Valencia is one of Spain's sunniest, happiest, most colorful regions, a southern Mediterranean culture relatively untouched by the hardships and unemployment which temper Andalucía's gaiety.
Its prosperity is largely based on the produce of the rich agricultural land, including the famous huerta, just outside the city of Valencia, whose alluvial soil allows cultivation of several crops of the highest quality fruit and vegetables each year. Rice, a legacy of the Moors, is also intensively pro¬duced in the area, in specially irrigated paddy fields. So important is the irrigation system to Valencia's economy that the institution of the Water Court, or Tribunal de las Aguas, is still preserved, meeting every Thurs¬day at noon to resolve disputes among farmers over the question of irrigation.
There is also a good deal of industry (mostly textiles and engineering) both in Valencia itself and further up the coast in Castellon, and traditional industries like furniture making, shoes and ceramics still make an import¬ant contribution to the economy of the region. A major feature of the Valencian landscape, especially along the coast north of the capital, is its citrus groves, which stretch for miles, and give their name to this coast, the Costa del Azahar, or Orange Blossom Coast. The Alicante coast, the Costa Blanca, is of course already familiar to millions of British people, and resorts like Benidorm are evidence of Valencia's other great industry tourism.
Valencia is Spain's number one tourist destination, both for foreigners and Spaniards, with excellent beaches, typically with wide curving bays and shallow waters, and resorts to suit all tastes. Many guides to the 'real Spain' recommend avoiding the region as being too touristy, but this really underestimates the resilience and sheer vivacity of Valencia culture, as well as ignoring the many opportunities that are available simply because it is a tourist area. If you don't like crowds, though, they can be a problem on the coast in July and August, and there is a lot of residen¬tial development as well as hotels, but inland it's easy to find peace and solitude in wild and remote areas like El Maestrazgo.
Today the Comunidad Valenciana, as the region is called, is made up of three seaboard provinces: Castellon, Valencia and Alicante, with Valencia (the city) as its capital. It is historically a distinct region, and has its own language, Valencian, which is similar Catalan. Few ever, out are not likely to find yourself addressed III anything but Casuhan Spamsh, although the Valencian version of many place names is taking over (e.g. Castello for Castellon, Xativa for Jativa).
Historically Valencia is famous for the exploits of El Cid in wresting it from the Moors in the eleventh century. After his death, however, it reverted once more to Arab rule until 1238 when it finally became a Christian kingdom in its own right. The centuries of battles between Moors and Christians have passed into popular legend, and are symbolically re¬enacted each year in festive celebrations organized by almost every town and village in the area (see section on Fiestas below). Valencia was later absorbed into the Crown of Aragon, and the capital became an important port through which the Aragonese conducted their overseas trade. It continued to prosper both through its rich agriculture, already well established under both Romans and Moors, and through industries such as pottery and tile making, and silk production.
Capital of the region, and Spain's third city. It's a busy, fun loving city, whose inhabitants are convinced it's the most wonderful place on earth. It seems in many ways to be built with its back to the sea, although the port is still busy, and there is a lively seaside barrio called La alvarrosa, where a lot of the nightlife is centered. Valencia is famous for Its flowers and parks, especially the roses in the Jardines de los Viveros, and the presence of the nearby huerta imbues the city with its luxuriance. Its principal places of interest are as follows:
Splendid examples of Spanish baroque, culminating in the elaborately fanciful facade of the Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas where the ceramics museum is housed EI Miguelete. Octagonal tower which is identified with the city itself in the popular imagination you can go up it for a view over the city.
La Lonja de la Seda. Former Silk Exchange building in unusual Gothic style. Palau de la Generalitat. An impressive Gothic palace which is now the seat of the Valencian regional government. The Cathedral. Important Gothic building with a baroque facade. El Jardin Botanico, c/Beato Gaspar Bono. The first botanical gardens to be established in Spain, containing many exotic species, including an interesting palm collection.
Valencia province La Albufera. An enormous freshwater lake to the south of Valencia. A beautiful spot, surrounded by orchards and paddy fields, with fishing bird watching and rowing. Sagunto. A Roman town, famous for its resistance to the Carthaginians. Roman remains including an amphitheatre, plus crumbling Moorish castle. Good beaches. Liria. Small rural town with some interesting buildings. Cullera. Teeming resort, good beaches.
Gandia. Historic town with a prosperous port, whose long sandy beach attracts a lot of tourism. The Palacio Ducal is a beautiful, clean lined building, midway between Gothic and Renaissance in style. Jativa. An inland fortress town, whose castle was the seat of the Borgias.