The third largest city in Spain is the birthplace of the famous culinary dish paella. Valencia is a UNESCO World Heritage City since 1996 and is one of Spain’s most important cities in terms of commerce and tourism. Originally called “Valentia” which is Latin for “strength,” the city was founded in 137 B.C. by the Romans, ruled by the Moors for more than five centuries until the 13th century when King James I of Aragon led a victorious siege and took over. It was named an autonomous city in 1982.
A true seaside city, Valencia lies on the Mediterranean coast on the shores of the Turia River. Native Spaniards make up a great majority of its population although there has been a rise in the number of immigrants in the past five years, coming from other European countries such as Italy, Romania and Bolivia.
There are two recognized official languages in the city – Valencian and Castilian, with the former being the language taught in schools and used in official correspondence and business transactions. Tourism and construction are the backbones of the city’s progressive economy and its port is one of Spain’s largest and busiest seaports.
Whilst it boasts of an immense collection of historic and architectural buildings, it has been getting renewed attention for the massive eight-building cultural and entertainment complex called the City of Arts and Sciences designed by local resident Santiago Calatrava.
Festivals in Valencia
Whilst visitors come mainly for its beach resorts, Valencia dishes up fun activities and events that make them stay longer. There is the local festival of Las Fallas (“The Fires”) held for five days on March. Processions, music, fireworks and participants in colorful and festive costumes characterize this religious festival to honor Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Another much-anticipated yearly event and one of top five festivals is La Tomatina, a festival where participants throw tomatoes in a fun and messy spectacle on the streets of Bunol. Other festivals that take place in Valencia include the Carnaval and Las Carnestoltes in February, the Battle of Flowers during the summer month of July and the Holy Cross Festival in May.
Places to See in Valencia
Even if you don’t come to Valencia at a time when there are no local events, you will still not run out of things to see and do. The city is bursting with historic and architectural gems that a day of exploration will not suffice. If you only have a limited time to browse around Valencia make sure that you do not miss the following attractions: La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Market) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Mercado Central (Central Market) is one of the oldest running and largest public markets in Europe; Torres de Serranos a gateway which was built in the 14th century and said to be the largest in Europe; Plaza de l’Ajuntament which is the largest square in the city and where firework displays are held during the Las Falles festival; and the Gothic-style Iglesia de San Juan del Hospital which is one of the oldest churches built in Valencia.
Museums worth visiting are the Museo de Bellas Artes San Pio V which houses an impressive collection of well-known Valencian artists as well as from all around Spain, the Bullfighting Museum, and definitely the City of Arts and Sciences.