in the centre, which houses an Imax 3D cinema screen with a surface area of 900 m², one of the largest in the world, where mainly scientific and historical films are shown.
On the left side is the large building of the Science Museum, with a colossal glasshouse that illuminates the interior, and this science museum has the motto "forbidden not to touch".
The photos of both the exterior and interior of the building are extraordinary.To the right of the Hemisfèric is the Palau de Les Arts, the largest building in the complex, where the Valencia opera house is located, with four different halls and spectacular hanging gardens.
There are guided tours inside when there are no opera, ballet or orchestra concerts. From its hanging gardens, high above, the photos are incredible.
Next to the Hemisfèric and the Science Museum is a massive structure of tall, white-painted metal parabolic arches leading to the street where vehicles drive through. On the surface, there are very Mediterranean gardens beneath the arches with interesting contemporary metal sculptures.
The photos of the complex from these gardens will surprise you.
On the other side of the Science Museum, there is another very tall building covered in navy blue ceramic trencadís called L´ Agora. In this multifunctional building, everything from skating rinks to the tennis courts for the Valencian Open has been installed.
In short, photography lovers will not find a better place.
Address: Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias.
Avenue del Professor López Piñero,7
A GREEK EMPRESS IN VALENCIA?
This small church hidden in the vast network of narrow, twisting streets of the historic centre of Valencia is none other than San Juan del Hospital, the oldest in the city.
It was built in the middle of the 13th century, a few years after the conquest of Valencia by the Muslims by the Christian king of Aragon, Jaume I, the Conqueror, in 1238.
The latter gave the site to the religious-military order of Saint John of Jerusalem, later known as the Order of Malta, who built a church, hospital, convent and cemetery. The church and cemetery are what remain.
Its architectural style ranges from late Romanesque, rare in Valencia, to Cistercian and early Gothic.
It has a single nave, with a slightly pointed barrel vault roof and side chapels between wide buttresses.
In the chapel closest to the main altar, remains of the original Romanesque frescoes adorned the entire church are preserved.
The high altar is under a half-dome with arches that converge in the centre of the vault. The entire interior is stone, with little decoration: its beauty and elegance lie in its simplicity and ornamental emptiness.
The decoration is the sober medieval structure of the building. The dim light enters through the long, narrow windows of the apse, covered with alabaster plaques. Next to the main altar, a beautiful grille gives access to the Chapel of Santa Bárbara, with a rich baroque decoration of blue and white vegetal sgraffito.
On the left wall, as soon as you enter, you will see a niche with a stone tumulus where the remains of Constance Hohenstaufen, Empress of Greece and Nicaea, welcomed by King James I in the mid-13th century, rest. Next to it are the relics of Saint Barbara, brought by the empress, who was very devoted to this saint.
The access to this church is in a small street called Trinquete de Caballeros. The entrance is unnoticed as it is not the entrance to the church but the one that gives access to the courtyard.
What does stand out from the street is the austere apse of the church, with its long, narrow windows that look like loopholes.
Address: Trinquete de Caballeros.
STROLL ALONG A RIVER
Valencia is an utterly flat city, as we have seen from the top of the Micalet. So, do you dare to take a bike ride through the city of the Túria river?Probably the safest, most relaxing and pleasant route in the city is through the gardens of the River Túria.
Entering a little into the recent city history, we will tell you that in October 1957, there was a terrible flood in Valencia due to the river´s overflowing, in which more than 100 people died.
Immediately, the authorities decided that such a tragedy could not happen again, and the course of the river was diverted along a new route to the south of the city, leaving an enormous space in the old course of the river where, in the 80s of the 20th century, the construction of the new gardens began.
There are 167 hectares of an extraordinary open urban space that runs the length of the city, like a great green axis, between Mislata and the port, with a distance of 12 kilometres and an average width of 160 metres.
It is the most extensive urban garden in Spain and one of the largest in Europe. It has many kilometres of cycle lanes, a multitude of playgrounds with games for children, and specific places to practice sports such as football, rugby, athletics, skateboarding, baseball, etc.
We can also enjoy small bars and restaurants with terraces to take a break in a spectacular natural setting.
At one end of this very long park is the Bioparc, Valencia´s large and modern zoo, in the so-called Parque de Cabecera, while at the opposite end, very close to the sea, is the City of Arts and Sciences. In between, a multitude of attractions and monuments on both sides of the river.
In the plural, we speak of the gardens of the Túria because there are different types of gardens along this old riverbed. In short, a paradise for lovers of botany or simply for strolling.
Special mention should be made of the extensive collection of bridges that cross the old riverbed, a total of 23, including bridges for road traffic and pedestrian bridges and footbridges, almost nothing!
The oldest date from the 15th century and the most modern from the 21st century. Crossing them to see the gardens of the Túria from above is very interesting, but cycling across the old river passing under these bridges is an unforgettable experience.
We are going to see some of them, such as the Trinidad bridge, the oldest, from the 15th century, made of stone and pedestrian; the Serranos and del Mar bridges, from the 16th century; the Ex-position bridge, popularly known as "la peineta" or the Azud d´Or bridge, designed by Calatrava, in the City of Arts and Sciences, with a mast over 150 metres high, making it the tallest construction in the city.
Well, now we have no excuse to take that bike ride.
Address: Jardines del Túria
"POBLAT DE LES FEMBRES PECADRIUS" (VILLAGE OF THE SINFUL WOMEN)
The Torres de Quart is one of the main gates of the old Christian walls built from the middle of the 14th century onwards.
Centuries before, two other walls had been built in the city: the Roman ones in the 1st century AD and the Arab ones in the 11th century. With the rise of Valencia from the 14th century onwards, the Christian kings of Valencia and Aragon decided to build other walls to embrace the neighbourhoods that had grown outside the city walls due to the increase in population.
In the northwest area, outside the Arab walls, next to the river, a neighbourhood had formed where the harlots established themselves.
For more than a century, the quarter was the most prominent and best-known brothel in Europe, protected by royal decree. Some of the fembres pecadrius came to amass real fortunes, envy the ladies of the society of their time. This village was visited by kings, princes and nobles of other powers who passed through the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia.
King Peter the Ceremonious, in 1356, ordered the construction of these new walls that encompassed the neighbourhoods that had sprung up outside the walls, including that of the fembres pecadrius, with the consequent scandal that this provoked among the local puritan society.
Thus, a wall was ordered to be built to enclose the neighbourhood, with a single entrance and exit gate, and it was made compulsory for these courtesans to be visited weekly by a doctor sent by the king to avoid "mals de sement" (sire´s disease), seed diseases or venereal diseases. This district continued to be the "red light district" until the end of the 17th century.
These women could leave the oldest profession in the world and be taken into a nearby convent of nuns, and if the doctor diagnosed them with a venereal disease, they had to go to the General Hospital to be cured.
After the cure, they could not return to prostitution, at least not legally, and those caught doing it after being in the hospital would be imprisoned.
The Towers of Quart, also known as the Towers of the Lime, next to the Pobla de Les Males Dones, was built-in 1444 in a semicircular shape. The towers withstood the demolition of the walls from 1865 onwards because they had served essential functions.
From military barracks, gunpowder magazine, a military prison and, from 1626 to 1676, one of the two towers was a prison for "mugeres livianas", the first one to be founded in Spain exclusively for women.
Today, the Quart Towers are an important monument that can be accessed for an entrance fee of €2, and you can climb up to the battlements of the towers through the spacious halls of the two intermediate floors of both buildings. The views from the top of the towers are impressive.
Address: Torres de Quart.
Plaza de Santa Úrsula, 1
The city of Valencia is one of the meccas of urban art.
Tourists, graffiti artists, amateurs and the simply curious from all over the world come to the city to admire the murals on its walls. Several graffiti routes have even been created around Valencia to discover the street art it treasures.
Don´t miss out. Urban art is something to see in Valencia.
Anything goes to decorate a neighbourhood that has become a living open-air museum: black and white or colour; abstract, cartoonish, science fiction or realistic; beauty or denunciation; with spray paint, airbrush, paintbrush or, even if they fall outside the category of graffiti, even canvases with photographs.
The works degrade over time and change. It is a museum without a repository: art is created, exhibited and changed.
Let´s take a stroll through the streets of this central neighbourhood of El Carmen, where the abundance of quality urban art is surprising.
We can start in Plaça Sant Jaume and the Tossal, with good panels at various points, on façades, doors, railings, etc. From there, taking Carrer de Baix, where there is an abundance of smaller graffiti, we arrive at Plaça del Carme, with some amazing works on the three walls of one of the corners, representing monuments of the city, the Valencian ball game, among other motifs.
In the neighbouring Carrer de Roteros, an alley is considered the "Sistine Chapel" of urban art in Valencia: the Carrer del Moret. In this small street that goes to the river, we can see many large painted panels based on photographs that are also on display.
Returning to the Plaça del Carme, we go to Carrer del Museu to see nice graffiti. There is a small facade with its door open on a wall that they call "the house of the cats", this street leads to Carrer Salvador Giner, with exciting panels of well-known graffiti artists.
Reaching the river, along Carrer Blanqueries, we will see many large paintings in the so-called Red Cross block and going into Carrer de Llíria. We will continue to see minor but equally interesting works.
This narrow street ends at Carrer de Na Jordana, where we can see a few graffiti. Before reaching the river again, we enter Carrer de la Beneficència, just behind the back façade of the IVAM (Institut Valencià d´Art Modern), with a giant work by Escif, one of the most world-renowned local graffiti artists.
At the end of this street, we find ourselves in Carrer de la Corona, another of those streets plagued with graffiti on the façades of buildings and the walls of plots of land and the metal shutters of shops. Walking along this attractive street, we will reach Carrer de Dalt, and finally, along this lively street, we will arrive back at Plaça Sant Jaume, where we started our tour.
Address: Barrio del Carme
SHALL WE HAVE A DRINK OF WATER...?
To try this particular water, we go to the bars in the Plaza San Jaume or the Plaza del Tossal, as this area is one of the most emblematic in Valencia to have a drink on a terrace, after a nice walk... and watch life go by.
Please don´t get up early for this, as they usually open around 11.00 or 12.00 midday. They will stay open until the early hours of the morning.
This is a very strategic point in the historic centre, between three of its most essential neighbourhoods within the walls: the Barrio del Carmen, the Barrio del Mercado and the Barrio de la Catedral.
A conglomerate of small squares and small semi-pedestrian streets will delight anyone, as the offer of cafés, bars, and restaurants is enormous.
An excellent place to take the pulse of the city of light, flowers and love, as Valencia is called.
So, what are we going to drink here?
Well, something so typical that bears the city´s name and that you won´t easily find outside this community. Agua de Valencia.
Agua de Valencia is a cocktail made with cava (the local champagne or sparkling white wine), gin, vodka and orange juice, and some people also add sugar. Don´t let the ingredients scare you, and it tastes primarily of orange. It is usually served in small jugs, and you will be brought wide glasses or champagne flutes, as many as the number of people who will enjoy this marvellous cocktail... It was first made in the Madrid brewery in Valencia.
As a joke, there were some Basque customers in this brewery who asked for water from Bilbao.
One day in 1959, they encouraged the owner of the bar, Constante Gil, to give them something different, and he immediately invented this cocktail, which for many years was only known to the customers of the Madrid brewery and which in the 70s of the last century became famous in the Valencian nightlife.
Address: Plaza Sant Jaume and Plaza del Tossal.
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