Valencia

Located on the sunny Mediterranean coast, the region known as Comunidad Valenciana consists of three provinces: Valencia, Castellón and Alicante. Valencia was once a powerful Kingdom, and it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the region was fully incorporated into the rest of Spain. The people of the region are still independent and proud, preferring their own language, Valencian, whenever possible, although they all speak Castilian Spanish as well.
Valencia was ruled by the Moors from their invasion until the 13th century: the Moors fought valiantly against Christian forces from neighboring Aragón, and the reconquest of the area took almost a century to complete. Often, conquered Moorish regions would revolt against their Christian rulers, but these were always put down. The people of Valencia celebrate their history, and often dress as “Moors” and “Christians” and stage battles from the conquest during festivals. During the Renaissance era, Mediterranean trade caused the Kingdom of Valencia to flourish.
There are many things to see and do in the region. The city of Valencia is the third largest in Spain, and it has a long history. Buildings from Roman and Moorish times can still be seen in certain quarters. The fifteenth-century La lonja de la Seda, or the Silk exchange, is a monument to the days when Valencia enjoyed a key role in Mediterranean trade. Be sure to check out the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, a modern complex that hosts an IMAX theater, an opera house and a science museum, among other things. As with any venerable Spanish city, there is no shortage of Gothic churches and monasteries: in Valencia, the Cathedral is notable.
There are several noteworthy cities in the region besides Valencia. Sagunto features the ruins of a Roman/Moorish fortress and a Roman theater in addition to the requisite Gothic church. The city of Elx is home to an impressive Moorish castle and a palm grove thought to have been originally planted by Carthaginians. Elx (pronounced “elch”) also stages a dramatic play, El Misteri, which has been put on every year since the middle ages. The play itself is considered a World Heritage Site. Gandia and Benidorm are home to several attractive beaches. The tiny city of Elda is known for its footwear industry, and features stores and a museum.
The region is known for its agriculture, in particular citrus fruit. Valencia oranges have the reputation of being the best produced in Europe and they are widely exported. The famous Spanish dish paella, which consists largely of rice and seafood, is a Valencian specialty. There are many excellent sweets produced in the region, most notably turron, a chewy treat made with almonds which vaguely resembles peanut brittle.
Valencia’s biggest festival is “las Fallas,” a week-long party every March which features large float-like structures which are constructed in different points around the city before being spectacularly lit on fire on the last night of the festival.