Even if it's the third largest city of Spain, Valencia isn't a touristic hit... And that's a shame, since it has a lot to offer.
Valencia is an old city, whose roots go back of twentyone centuries, when - in 138 BC - it was founded by the Roman army and flourished thanks to its strategic position and importance as a military colony. Centuries later, it was " Visigoth-ized" and, in 714 it fell into the hands of the Moors. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (a.k.a. El Cid), re-conquered the city in 1094, but ten years later it was again under Arabic occupation, and it's only in 1238 that King James I of Aragon laid siege and - after victory - transformed the city in the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia, under the Crown of Aragon. The next centuries gave to the city a certain respite, thanks to which it had the chance to prosper, becoming one of the major cities in the basin of the Mediterranean Sea but, in 1609, when the Moriscos were expelled, the economy dropped. The city was captured in 1706 during the War of Spanish Succession and, a century later, with the victory at the Battle of Almansa by the Bourbons, it lost the privileges it had had. Again, during the Peninsular war the city was besieged and fell into the hands of Marshal Suchet. Neither in the XX century its life was easier: Francisco Franco's forces blockaded the city when the capital of the Republic was moved there. The processes of modernization of the city started after the dictatorship fell, and today Valencia is a modern and lively city, which in 2003 was selected to host the America's Cup of 2007.
Valencia hosts some unique places and/or treasures such as the Tribunal de las Aguas, the most ancient institution of justice in Europe. Do not forget to go to the Apostles' door of the Cathedral on Thursday at noon, in order to see the selected people responsible for the irrigation of the city, discussing and deciding about it, in a rite that repeats itself unchanged since at least 1000 years. Do not get it wrong: the tribunal isn't a folklore's performance for tourists, it's an institution recognized by Juan Carlos I and protected by the Constitution. Once the decisions is taken - and you will be amazed by the ritual - step inside the Catedral de la Virgen where you will see what is believed to be the Holy Grail: on July the 9th 2006, Pope Benedict even used it during mass. Inside the cathedral there is a museum, do not miss the opportunity to pop in and do not miss the Chapel either. The Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamperados is just a stone's throw away, in Plaza de la Virgen. Dedicated to the patron of the city, it's the most important religious building in Valencia, whose construction started in 1652. Actually it's the sole church that was not built on another already existing parish. It's style is Baroque.
....Plaza de la Reina, behind the Cathedral, is an introduction to the Old City. From within its small garden - where people unwind - you will have the chance to view the Miquelet, the bell tower of the city, and - nearby - get a coffee or a refreshing horchata inside a typical bar: you will be delighted by the taste of this drink. Or maybe, you will feel hungry. Do not miss the chance to visit a tapas bar, or eat a paella Valenciana, the most famous dish from Spain.
If we could say that the religious heart lies between Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, the government buildings are instead located in Plaza Ayuntamiento with the City Hall and the Palacio de Correos. The City Hall is formed by the connection of two blocks: the Casa de la Enseñanza and a new section added at the beginning of the century. The Council of the city has had its seat here since 1934. Inside the building, apart from the offices of the administration, there is a museum (the Museo Historico Municipal), and the municipal archives. Just some minutes away, there is the Station del Norte and the Plaza de Toros. Station del Norte was built in 1917 and it's a tribute to the Valencian orange trade. After restorations, the Mercado de Colon has become an highlight of the city: designed in 1913 by Francisco Mora, a Modernist, it offers a contrast between functionalism and modernism, whose example are the iron and glass vaults. Today it hosts offices, restaurants, cafés, shops and stalls. Maybe you wish to go shopping...
The Palacio de Dos Aguas isn't a jewel only from the outside. The palace was built thanks to the family Rabassa de Perellós, following the plans of Padre Tosca, in 1704. Forty years later, Giner Rabassa de Perellós asked to Hipólito Rovira to decorate the building, in order to show the richness of the family: its alabaster gate was born. Again in the XIX century, the heirs decided for some renovations, and several different styles - among which the Gothic, Rococo, the Neo-Imperial and Chinese - blended together to create an eclectic result: inside, another kind of art is hosted. The Museo Nacional de Ceramica y artes suntuarias "Gonzales Martì" has an impressive collection of ceramics ranging from Middle Age to the XIX century. West of the Palacio, are located several interesting landmarks, such as the Plaza Redonda, the Lonja de la Seda and the Mercado Central. Plaza Redonda was built by Salvador Escrig Melchor and it is one of the most enticing constructions of the XIX century in Valencia. The buildings around the "round square" are full of shops and it's an oasis of peace integrated and yet divided from the the city. The Lonja de la Seda, in Plaza del Mercado, is part of the UNESCO heritage. Its construction began in 1483, on the projects of Pere Compte and is today a masterpiece of civilian Gothic architecture. The Lonja de la Seda is formed by three buildings: the Salón de contratación, the Torreón Central and the Consolat del Mar. It should be remembered that the silk was - in the XVIII century - one of the reasons that permitted to the economy of Valencia to grow. The silk was so much important in fact, that it's still celebrated in the Colegio Arte Mayor de la seda, originally built to host the silk manufacturers' corporation of the city. The Mercado Central was inaugurated in 1928: 959 stalls are located inside the building, either at the ground floor or in the basement. Before leaving the historic center, head to Plaza Fueros, where the Torres de Serranos are. Built between 1392 and 1396, they were the gate of the city, and are today expression of the military Gothic architecture...and do not forget to visit the IVAM. The Institut Valencià d'Art Modern has a collection of 10000 works illustrating the main expressions of the 20th century, hence ranging from Constructivism to Cubism, from Surrealism to Pop Art, with works by Julio Gonzales and Ignacio Pinazo to name a few. The Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia (a.k.a. Museo de San Pio V) is the second largest collection of masterpieces in Spain, ranging from Velazquez to El Greco; from Van Dyck to Murillo, from the paintings of the XIV to the XX century, from sculpture to paintings. The Ciudad de la Artes y las Ciencias is - on the other hand - a museum with a new concept, where the visitor is invited to think, to touch, to experiment today's and tomorrow's technology and sciences. You could spend days inside and never have enough of it. Conferences and workshop are often held and there is an IMAX cinema too.
The city center is embraced by the Jardines del Turia. Designed in 1986 to avoid the problems caused by the flooding of the river Turia, the gardens aren't only a green lung of the city. In fact, several attractions either for tourists, or for residents can be found: inside it's possible to practice several sports (from mountain biking to football, from baseball to skating), or just unwind either in the green, or at the Palau de la Musica, where concerts, conferences and expositions are held.
And, if the above mentioned reasons are not enough to pay a visit to the city, remember that Valencia is the hosting city of the 32nd America's Cup... Rush to organize your stay!