Valencia (vii) – Photography Focus 3: A tale of two cities
Valencia is a city with many faces, but a clear divide: On the one hand you have Valencia, the shiny, glamorous new modern city, with its sensational innovative Calatrava architecture, glimmering in all its white reflective glory and pushing the city forward into a pioneering new age. It’s the Valencia where all the money has gone, poured in euro-lined gallons like the vast great pools which surround the City of Arts and Sciences. It’s also the Valencia of power: even the older Plaza del Ayuntamiento boasts a conglomeration of statued facades, elaborate tiled domes, and huge soaring art deco architecture. But then again, this is the seat of the Valencian autonomous government.
The seat of modernity and power…
…versus the old, crumbling historic centre
But walk a few roads North, to the old historic centre, and you see quite another side to Valencia. It’s the old quaint quarter, where gothic architecture meets baroque, where the tourists cluster around bird-inhabited fountains, and the women of the city perambulate in traditional costume attracting the flashbulbs of visitors fascinated by the spectacle. Yet here, just beyond, and sometimes on the main squares and old streets, there are vast sites of what should be prime realty, reduced to rubble. Large houses and crumbling walls are painted with graffiti and murals, wires hang loosely over houses which have been boarded up and left to disrepair. This is the Valencia where the money has not flowed, where those local funds, poured into modern architectural projects which leak euros in maintenance costs by the day, could have been so beneficially received. And yet this is the historic heart of the city. Why has it been deserted?
In this photographic focus post, I am showing you a selection of my photos which I think demonstrate the contrasts of this city. I start with a gallery of the sleek modern face of the newly developed old Turia river bed, and the grand spectacle of the city’s administrative centre. There is no doubting the splendour of these grandiose, extravagant architectural spectacles, and while one can easily be cynical about the money spent, that does not stop me admiring the quality of the brilliantly executed craftsmanship.
Contrast that gallery with this, photos of the old historic quarter. As with my experience in Lisbon last year, I find the deterioration and degradation of Mediterranean architecture to be as much picturesque and charming as it is sad. What is worrying, and so apparently wasteful, is how many empty plots we walked past in the prime historic quarter, sometimes with just flimsy building facades standing, covered in scaffolding or loose protective netting. I assume developers had once intended to construct something on the site, but as is the experience of so many developers across Spain (whose worst financial casualty of the recent economic crisis has been the construction industry) they simply ran out of money.
What I loved however is the clear, predominance of artistic spirit in these areas. Where empty sites reveal large, blank sides of buildings, street artists have stepped in to create something dynamic with paint and spray cans on that area. These do not blemish these charming streets as normal graffiti would, but rather imbue them with a creative spirit. My particular favourite was the painting on one wall of a tug of war, showing a troupe of men exasperated by the struggle of pulling on their side of the rope – we never find out who was pulling on the other end, that being left to the realms of imagination beyond the end of the wall.
Despite the fact that the modern face of Valencia is now the iconic façade of the city which has been sent out to the world, it’s still the charm of the historic quarter which attracts me the most. A vivacious creative spirit coupled with faded grandeur means that there is so much more to discover in this area than where the confident architectural icons of the new city reign supreme, providing picture-perfect postcard images handed to you on a plate. Despite the apparent lack of investment in the old quarter, it is undoubtedly this area where the heart and soul of Valencia continues to beat.
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- Valencia (i) – Day 1: Beauty and the Bell Tower (daily-norm.com)
- Valencia (ii) – Food Focus 1: Palo Alto (daily-norm.com)
- Valencia (iii) – Photography Focus 1: Modernista architecture (daily-norm.com)
- Valencia (iv) – Day 2: Sea, Sanctuary and Semana Santa (daily-norm.com)
- Valencia (v) – Day 3: Last of the big spenders – Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias (daily-norm.com)
- Valencia (vi) – Photography Focus 2: Wildlife and Wetlands (daily-norm.com)