Nearby, the splendid 15th century Palau de la Generalitat is now home to the regional government so it is only available to visitors two weekends a month, but it’s still got plenty of curb appeal.
Open to visitors and host of many cultural events, the silk exchange, La Lonja de la Seda, also dating back to the 15th century, is a wonderful example of Gothic style, with its gargoyle-covered exterior façade . Inside, the elaborately-sculpted stone columns support the vaulted ceilings.
Nearby, the 18th century Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas – its fabulous Baroque façade embellished with ceramic fruits and vegetables – houses the National Ceramics Museum.
And for more art, cross the Turia River to the Museo de Bellas Artes – in a lovely 17th century Baroque seminary. It contains one of the best art collections in Spain with over 2,000 paintings and statues by such renowned artists as El Greco, Murillo, Ribalta, Van Dyck and Goya. Works by Valencian artists like Sorolla, Pinazo, and Degrain are also included.
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Even with its rich historical bounty, Valencia has continued to progress. Less than a decade ago, for instance, the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, the City of Arts and Sciences complex opened. This is a world-class culture center, that has four venues for opera, theater and dance. The complex is the centerpiece of part of the city’s ribbon of green parks and gardens along the Turia. Its stunning exterior features two symmetrical cut-away shields – 3,000 tons of white concrete – that “embrace” the exterior and are crowned by a sweeping 778-foot-long steel sheath, or “plume.” The roofs glisten with trencadís or delicate ceramic tile.
Visitors enter the City of Arts and Sciences complex through the Umbracle, a dramatic white “portal” measuring 1,000 feet long and 60 feet high and shielding a colorful collection of tropical plants and palm trees.
Opened in 1998, the Hemispheric – one of Spain’s most visited buildings – is a dramatic eye-shaped planetarium and IMAX theatre surrounded by a huge rectangle of turquoise water. The Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe, (Prince Felipe Museum of the Sciences) debuted two years later and features interactive displays and exhibits of “Life and the Genome,” “DNA” and “Vaccines for Everybody.”
Europe’s largest aquarium, the Oceanographic, designed by Spanish architect Félix Candela, opened in 2003. Spread over 20 acres, the complex of parabolic buildings provides a high-tech tour of the world’s oceans and their habitats. A striking restaurant below ground level at the Oceanographic has walls that are floor-to-ceiling aquariums and serves fresh fish and, of course, paella.
With its glorious climate, Valencia is worth visiting any time of the year, but the city is probably at its most festive during the Las Fallas celebration every March. Rooted in the Middle Ages when bonfires were lit in honor of Saint Joseph, the carpenters’ patron saint, the festival is one of the most significant in Spain. Highlights include giant paper-mâché creations, fallas, that depict cartoon characters, politicians, celebrities or animals and are erected in plazas throughout the city and then paraded around the streets before being burned in a pyre on the evening of St. Joseph’s Day.
The five-day festival is marked by fireworks and bonfires, and as you would expect if you’ve been paying attention, plenty of great food and wine. In Valencia, they know how to have a good time.
We certainly enjoyed our day here in this lovely part of Spain.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com