City of Arts & Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias), Valencia, Spain
Some of Europe’s strangest architecture can be found in Spain – from Bilbao’s famous Guggenheim Museum to Gaudi’s everything (Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, Parc Guell and of course Sagrada Familia Cathedral). As one of the 12 Treasures of Spain and Valencia’s most visited site, the bizarre architecture of Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences deserves to be on the same list. Covering roughly two kilometres of the former riverbed of the River Turia, this bizarre complex is a homage to modern arts and architecture, yes, but also to science, culture and technology. An opera house, a science museum, an IMAX cinema, a vastly diverse park with walking paths along an open-air arts gallery, an aquarium and a concert venue make up this colourfully bizarre futurist complex. Contrasting strangely with Valencia’s old town, both halves of the city are worth the visit!
Do you like to eat? Do you like paella? How do you feel about Spain? Or sangria? How about beautiful Spanish architecture both ancient and modern? You’d like to visit a Spanish city…but the plenitude of tourists in Barcelona are getting to you, and Madrid is too far from the sea for your liking…so how about Valencia? Search the centre of town amongst the beautiful buildings and ancient plazas. Find yourself a nice little place to eat on a terrace with gigantic paella pans the size of monster truck wheels, and plop yourself down at a table overlooking a view like this one. Now, choose your type of paella. The main types include: Valenciano (traditional, made with chicken, pork, and rabbit), marisco (seafood; below, first image), mixta (both traditional and seafood), vegetariana (self-explanatory), or paella with arroz negro (black rice made with squid ink of all things; below, second image). It’s all marvelous and mouth-watering, and while of course, you can eat paella outside of Valencia, it is 100% obligatory to eat paella while in the city…because this is of course where you will find the highest quality of this traditional Spanish dish! Order a sangria to accompany it, kick back, and relax. Amongst all the eating, drinking, people-watching and chatting, you’ll be there awhile!
Zigzag, criss-cross, cross-hatch, stripes, circles, arches–Valencia’s modern City of Arts and Sciences has it all. Each unique building brings to mind a different image–the hump of a sea dragon, a giant golf ball, a space-helmet, a gigantic crocodile’s eye, and, in this case, the skeletal remains of some enormous reptile rising out of the river (in my opinion ; perhaps you see something different?). Pillars zigzag above your head as you walk along the promenade, imagining that you are walking amongst the bones of a dead giant. Despite the crowds, one feels small and almost insignificant, walking through what would have been the “animal’s” stomach, neck constantly bent backwards as your eyes follow the complex systems of pillars and “bones”. Built in the old riverbed, the City of Arts and Sciences is a modern complex dedicated to the enrichment of knowledge (as its name suggests). One building houses an opera, another houses the aquarium, another hosts the impressive IMAX Cinema (on the ceiling!), still another is a concert hall. This one here is the Science Museum, an interactive and overall fun museum experience for all ages. Modern architecture isn’t always beautiful (and unfortunately, can often be an eyesore), but Valencia’s ‘Ciudad’ is the perfect example of how to make your city both modern and beautiful!
It’s hard to imagine that in 12 days (twelve!), I will be back in Spain – and for the whole summer! Spain is certainly one of those countries that is so…flavourful, so memorable. Memories of Spain do not get jumbled into a pile of “vaguely-European memories;” instead, they stand out, just like this bright orange house in the adorable village of Sagunto, not far from Valencia. Spanish cities are great for the nightlife, but Spanish villages are where you go if you like to eat, drink, take beautiful photos, see ancient buildings, and watch the magnificent sunsets. Sagunto, an ancient Roman city, may not be huge and sprawling, but it creates its own miniature “bustling” world. The people are nice, the weather is great, the beach is close (6km), the beer is cheap, and the views are fantastic – what more could you want?
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain.
Valencia’s “skyline” is silhouetted against a beautiful Spanish sunset. Valencia is a bizarre place. It has a beautiful old town as lovely as any other Spanish ciudad, but the most arresting part of Valencia is less than 20 years old (circa 1996). Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or, The City of Arts and Sciences, is an campus of eclectic modern architecture, sculptures and structures. Here, you can find the city’s massive aquarium, its bizarre opera house, an impressive IMAX theatre where seats recline and the films are portrayed on the ceiling, and the interactively fun science museum. To me, each building resembles something different: a skeleton, a boat’s sails, a over-turned beetle, a sea-monster’s back. It sounds ridiculous, yes, like a child naming cloud-shapes, but visit La Ciudad and see for yourself.
This cactus-embraced castle presides over the small and very ancient town of Sagunto, Spain. Founded by the Romans in 219 BC, over time this town has been home to the Romans, the Arian Visigoths, the Muslims from Northern Africa, the Castilians, James I of Aragon, the French (oh Napoleon) and is now a Spanish town in the province of Valencia. The castle itself, while somewhat ruinous, is an interesting mix of Roman and Moorish design and is in a decent state for its age. And of course it’s always a great photo-op! As this was very close to my former home in Spain, I was a repeat visitor to this place. I used it as a place to relax, siesta, read books, paint, draw, picnic, or simply enjoy the view.
Welcome to Valencia’s odd opera house, standing in the midst of the modernist complex of La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences) – the exact opposite of Vienna’s very traditional opera house. Opening in 2006 and rising 75 meters off the ground, it is the tallest opera house in the world, and certainly one of the strangest. Resembling a strange-looking space helmet, or perhaps a scurrying beetle, it is indeed a unique and unforgettable place to see a ballet, opera, dance, theatre or concert! Even if the opera doesn’t interest you, a mere walk through the whole complex will yield breath-taking results.
Pro tip: Though the buildings are cool from the outside, they are also worth a visit to see what’s inside. The science museum is especially good – full of interesting interactive exhibits for adults and kids alike!
Discover More Modernist or Futurist Architecture in Europe
Valencian oranges are world-famous – and they should be! Nicknamed summer-oranges because they are the only variety peaking in mid-summer, these fruits are sweet and delicious, perfect for making homemade, freshly-squeezed, pure orange juice. So delicious are these fruits, and so readily available are they in Spain, that it is difficult to consume other orange products (especially orange juice!) after leaving the country. Groves of trees such as this line the roadsides in between villages all over Spain, but especially in la Comunidad Valenciana. Nothing could be lovelier or more Spanish than breakfasting on your balcony watching the sun come up, eating a croissant and sipping freshly-squeezed Valencian orange juice.
Every year before Easter, the Spaniards build these massive statues for the festival called Las Fallas. Hundreds of sculptures spring up all over Valencia and the outlying villages for a month before the festival. Then, to celebrate the arrive of spring, they slowly burn them all one by one on the same night. To an attendee, it feels like the whole world is on fire!