Yesterday’s town

Manises seems down on its luck. This town, eight kilometres from Valencia, was once a centre of gravity in Spain’s ceramics manufacture.

The old station at Manises, decorated with tiles.

I went there today, and found a town proud to celebrate its history, with a super-helpful Tourist Office. I found a town which like our former home of Laroque, has lost its reason for being. Textiles in Laroque, ceramics in Manises are almost all gone, victims of changing fashions and cheap imports from Asia.

Manises has over seven hundred years of pottery production to boast about. It was an early adopter of an Arabic technique, lustreware, and the wealth of the nearby port city of Valencia ensured a ready stream of buyers. They perfected cobalt blue pottery too, and cornered the market in supplying floor tiles to the elite.

pottery from the 15th century, in  the Ceramics Museum.

They made functional everyday ware too, so weathered all kinds of economic and political ups and downs through the centuries.

By 1932, there were 112 factories in town. Now, no mass production any longer exists. There are small specialist producers. And that’s it.

A plaque illustrating the town in the early 20th century. 

But it’s fun to walk round town, or visit the park. Ceramic plaques tell the town’s story in various ways. There are some great buildings – this is the above-mentioned Tourist Office.

Better than this though is poking round the back streets and seeing the variety of ornamentation on totally ordinary workaday houses.

And just as good, going to a rather good restaurant housed in a former ceramics factory.

Not much seemed to be going on now. I expect everyone is at work at the airport up the road.

PS.  Here is a great blog post describing Manises so very well

A river transformed: the curious story of the Túria

Once upon a time, perhaps every fifty years, Valencia used to be engulfed by floods. The River Túria, which largely encircled the old city centre, regularly burst its banks and devastated the town. 1957 was particularly bad. The streets became canals, houses were ruined, and more than eighty people died. Something had to be done.

The solution was radical. They moved the river. The Túria now flows well south of the city and those floods are all in the past.

But what to do with the old river bed? Well, what about a multi-lane superhighway charging through the city, linking Madrid with the port of Valencia? It jolly nearly happened.

But the citizens, horrified, had a better idea than the planners. What about a park? The plan took many years to realise – there’s little commercial advantage in green space. But eventually work began on preparing the site, and later on planning and planting. Now the Túria Gardens are much loved, much used. If you want to go jogging, ride your bike, walk the dog, play sport, bring the children to let off steam or have a picnic, you have a nine kilometre (soon to be eleven) circuit to play with. It’s an idyllic, peaceful place at any time of day.

How do I know all this? Because I went on a Free Tour Valencia yesterday. For ‘free’, read ‘pay as you like’. This company has good, informative and interesting guides. They have to be good, or they wouldn’t earn anything. If you go to Valencia, be sure to seek them out. Thanks, Carlos. I hope I’ve got my facts right.

The gardens seen through an arch of the 17th century bridge of Sant Josep.

In which things did not go according to plan

I never thought to ask. I wish I had. 

I never thought to ask if it was the Valencia Marathon on Sunday.  I never thought to ask if the Marathon would begin and end at the City of Arts and Sciences, where I’d planned to spend the whole day. 

It was all quite fun at first. I was walking through the wonderful Turia Gardens, the dried up river bed that is now a park encircling the city centre, when I heard music and announcements in the street above.

This is what I found when I went to look.

And that was fine. But as I neared the City, the crowds grew. Paths were closed. The crowds, the noise, the music became ever more invasive.

I took a few photos, and decided that this noise, these crowds, this carnival wasn’t for me. All the paths I thought I needed were closed, though, or jammed with people, and getting away turned out to be very tricky. This was not the low-key day I’d planned.

It was ok in the end. I found a park at the other side of the city, and did a whole lot of nothing. It was just what I needed.

PS. On the metro today, a Spaniard asked me the way. I told her……

A four thousand year old city

Yesterday, I took a trip away from the Big City. I went on a train through the flatlands near Valencia, getting off where the hills started, in Segunt.

Here is a city that’s been important and fought over for millennia, precisely because of those hills.  Early peoples settled there, overlooking the sea, trading with Phonoecia, which came to control it. Hannibal’s army besieged the city, and the Romans took over: that’s why the city has a Roman circus and theatre. Much restored, the theatre is used to this day.

Then along came the Barbarians, the Visigoths, and Sagunt became part of the Byzantine empire. By the 8th century the Moors had conquered the town, and transformed agriculture and commerce, building mosques and public baths.

By the 13th century, Sagunt was Christian again, and over the next six centuries, fought over by various Spanish kingdoms. The Jews came too, but they were pitched out in the 15th century. The quarter where they lived is still identifiable.

Even the twentieth century saw no end to conflict here. Both sides in the Civil War made use of the defensive possibilities of the castle.

Ah, the castle. I never mentioned that. It dominates the town. It’s a hotch-potch. Nobody who conquered here left it alone. It’s over a kilometre long from end to end. I know. I stumbled over rocks and through cactus trying to circumnavigate it. Unsuccessfully.

And horror of horrors. I deleted the photos from my phone without checking whether they’d uploaded to Google photos. They hadn’t. And I can’t retrieve the pictures from my camera here. I’ll have to upload them later and let you know when I’ve done it. Grrrr.

Snapshot Saturday: a 500 year old experiment

The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week is about experiments. Here’s one that’s some five hundred years old.

At that time, Valencia was one of Europe’s Top Cities. It had made its money from silk, and was an established part of the Silk Route from China and the east. Only a leading architect would do when it came to building La Llotja de la Sete: the Silk Exchange.

Pere Compte from Girona was the man chosen. And here’s his take on the main hall, begun in 1482. He created a space some 12 to 17 metres high, with no buttresses, placing massive stone on massive stone by using cranes, which were virtually unheard of at the time.

A forest of palm tree shaped columns spiral from the floor, fanning out as they reach the spherical vaulted ceilings. The windows are unusually large. The polished marble floors reflect the light. This is a delicious space, quite unlike any other Gothic building I have visited.

This is a response to the WordPress photo challenge:

The end of Week One ….

… and the big question is, will I survive Week Two?  It’s fair to say that I’m tireder than I’ve been in a very long time.  I’m looking after myself, though, taking a good two hours for lunch after morning classes. 

The idea is to give me little chance to talk English, so I spend lots of time rehearsing Spanish conversations in my head. They’re brilliant. I astonish myself with my lucid command of the language.  Unfortunately, when the moment comes for me to deliver my deathless prose to a real live Spaniard, those carefully honed phrases quite disappear and I’m stuttering and pointing as usual.

Seriously though, my comprehension has increased hugely, and I can have a reasonable chat with my hostess about my day. I decided to reward myself today with a trip to the beach. 

Mindful of this week’s WordPress photo challenge, which I’ll publish my contribution for tomorrow as usual, I shot a couple of experimental photos, by looking at the sea and sand reflected in the plate glass windows of nearby buildings.  Here’s one. And above, another much more usual I-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside shot.

Whether the weather be hot…..

I don’t expect any sympathy for this post. I’m sitting around in a t-shirt in a Spanish square, with a clara and a snack.  It’s 20 degrees, sunny, bright.

So why should you care that when I get up in the morning it’s a mere 4 degrees, and hardly better as I set off for school? Why should you be bothered that I never thought to pack any gloves? Why should you mind about the biting winds that whistle round street corners when the sun isn’t around?

This is a café at 9.00 in the morning. Everyone is inside, nursing a hot drink. It makes the mid-day sun seem even brighter.