More than any other project, the breathtaking Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences, or CAC), rising from the riverbed, symbolizes the autonomous government’s vision for Valencia and its quest to establish the city as a prime tourist destination. The giant complex – Europe’s largest cultural centre – consists of a series of futuristic edifices designed mainly by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava.
The architecture itself is simply stunning. Even if you only have a day or two in the city, it’s well worth the effort getting here to take in the eye-catching buildings surrounded by huge, shallow pools. Calatrava’s designs adopt an organic form, his technical and engineering brilliance providing the basis for his pioneering concrete, steel and glass creations. However, despite near-universal acclaim for its architecture, the complex has not completely escaped criticism. Some feel that the vast cost of constructing it should have been used to tackle the city’s pressing social issues, while others have been less than overwhelmed by some of the content inside the Ciudad’s startling structures.
In your explorations, stroll through the Umbracle, a series of eighteen-metre-high arches towering over a landscaped walkway shaded with vegetation from throughout the region, including palms, honeysuckle, bougainvillea and, of course, orange trees.
The Hemisfèric, one of the more astonishing buildings of the complex, is a striking eye-shaped concrete structure – complete with lashes, and an eyeball that forms a huge concave screen used to project IMAX movies, laser shows, nature documentaries and more.
Museo de las Ciencias
The colossal Museo de las Ciencias (Science Museum), whose protruding supports make the building resemble a giant sun-bleached carcass, is crammed with interactive exhibits about science, sport and the human body that are sure to appeal to children, from a colourful 3D representation of DNA to a Foucault Pendulum, which at 34m is one of the longest in the world.
The Parque Oceanográfico, designed by Félix Candela, is one of the world’s largest aquariums. It’s divided into multiple zones, with beluga whales in the Arctic area, Japanese spider crabs in the temperate zone and a kaleidoscopic collection of reef fish, sharks and turtles in the seventy-metre tunnel that forms the tropical zone. The park also has all manner of splashy events, including the thrilling (though pricey) Encuentro con Tiburones (Shark Encounter), where you can scuba-dive with sharks; and a penguin visit, popular with kids, where you can feed Humboldt penguins and view their hatchery and rearing area. In the summer, the aquarium sometimes opens for night visits, while the restaurant is a sleek underwater space where you dine with fish darting past your table.
Palacio de les Arts Reina Sofía and L’Ágora
The majestic pistachio-nut-shaped Palacio de las Artes is a high-tech performing arts palace, with renowned musical director Lorin Maazel at the helm. Stages and halls of varying sizes – all with splendid acoustics – host ballet, opera and classical-music concerts, among others. Performances are staged throughout the year, and it’s well worth snagging a ticket to see one. The equally impressive 80m L’Àgora (open for events only), is a multifunctional space inaugurated in November 2009 to host the Valencia 500 Open tennis tournament, and now features various events, from sports meets to the glittering annual Valencia Fashion Week.