Walking down a busy main street in Valencia a few years ago, my eye was caught by a welcoming shady square. Through the palm trees I could glimpse a few columns – maybe Roman remains? and a steady stream of people drifting in and out of a handsome building.
Curious, I investigated. It was a library. The Central Public Library of Valencia. I went in.
How spacious, airy, beautiful and welcoming it was! Later, I discovered that this building had once been the first psychiatric hospital in Europe, founded in 1409 as the initiative of one Friar Juan Gilabert Jofre, to care for the mentally ill. It was called Hospital de Folls de Santa María dels Pobres Innocents – the Hospital of the Poor Innocents. This actual building was begun in 1493, and was and is in the form of a Greek cross, which housed the different wings of the hospital. It added general hospital facilities in the 16th century and also suffered a destructive fire.
During the 1960s, hospital facilities were moved elsewhere in the city, and the authorities began the site’s demolition: the church, the pharmacy and old medical school are gone. There was an immense public outcry. What was left was saved, and the building retained and developed as a library and archive service. Those columns I saw outside are not Roman, but surplus to requirements when the building was redeveloped.
It’s a fabulous place. Not only is it a welcoming, light-filled and serene space, it’s a busy one. It’s right by two of the city’s universities, so study areas are busy with students as well as the general public. The collections seem vast: the English section, for both adults and children was well-stocked, At one point I sat down in the section devoted to newspapers and periodicals and browsed through recent copies of the Times and Sunday Times and some more academic publications in English. Of course other European nations were represented too. There were book groups advertised, including a monthly one for children in English (obviously aimed at Spanish children, rather than any resident English ones); an ‘introduction to philosophy’ group for children; reading groups for dissidents; for theatre-goers; for students of Valencia’s social history, as well as the usual more general ones; photography and cookery workshops; lectures (‘Football now and as it used to be’). I was beyond impressed. Here’s a gallery of this library community at work on one ordinary weekday afternoon – before the pandemic – I don’t know how it will have changed.
Meanwhile, what have I been reading this last month? Reviews for most of them will appear over the next few Six Degrees of Separation posts.
Gabriel Chevallier: Fear.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Delphine de Vigan: Based on a True Story.⭐⭐⭐
Donna Leon: Beastly Things.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Patricia Lockwood: No One is Talking About This.⭐⭐(abandoned)
Sakaya Murata: Convenience Store Woman.⭐⭐⭐⭐
Jane Smiley: The Strays of Paris.⭐⭐ (skim-read)
Sarah Winman: Still Life.⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Allan Ahlberg: The Bucket⭐⭐⭐
Charlie Gilmour: Featherhood.⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ann Patty: Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin.⭐⭐⭐
For Bookish Beck’s Love your Library.