Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A River Ran through It: Valencia, Spain, Dazzles with a Mash-Up of Old World Charm and New World Architecture, Tied Neatly by a Long Ribbon of Unrivaled Downtown Green Space

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A River Ran through It: Valencia, Spain, Dazzles with a Mash-Up of Old World Charm and New World Architecture, Tied Neatly by a Long Ribbon of Unrivaled Downtown Green Space

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE SPANISH HAVE A SAYING, De lo perdido, saca lo que puedas: Literally, from what's lost, extract what you can. Make the best of a bad situation. So after a devastating 1957 flood took the lives of dozens in Valencia and left the city center submerged under eight feet of water, locals cleaned up, dug deep, and took the adage to heart. They diverted the very path of the Turia River, by which their beloved city had grown for centuries, and along its former watercourse created one of the world's most impressive civic spaces, a work still in progress that's part gorgeous parkland, part futuristic culture complex, and all a living testament to a 21st-century Valencia that's completely reborn--and still on the rise. While it won't eclipse the big gay centers of Spain--Madrid, Barcelona, and Sitges--Valencia is becoming increasingly popular with travelers who have had their fill of gay beaches and raucous clubbing and nightlife.

The city's inspired municipal remolding hasn't been hurt an iota by the fact that one of the world's most prominent modern architects, Santiago Calatrava, is a proud native. Calatrava, who's also designed such notable stateside projects as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the in-progress World Trade Center PATH Station, was the visionary behind the gleaming City of Arts and Sciences at the east end of the old Turia River route. So far, the Jetsonsesque enclave includes a science museum, Europe's largest oceanographic aquarium, an eyeball-shaped IMAX theater, and most recently a 14-story, 400,000-square-foot city opera house and cultural center, already world-acclaimed and set to start its fall season October 31 with Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens.

Continuing westward, the ingenious Valencianos have converted the rich former riverbed into Turia Gardens, a glorious six-mile, 550-acre stretch of city park with areas for every conceivable outdoor pursuit, including bike lanes, running tracks, soccer fields, a skateboarding zone, and even a giant chessboard. At its far west end you'll find the massive new Bioparc, a fantastic next-generation open-air zoo with different climatized habitats for its more than 4,000 animals, representing more than 250 species.

Wrapped about its one-of-a-kind Turia Gardens centerpiece, the warm city of Valencia, Spain's third largest with about 810,000 inhabitants, brims with still more stunning visuals. Successive waves of Romans, Visigoths, and Moors added to the architecture of what's now called the Old Town, where two of the medieval city's original gates still stand watch at the perimeter. Inside, the showstoppers are Plaza de la Virgen (Virgin Square) and its adjacent cathedral, within which resides the literal Holy Grail of Holy Grails: a chalice deemed by the Catholic Church to be the drinking cup from the Last Supper. Nearby, the Plaza Redonda (Round Market) offers a fascinating glimpse into bygone Valencia, with small market stalls selling cloth, lace, and ceramics as they have for centuries.

El Carmen, which sits at the top of the Old Town where the former river used to bend, was one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the '57 flood and, at least initially, one of the least renovated. Following a few decades of debauchery-laden decline, in recent years El Carmen has seen a powerful resurgence, becoming the city's hub for artists, hipsters, nightlife, and--surprise, surprise--the gays. By both day and night it's a magical onslaught of energetic sights and sounds, largely free (for now) of the tourist throngs commonly found in Barcelona and Madrid. …

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