The province of Valencia has been inhabited for millennia and has had a turbulent past. It is located on the Mediterranean coast, experiencing a mild climate and with fertile lands. Rivers which flow from the mountainous central highlands were the main routes for travel. Strategically located rocky hills near where rivers meet the plains were chosen as sites for fortification – first by the Romans, then the Moors, then the Spanish – and to control the surrounding countryside. Each castle experienced sieges at some time. The introduction of cannon ultimately rendered them useless.
Requena – west of Valancia. The next door neighbour, spoke about the Annual Sausage Fiesta held here every February. It was an hour’s bus ride up through a mountain pass. The bus was filled with Valencianos prepared to enjoy food and buy wine and … sausages.
Being a Saturday, the main avenue, 2 km long (the town is too small to get lost in) was filled with stalls selling all manner of goods. At one end of the avenue stand the remnants of a tower and medieval town, at the other end the Fiesta.
The audio-visual display in the torre was superb, with figures from different eras projected onto the walls, recreating events which occurred in the tower and the town. The English subtitles were most welcome. Also visited a silk merchant’s residence, dating back several centuries (mind your head under the doorframe) and again with an excellent video (although in Spanish) about the traditional methods for the production of silk: from picking the mulberry leaves through to final product. Raw silk, looms and framed fabric samples were on display. The medieval town contained within the walls was labyrinthine. An icy wind ripped down from the hills, whipping up dust as it tore through the narrow streets. In winter 30cm of snow is not unusual.
The Fiesta, with a fun fair and giant outdoor BBQ, was heaving. At one end of the exhibition centre, traditional folk dancing was underway…although to get to it one had to squeeze through dozens of queues at the food stalls because people queued at right angles to the store fronts.
Decided the wait for food was way too long, so returned to the centre of town and had three types of salchichas con insalada, patatas y un cerveza.
The train ride back was a hoot – struck up a conversation with a Spanish couple and ended being joined by a Canadian couple of yachties and all drinking red wine. The Canadians were older students in a language school on a day trip – all the rest were 20-somethings from around the world who behaved themselves. The conductor didn’t bat an eyelid at us!
Xativa – south of Valencia. Another train journey, this time to the ancient town of Xativa, located at the foot of a mountain massive, and with archaeological remains dating back 30,000 years. The town sits at the foot of a sharp ridge across which the castillo (fortress), dating from 5th century BC, stands. A little tourist ‘train’ bumps along narrow streets, stopping at all points of interest, zigzagging up the ridge face and finishing at the castillo.
There was only an hour for exploring, if a ride back down the hill was desired. That meant a dash to the peak at one end of the fortress, which included a challenging stair climb to the top of the wall – and no handrails anywhere … ramparts have crumbled and tumbled down the cliff face! The view across the region was superb – no possibility of sneak attacks. Almost made it to the other peak for the view at the other end of the fortress (because it was there), but had insufficient time to reach it and get back for the ‘train’.
Sagunto – north of Valencia. The Casa dels Peixos in Sagunto is an archaeological heritage site, opened in 2013, located in the ground floor of a modern apartment block. The Roman ruins were found when the foundations were being excavated for a new apartment block.
The find was so exciting, a deal was struck for the ruins to be exhibited: the building was allowed to go to seven stories rather than five, allowing for the car park move to the first and second floors. Residents walk through a glass walled corridor suspended across the ancient foundations.
The kilometre long fortress on top of the mountain overlooking the town has evidence of Iberian, Roman, medieval and more recent remains. Some sections were inaccessible; but again, no fencing on the edge of cliff faces where walls have collapsed over the cliff face.
A museum in a 15th century building, still with some original wall decorations, had lovely collection of small bronze figurines collected from digs around the town.
Just down from the fortress, a Roman theatre is carved into the side of the mountain. Unfortunately the theatre has been over-restored and in an unsympathetic manner (I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to restoration work and this is really ugly). The theatre is used for plays and other performances, but when I consider amazing architecture in Spain, I believe a far superior result could have been achieved.