Culture in Valencia Region

The Valencia region, comprising the three provinces of Alicante, Valencia and Castellón, has a deep and complex culture created by the diverse range of peoples who have settled on its fertile lands and who have left indelible traces of their presence in the landscape, language and traditions of the region.

Cathedral of Valencia, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardFrom the Roman theatre of the settlement of Sagunto to the fertile plains backed by hilltop fortresses, from the almond and olive groves of the back country to the rice paddies of the coast, and from the eclectic blends of ancient and modern architecture in its principal cities, the Community has many cultural facets to show its visitors.

Today, it is a powerhouse of modern culture and innovation, and with museums, art galleries, concert halls and the opera house of Valencia it plays an important part the cultural life of Europe as a whole.

Two languages are spoken in the region. Spanish (or Castilian) and Valencian, both of them stemming from Latin. The origins of the latter are disputed, with some claiming that the language was formed from Latin during the Arab period in the region, whilst others saying was brought by Aragonese and Catalan troops and population, during the “Reconquista” period, but it has its own distinctive function in forming the character of the region, many schools and universities now use Valencian alongside Spanish as language of instruction.

Sagunto Theatre, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardThe ancient Roman settlement of Sagunto just north of the provincial capital of Valencia, is an icon to the history of the region, having been first a bronze age settlement, then an important Iberian port trading with both the Greeks and Phoenicians, and then famously sacked by the Carthaginian leader Hannibal in 219 BC.

Today it has one of the largest and most restored Roman theatres of Spain set into a natural amphitheatre topped by the remains of a spectacular fortress which itself has traces of Roman, Arab and medieval architecture.

The rich cuisine of the area is one of the most vivid manifestations of the heterogeneous elements which compose Valencian history. The Moors introduced advanced irrigation systems and planted, sugarcane, oranges and rice, with the paddy fields of the coast changing the landscape in a lasting way.

Valencian Paella, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardThe Valencian paella, famous throughout Spain, was first made here more than a thousand years ago, and today rice is a staple in restaurants and homes throughout the region.

Olive oil , that most vital element of all Mediterranean cuisine was first introduced by the Phoenicians, and over the centuries Greeks, Romans, and Arabs refined the cultivation of the olive trees on the higher country of the Valencian regions. Today the region produces some of the best finest oil of the Iberian peninsula.

Valencia also has an international reputation for the quality and diversity of its wines, from sweet muscatel to full bodied reds and with a sparkling wine from the Requena area which recently won a top international prize. There is evidence that the first vineyards in the region were cultivated in Neolithic times, but over the centuries wine production became an integral part of Valencian life, and today with modern techniques used throughout the region Valencia is a principal European wine producer. Nearly every town has its own bodega or winery, from Jalón in Alicante, well known for its fine muscatel, to Utiel and Requena, where many family run bodegas produce world class vintages.

The architecture of the region is an important pointer to the significant cultural influences of Valencian history. The Lonja de la Seda in the heart of the old quarter of the city of Valencia for example, now a UNESCO world heritage site was built in 1482 as the silk trading auction house. Today, it is classed as one of the most outstanding and best preserved examples of late Gothic architecture, its lofty trading hall demonstrating the wealth of Valencia at the time as one of the great mercantile cities of the Mediterranean. The expert craftsmen who carved the tall spiral columns were part of the highly skilled tradition of stonemasonry brought to the region by the Moors more than 500 years before.

L'Oceanogràfic, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardToday the tradition of architectural excellence continues for the Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia has some of the most intriguing modern architecture of Europe. Here, the elegant futuristic buildings which include the opera house of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, and L'Oceanogràfic - the largest aquarium in Europe stand in a dramatic location close to the sea.

The award winning structures based largely on designs by Valencian born architect Santiago Calatrava and Spanish architect Félix Candela have become the cultural emblems of the city in their own right.

One continuing and vibrant tradition, with roots which are buried far back in history are the fiestas, the dramatic celebrations of religious and secular festivals which form a vital part of the Valencian calendar. The most famous is Las Fallas, which takes place in Valencia every year in March with huge wooden statues and models, some of which are more than twenty metres high carried in procession through the city before being ceremoniously burnt in a huge pyre with a vivid and massive firework display. Thought to celebrate the arrival of spring, the origins of the festival may stretch as far back as the Roman Saturnalias and today it has become on of the biggest street parties in Europe.

Tomatina Festival, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist Board In complete contrast, but growing each year in popularity, the Tomatina, in Buñol celebrates the summer tomato harvest with a street battle in which more than 40,000 participants lob in excess of thirty tons of tomatoes at each other, in a battle which is certainly not for the fainthearted.

The enthusiasm and passion with which Valencians embrace their fiestas indicate the important roles that tradition and culture continue to play in the entire region. Also important are the “Moros y Cristianos” festivals, celebrated in spring and summer in almost every town and village of the southern part of the region.

These are colourful parades that re-enact the battles that took place in the Middle Ages between Christian and Muslim troops during the Spanish Reconquista.
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Valencia Tourist Board for their sponsorship of this guide
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