As the travel guidebook author puts it: Valencia is a city of contrasts. Magnificent old city center where tourists can explore majestic buildings and ancient shops and bars. Take a ten minute walk outside the old town, and discover the ultra modern City of Arts and Sciences that takes the breath away even from a bored traveler. Here are five top sights in the historical city center of Valencia in Spain.
The publisher of Klaava Travel Guide book series kindly let us extract this chapter from the guidebook Valencia, Spain – The Key Sights, Places and Events. The text has been slightly edited for publishing it as a blog post.
Barrio del Carmen
Barrio del Carmen is the oldest district of Valencia where many buildings are so old that they can’t stand straight anymore. This part of the city used to stand on an island in Turia River. As the city expanded south, the south side of the island was connected to the mainland. The entire river was diverted away from the city center in 1956.
The Carmen neighborhood shows its age in many ways. Houses are small, many of them are worn down, and alleys are more narrow than in other parts of the city. Near Plaza del Tossal, a number of restaurants and bars keep the nearby streets busy all day and night.
Torres de Serranos
Valencia has been surrounded by protective walls three times during its long history. Only two gates have survived the third wall that was the longest one: Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart. In addition to being solid watchtowers, both are gates that allowed entrance inside the city walls.
For tourists, Torres de Serranos is the primary destination because it is located near Plaza de la Virgen and the Cathedral.
The massive towers were built in 1392-1398. It is possible to ascend to the tower to have a look around, but even taller towers that let you view over the roofs of the city are, for instance, in the Santa Catalina Church and in the Ateneo building.
Plaza de la Virgen
Plaza de la Virgen hosts a number of key buildings around the square. It is not a coincidence, because the plaza is the former center of the city. The town hall used to stand at the side of the plaza in the location where a tiny park stands now. Already during the Roman era, the square was a Roman Forum, a central place in the city.
The key historical buildings around the square are:
- Basilica Virgen de los Desamparados, Cathedral, and Palau de la Generalitat. The fountain at the square is a new production, it was revealed in 1976.
Plaza de la Virgen is a meeting place for Valencians, a central place for many fiestas and one of the sights that attract plenty of tourists to admire the scene and who take the opportunity to snap selfies in front of the fountain.
San Juan del Hospital
The oldest Christian church in Valencia, San Juan del Hospital, has an atmosphere of a place that has seen it all, and now wants some peace and quiet. King James I ordered the church to be built in 1238.
Perhaps it is because of the beautiful alabaster windows, ancient walls, or the only surviving medieval cemetery in Valencia located on the church grounds that create the atmosphere.
The church is popular among residents who may attend a mass (three times a day), and it is also used for weddings.
Plaza de Ayuntamiento
The buildings around the Town Hall Square seem like they want to tell people who are moving across the plaza that this is the center of a wealthy city. The houses are big, tall and decorated around the largest square in central Valencia.
It wasn’t always like that. Until late 19th century, Convento de San Francisco, a monastery, covered the space that is today the Town Hall Square. The city wanted to move the town hall to a more spacious place away from Plaza de la Virgen, and when the monastery couldn’t maintain its property anymore, it was demolished. The new central square of Valencia was established, and the Town Hall moved to a large school building overlooking the plaza.
Facades of many other beautiful buildings line the square, like
- Correos (Post Office),
- Ateneo Mercantil and
- Teatro Rialto.
This is also a central place of many big fiesta events, such as Fallas.