Valencia Region History & Geography

Geography

Alicante, Valencia and Castellón form the three provinces of the Region of Valencia, a widely diverse landscape with more than 450 kilometres of Mediterranean coastline, bordered by Cataluña to the north and Murcia to the south. The region spans some 20,0000 square kilometres, comprising both high mountains, and plains, wetlands and beaches, but it’s only 120 kilometres at its widest point. The coast has a temperate climate, whilst you’ll encounter both semiarid desert and lush forests inland. In the north the high rocky outcrops of ancient limestone in the mountainous El Maestrazgo region are fiercely cold in winter, but have a benign summer climate. In total contrast, the rolling hills of Xátiva in central Valencia province and its fertile agricultural lands have some of the hottest summer temperatures of the entire region.
Two mountain ranges dominate the region. The ancient Iberian range bisects the area from the north west to the south east. The younger Bética formation extends from the south to Cap de la Nao. This younger limestone has distinctive, high rocks like the Peñon de Ifach crag, a climber's paradise. Where these mountain ranges meet the sea, they create a dramatic landscape of high cliffs, hidden coves and beaches – and offshore reef – a rich habitat for sea life.
Valencia’s famous beaches break up these rugged capes. These wide, kilometre-long stretches of fine sand are one of the main reasons people visit the area. But behind them is something most tourists don’t notice. Large wetlands of brackish water separate some beaches from the mainland. These well irrigated areas are great for growing rice for Valencia’s famous paellas, but their reed beds are also ideal breeding grounds for resident and visiting migratory birds. Valencia is one of the most popular locations for bird watchers during the migrating seasons.
Beyond reed beds, there’s a wide range of flora in the region. In the north, deeply wooded valleys of pine and oak trees are interspersed with high moorland covered with juniper bushes. Closer to the coast you’ll walk through a typical Mediterranean garrigue of thyme, rosemary and other fragrant herbs. In total, you’ll find more than 3,000 different species of plants and trees within the region, many unique to the area.

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History

Thanks to its gorgeous geographic assets, the Valencian Region has been settled for many thousands of years. Artefacts and paintings discovered in the Parpalló Cave in Gandia indicate that small groups of hunter-gatherers were active in the area some 29,000 years BCE.

Greeks and Phoenicians set up small communities and trading settlements in Valencia as they established the first maritime trade routes in the Mediterranean. Even these small communities left a permanent mark on the land: ancient terraces built more than two thousand years ago still line the rocky valleys near Jalón in Alicante.

Little trace remains of the Visigoths, who occupied Valencia after the collapse of the Roman empire in the 4th century CE. The same can't be said for the Moors: the Muslim invasion in the 8th century marked a dramatic turning point for the region. Under five centuries of Arab rule, Valencia prospered. There were large advances in irrigation techniques (see the palm plantations of Elche), rice cultivation, paper manufacture in Xátiva, and centres of learning in Denia and Valencia.
Long irrigation canals were dug under Moorish rule, transforming the appearance of the province. These vital canals transformed vast, arid tracts of land into fertile soil. The Tribunal de las Aguas also dates from the Arab era. A council of ordinary people still meets every year in Valencia city to discuss the distribution of water. Valencia’s short supply isn’t a new phenomenon.
The Arab epoch came to an end in the 13th century, although the final expulsion of the last families would not take place for another two centuries, under the rule of Philip II in 1609. Many of the villages deserted by the Moors were taken over by people from the nearby island of Mallorca. They, in their turn, brought their own influences to Valencia’s language and cuisine.
In the 18th century, Valencia made huge strides both in agriculture and industry. New, sophisticated irrigation systems made it one of the most productive areas of the entire Iberian peninsula. During this time of rising prosperity, the University of Valencia became one of the most prestigious and well known centres of learning in Europe. Valencia’s prosperity continued in the 19th century. A railway to Madrid, electrification of the provinces and improved road networks all helped the region became one of the most advanced areas of Spain.
Valencia’s fortunes turned somewhat in the post war years. Through the 1940s and 1950s, the region lost its position as a leading territory in Spain. By the 1970s, things were looking up again: further industrialisation, the upsurge of tourists in the 1960s, and the return of the monarchy heralded a turning point, and the region has never looked back. Today, Valencia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain, with excellent air, road and rail links connections (the High speed AVE links both Alicante and Valencia to the Spanish capital in less than two hours) the Region of Valencia is once again one of the most important cultural and economic powerhouses of contemporary Spain.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christian Jiménez] [Top box: Jean-christophe Bruneau] [Penon de Ifach: Mindaugas Vitkus] [Tribunal de las Aguas: Jose Jordan]
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