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Visiting Valencia, Spain: Architecture of City of Arts and Sciences

If you were to dangle an American out of a ten-story window and force her to choose a city in Spain to move to forever, I bet you ninety Euros that she would scream: “Barcelona!”

But the more I experience Spain, the more I realize that this pervasive American romanticization of Barcelona is just plain foolish.

If I, myself, were to pick a city in all of Spain to live, it would be… Valencia.

How cool is Valencia, Spain?!
How cool is Valencia, Spain?!

“Huh?” you say, wiping the juice off your mouth from an orange you just finished chomping. “Isn’t Valencia just like one big pile of citrus fruits?”

No, no, no! And also, no! Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, sits on the Mediterranean Ocean, right between Barcelona and Andalusia. And in all honesty, I really, really like it. It’s supremely livable, often in ways that mirror my dear hometown of Boston.

Even the signs look futuristic.
Even the signs look futuristic.

We will go into other aspects of Valencia in subsequent articles, but today let us highlight one realm in which Valencia has Boston beat: its gasp-inducing-ly futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, pictured here.

Okay now, stop shaking your head and rubbing your eyes, already! I swear to you: the buildings you see in these photos actually DO exist. I recognize that they look artificially computer-generated, or perhaps even lifted from some twenty-eighth century time warp, but really, I touched them!

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain.
City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain.

For me, the experience alone of seeing these mind-blowing buildings was worth my train ticket to Valencia. You can truly spend hours striding around the “City,” because the buildings within the complex are numerous, and each is so unique and beguiling that it merits close, lasting, and almost lascivious ogling. Should you tire of gazing, pop inside! Each structure houses a museum or hall.

To close, I need your help with a debate that has erupted with a Spanish friend: Do these City of Arts and Sciences buildings represent “Good Architecture?”

The City of Arts and Sciences has such great shapes.
The City of Arts and Sciences has such great shapes.

Me, I think these structures are absolutely great. They are innovative and cool (or as the Spaniards say, “chulo“), and I adore how the park around them seems to be lovingly and constantly used by locals and tourists alike.

See how happy the people in these photos are, languidly lounging around the azure blue of the crystalline ponds (a similar color to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai)?

BUT (cue the angry background music) not all humans love Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences. Here is a loose translation of the words of my Spanish architect friend regarding the artistic merit of the place:

“My first concern with the City of Arts and Sciences,” growled my friend, “is that these buildings are pandering to tourists, trying to be so shocking that they turn the city into a sightseeing playground like Bilbao’s Guggenheim… all in an effort to get more visitors.”

Yay for Valencia, Spain architecture!
Yay for Valencia, Spain architecture!

(“Well,” laughed my friend Gary when he heard this argument, “Those buildings are the coolest I’ve seen in my entire life, so if they’re meant to pander to tourists like me, they work! And I’m okay with that.”)

Undeterred and increasingly poetic in his fury, my architect friend continued with his argument: “For me, good architecture is not pretentious or spectacular,” he asserted. “Good architecture should be realistic and discreet, giving way to what may happen in it. It should be autonomous, but attentive to the environment. It should be clear, simple… and magic.”

“Listen,” I said, “Discretion and modesty are all well and good at times… but there are other times you just want to see something that will knock your socks off!”

This idiom did not translate very well into Spanish, and much confusion ensued. (“Wait, what do socks have to do with architecture, Lillie?”)

But the fundamental question remains for you, dear reader: What is your take on flamboyant architecture like Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences?


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Jeff @ Go Travelzing

Wednesday 16th of January 2013

I went to Valencia six years ago just because I saw pictures of this complex and I wanted to see it in person. It was amazing and they had not finished the bridge or Agora building. Calatrava is now one of my favorite architects.

I think that Valencia is underrated and should be included on a visit to Spain.


Wednesday 16th of January 2013

I totally agree!


Tuesday 16th of August 2011

I studied architecture in Valencia, and was fascinated about this part of the city - even though I'm much more for classic structures. In summer, there are often events happening in and around - I remember attending to a free concert where the singer was standing on a transparent platform in the water... And so seemed to be floating! It was amazing!

Ayub Sharif

Tuesday 4th of January 2011

This picture is Amazing , it reminds me of Hawaii because I've been there and it's the bomb!


Monday 3rd of May 2010

Oh cool! I'm flying to Spain tomorrow! First stop on my RTW. I was already planning on hitting up Valencia but your photos are further proof I need to visit!!

Are you still in Spain? I get into Madrid early on Wednesday.

Dylana Suarez

Sunday 2nd of May 2010

This place looks amazing!

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