Valencia’s Green Lung
When the River Turia overflowed its banks twice in the 1950’s and devastated large swathes of Valencia, it was diverted to the south of the city, creating a seven kilometre dried-up river bed that lay dormant for almost twenty years before the city fathers finally decided what to do with it. It is now the Jardines del Turia, the green lungs of the city, and a wonderful mix of cycling, jogging and walking paths, playing fields, trees, fountains, lawns and playgrounds, that ends in beside the pools of the City of Arts and Sciences.
By one of those strange quirks of urban design, the Jardines form a delightful walkway between some of the most beautiful gardens of the city, so many that Valencia is now accepted as one of the greenest cities in Europe.
Starting at the top, just opposite the Nuevo Centro on Pista de Ademuz and the main bus depot, is the Jardín de las Hespérides. The garden has a complete collection of citrus trees, represented by 50 different varieties but unlike the groves you see in the campo, the trees rest among sculptures representing Hercules, the metamorphosis of the nymphs into trees, and Venus Aphrodite, protectore of gardens and orchards.
The idea of gathering this wide collection of citrus trees together in this garden allowed for the recovery of some of the species that were in the lost collection once held by the Jardín Botanico (Botanical Gardens). The collection is represented by the eight groups that compose the genus citrus: lemon, lime, mandarin, bitter orange, sweet orange, grapefruit and Pummelo. They are cultivated as trees, in pots or on trellis-work, using methods that are almost unknown today but were once employed with real mastery by the Lligadors D’Horts, the Valencian gardeners.
A few streets away, on Calle Quart, is the Jardin Botanico. Set in the old Huerto de Tramoyeres (Tramoyeres’ Orchard) it is one of the oldest gardens of the city, with an area of around four hectares. It owes its creation to one of Spain’s most famous naturalists, Valencia born Antonio José Cavanilles, who started the gardens in 1802. It was the first botanical garden established in Spain and was set up to test new cultivations and acclimatise unknown species.
The garden is designed in a principle walk, divided into squares by the grid work of its paths. It is said to be one of the best botanical gardens in Europe, with around three thousand different species, and more than seven thousand examples of bushes, exotic trees and palms, although, true to be told, it can look a bit run down at times.
Besides the plants and trees, it’s worth having a look at the greenhouses, nurseries and umbrarium, a semi-open structure that provides shelter – basically a shade house – all built in the 19th century, where a fabric of brick and stone is combined with the structure of metal and glass, as are all the fittings of the park, including the irrigation system, benches and cast iron fountains.
Run by the University of Valencia, it has been the headquarters of the Escuela de Jardinería (School of Gardening) since 1957.
Wander back to the Jardines del Turia and at street level, just after the football pitches at the Puente Trinidad, are the Jardines del Real, the Royal Gardens, now more commonly knows as Los Viveros, one of the most notable gardens in the city, for its history, extent and design.
The Moorish king Abd al-Aziz, in the 11th century, ordered the construction of a villa on the oldest part of the Gardens, which was later converted by King Jaime I into a palace, and later rebuilt by Pedro IV. Apart from the gardens, an important zoological collection already existed in the 15th century. In 1903 the park was donated to the Town Council as a tree nursery, from which came its current name (viveros – nursery). In 1810, during the War of Independence, the palace was demolished for strategic reasons, and in 1814 the rubble from the Royal Palace was piled up, forming two small mounds, which still exist under the name of “la Montañeta”, the little mountain, shaded by bushes and flowers.
During the 19th century it was used as an acclimatisation garden and agricultural school but since the beginning of the 20th century, the gardens have been successively enlarged to the north, and fountains, umbrariums, benches, bowers, kiosks and statues added. The garden is full of statuary, one of the most important being the group of the Four Seasons represented by Venus, Diana, Apollo and Chronos, worked in white marble by the baroque sculptor Jacobo Ponzanelli.
With the passing of time, the Viveros Municipales has acquired an extraordinary collection of begonias, cacti, carnations, ficus, araucarias, firs, cypresses, ferns, agaves, azaleas, rhododendron, coconut trees, palms and much more. The gardens also house the Museo de Ciencieas Natuarales (the Natural Science Museum) and a centre for the National Meteorological Service, (so you know where to complain if it rains when you were promised sun for your visit), and a children’s playground. A delightful stroll around an historic garden where you can doze in the sun after a beer and a sandwich at one of the two cafes.
One of the most delightful gardens in the city is the Jardin de Montforte with its tiny palacete, an ornate villa in French rococo style, a five-minute walk from the Viveros. The former orchards of the Baron of Llaurí, it was bought in 1849 by Juan Bautista Romero, Marquis of San Juan, who converted it to a garden.
It has various juxtaposed parts; a geometric garden in the neoclassic style beside the palacete, and another that is more naturalistic, landscaped and designed on a more romantic theme. The garden design has not been changed to any great degree, apart from minor restoration in 1942 under Javier de Winthuysen.
No visit to Valencia is complete without a walk down the Paseo de Alameda, once access to the former royal palace. It opened in 1677 but during the War of Independence the Alameda almost completely disappeared, and its reforestation was ordered by Marshal Suchet. During the 19th century, it soon established itself as a riding and meeting place for the upper classes.
It forms a gardened promenade, with a great variety of trees, just over a kilometre in length, running parallel to the left wall of the River Turia from the Puente Real to the Puente de Aragon. Of the original Alameda two beautiful, slender towers, the Torres de los Guardas (the Guard Towers), characterised by their tops of a pyramidal spire covered with glazed blue tiles, still stand.
The fountain of the Cuatro Estaciones (Four Seasons) marks the beginning of the promenade. Set in the central aisle, it was placed there in 1861 on instructions from the then mayor of the city, Don Francisco Brotóns. The bowl is of marble from Vilamarxant, and the fountain itself is of cast iron from France, featuring the four allegorical figures that give it its name.
In 2002, new gardens were laid in the centre strip of the Paseo de la Alameda behind the Palau de Musica. In this area of 5,500 square metres, all the vegetable species of the Comunidad Valenciana grow to form a collection, a catalogue of Mediterranean plants, both common and exotic, which have been pruned to form geometric shapes.
While the main gardens of Valencia are an almost-tourist free stroll through the city, the River Turia itself is a delight to meander, stopping for an occasion stretch out or a picnic below the trees. Whether it’s gardens or parks, there is little more to lighten the heart than a stroll around Valencia’s green spaces.