After lunch and coffee at one of our favorite little spots we decided to polish off the last of the churches. Valencia has changed hands many times during its long history, founded by the Romans in the 2nd century B.C., destroyed by the Romans 60 years later, rebuilt again by them and the captured by the Visigoths when the Empire fell. The Moors came and built it in their own style and traded it back and forth with the Christian kings of Aragon and Castile until they were finally expelled in the late 13th century. In each of these various incarnations, the churches and fortifications were reformed into whatever style the current conqueror happened to prefer. And so you have Visigoth cathedrals built on top of Roman temples and medieval churches built on top of mosques, each incorporating whatever was useful into their plans. One of the most famous sights of the old city is the Micalet Tower, visible out of our balcony window and a former minaret from the time when Valencia was known as Balansiyya. And all of this took place in the center of the old city, a few hundred steps out our front door.
We started in the cathedral, officially known as the Basilica of St. Mary. First founded on this site in the 6th century, the first stone of the current foundation was laid in 1262 following the once and for all expulsion of the Moors by King James. Like so many European giant stone wonders, it is dark, light, gaudy and austere all the in same line of view. Given that this was Good Friday, actual ceremonies were taking place inside which made it a bit tough to move around – one stern Father kept preventing people from going into certain places while the faithful moved around with the other priests. The main altar was unique relative to some we’ve seen due to the presence of large paintings in place of the carvings and statues you normally find. The roof of the apse was a spectacular blue, depicting heaven. There are two important artifacts in this church – a purported genuine Holy Chalice of the Last Supper (Holy Grail) and the mummified arm of St. Vincent Martir who was hacked to bits by the Romans in A.D. 304 for refusing to renounce his faith. We somehow missed the former but got great looks at the latter, and I feel a bit blasphemous in likening it to the desiccated rabbit legs I used to eat in China.
Our next stop was supposed to be St. Vincent’s crypt but we couldn’t find it, stumbling instead upon the Iglesia de San Esteban, a 17th century church done in the baroque style. Its interior was stunning, the ceiling being geometric patterns done in blue and white brining to mind the pottery of Limoges. The entire upper reach was covered in carved plaster in the form of suns, angles, saints and just about anything else the carvers had in mind that day. Truly stunning.
On now to the next couple of churches, all of which were closed so we made an adjustment to our plan and went to the Mercado Central which was closed, but surrounded today by a pretty cheesy street market, not unlike what you’d find in Beijing. I bought a nice scarf to upgrade my look to Euro Metrosexual and having nowhere else to go decided to head down the street to the bull fighting area.
One of the things I love about Europe is how compact the cities tend to be. What appears to be hundreds of blocks on the map never takes more than 20 minutes to walk. This route took us through the Baroque Quarter and past the municipal offices, known as the Ayuntiamiento, and down streets lined with palms and beautifully over decorated buildings. Quite a contrast from the old city. The bullfighting arena was less than expected but the Valencia Nord train station across the street was quite a surprise. Built of white brick and lavishly decorated with shiny ceramic tile orange trees and fruit, it quickly reminded you of what the region is known for, agriculturally.
The rest of the day was spent poking around and having a rest before searching out the next installment in our quest for the perfect paella. We chose a restaurant a few blocks from our apartment at the intersection of a couple of small lanes. It was not terribly windy so we chose a table outside and took stock of our paella adventure over a couple of glasses of decent Rioja. The first night was snails, chicken and rabbit, on a thin bed of creamy rice. Our second was chicken alone on a thicker layer of spicier rice. Tonight’s was chicken and rabbit again, with artichokes and some sort of small bean on rice that was somehow tinted green. This one was my favorite to date, although My Lovely Wife preferred the second rendition. We’ll continue to hunt for the perfect incarnation.