|Tracing the historical origins of Valencia
will take you back in time to 138 B.C. when the Romans, after the Second
Punic War, set foot in this land and founded the city they called
"Valentia". Not much is left from this period, although some
archaeological remains have been found in the Plaza de la Almoina. In
nearby Sagunto, a historical town just a few kilometres from the city
centre, you will find, however, fantastic ruins, including a Roman
After the fall of the Roman Empire, came the barbarians and later, the Visigoths. Both left their mark on the city. Not much is known about the Visigothic period, although, once again in the Plaza de la Almoina, archaeologists have found the remains of a funerary Visigothic chapel. During their reign, there were countless battles and terrible periods of economic strife which, together with an outbreak of the plague, led social havoc. This situation was taken advantage of by the Moors, who occupied the territory peacefully in 709 A.D.
When Islamic culture settled in, Valencia prospered thanks to a booming trade in paper, silk, leather, ceramics, glass and silver-work. The architectural legacy from this period is abundant in Valencia and can still be appreciated today in the remains of the old walls, the Baños del Almirante bath house, Portal de Valldigna street and even the Cathedral and the tower, el Miguelete, which was the minaret of the old mosque.
After Almanzor's death, the state was divided into various kingdoms, known as "Taifas". These would soon be conquered by legendary Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el "Cid Campeador" during the Christian re-conquest of Spain. After "el Cid" died, king James I would be who finally took over the city for the Catholics in 1238 A.D.
Medieval and Renaissance Valencia
Continuing on this quick journey through time, we reach medieval Valencia. In the 15th century, the city experienced an unequal period of prosperity, which, thanks to a rapid development in agricultural and industrial production, expanded its trade around the Mediterranean. During the reign of Alfons the Magnanimous, in fact, Valencia was considered to be one of the richest capitals in Europe, both for the range of its cultural activities as well as its financial power.
Unfortunately, there soon came a period of economic and political turmoil. The financial support provided by Valencian bankers to the Spanish Crown for the discovery of the Americas, created serious economic problems in the city, while the upper-classes lived off their unearned income, not investing in any existing or new industries. The result of all this instability was an uprising by local trade unions and the wars known as the "Guerras de Germanías".
But the worst was yet to come. Total economic collapse would come when the Moors and Jews were definitively expelled and the ruling nobility were reaffirmed in their position. During the War of Spanish Succession between the Hapsburg and Borbon royal families and their supporters, another conflict erupted in Valencia between peasants ("maulets") and nobility ("botiflers"). The upper-classes won at the battle of Almansa in 1707, resulting in a period of severe repression and the consolidation of a centralist monarchy which meant a loss of political and cultural autonomy.
The "Ciutat Vella" (Old Quarter, in the local language) is the historic centre of the city and still has marvellous examples of buildings dating from the Medieval period, such as part of the walls and the only two remaining gates: the Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos towers, or the incredible Lonja de Seda (Silk Market). Even the layout of this part of Valencia can be traced in large part to this period (Calle de los Caballeros street, Plaza de Manises, etc.).
The splendour of the Renaissance also left its mark on the city and perhaps the most beautiful example is the monumental Real Colegio del Patriarca seminary, which has one of the most exquisite cloisters from this period.
Blasco Ibáñez's Valencia
The 1800s did not get off to a good start, with terrible epidemics and the restoration of an absolute monarchy under Ferdinand VII. However by the turn of the century, Valencia experienced another surge in economic well-being thanks to improvements made in agricultural techniques and the export of citric fruits, wine and rice, as well as new means of transport and industries.
An important historical reference from this period is Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, a notable Valencian writer. In his work, he perfectly describes the land, sea and passions of the people who lived in Valencia at this time. Blasco Ibáñez talks of a Valencia full of art and life, welcoming and majestic, with old palaces (Palacio de Benicarló, Palacio de Justicia) and elegant mansions, or the religiousness of the land and the stones of its churches (San Agustín, Santa Catalina); he also highlights the contrast between the hustle and bustle of the Estación del Norte train station or the Central Market, and the open, friendly character of the seafaring inhabitants along the coast.
Luckily, there is still a lot of old Valencia to be found in the city today. Modernity blends in harmoniously with the historical past, combining technological developments to historical ways of life. The latest great project, the City of Arts and Sciences, is perhaps the best reflection of the enterprising nature of Valencians. Valencia is a city that legends are made of; it looks to the future expectantly, but is proud of its past.