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The Curiously Unique Architecture of Valencia, Spain

The city's most famous buildings are works of art in themselves.

Valencia, Spain is often overlooked in favor of its more famous and glamorous sisters, Barcelona and Madrid. However, Valencia is worth a stop for any traveler, with laidback locals, a great climate, and easy beach access. The architecture of Valencia makes this a unique city: home to cafés serving the world’s best paellas, its streets are a thrilling example of Spanish Modernista Architecture, which combines elements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

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Mercat Central De Valencia

Built in 1928, this is probably the most beautiful covered food market in the world. This vast Modernista structure of iron and glass brilliantly ornamented with luminous ceramic tiles. Vividly colored glass windows and cupolas house hundreds of vendors fussing over extraordinary fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, candy, bread, and cheeses. The enormous fish and meat sections display things you may never have encountered. Arrive early when the locals do and be prepared to savor and sample everything you crave.

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Mercado Colon

This gorgeous and elaborate structure has a Gaudi-esque interior filled with decorative Mosaics depicting Valencian rural life. Two great stained glass windows drench the whole structure with a magical light. Originally built in 1928, it was refurbished in 2003 and is a charming place to get a drink or a bite, buy colorful flowers on display, or revel in the colors of the market’s distinctive light.

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The Ceramics Museum

Valencia is famous for its ceramics and this museum, which holds an impressive collection of ceramics from many periods and cultures, is a delightful experience of this often underrated art form. The exterior is wild, with elaborate scenes of lolling gods covered in lace and leaves—it’s rococo at its most unbridled.

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The Cathedral

Valencia’s Cathedral dates from the 13th century. It was built on the site of what was originally a Roman temple, and later a mosque. It contains many architectural styles, from the Romanesque to the baroque. Most impressive is the central Door of the Apostles, A Gothic depiction of the twelve apostles, and the Door of the Palau, which renders Biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as charming animals, leaves and flowers, brought to life in stone.

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The Silk Market

The Lonja de Seda, or Silk Market, is an imposing late Gothic Monument to mercantile power. The large room of contracts is still used for official functions, and its impressive exhibits recall the period of Valencia’s former glories with a vivid immediacy.

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City of Arts and Sciences

This modern masterpiece by Santiago Calatrava is home to a science museum, a planetarium, and oceanographic park, and the Palace of the Arts. The futuristic fun here includes IMAX theaters, submarine rides, holograms, and hands-on experiences.


Mary Gordon’s most recent novel, There Your Heart Lies, went on sale from Pantheon in May. The novel is set in Valencia.

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