Sunday 28 February 2016 – Valencia, Spain.
With the room nicely pre-warmed last night, along with a late night, red wine and whisky, most of us slept in quite late this morning. Paul managed to sneak out and go to one of the local markets well before anyone else emerged. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, the wind had dropped and there were hints of a sun peaking through the clouds.
Paul returned soon after we had breakfast and we all set out rather late for today’s adventure. A trip up the coast to the small town of Sagunto and its wonderful old ruined castle.
Sagunto is a port town and the castle sits on a low bluff overlooking the sea and a wide valley. We knew the castle closed at 14:00 on a Sunday and it was after 13:00 when we arrived in town. We drove around for what seemed like ages trying to find the entrance, the first attempt led us completely to the wrong side of the bluff. I had resigned myself (quietly) that this would be as close as I would get to visiting this massive old structure.
We finally found the way in to the right side of town, but found absolutely no where to park. Paul volunteered to drive off and find a park, so Paula, El and I jumped out the car and went looking for the road up to the gates.
We were dropped off outside The Church of Saint Maria, so I stopped for a quick photo of its magnificent doors. The church was started in 1334 and finally completed in 1730, a rather long build – a bit like the restoration of the escalators at Walthamstow Central! As was common at the time, it was built on the site of the main mosque in Sagunto soon after the Christians under Aragon 1 wrestled rule of the town from the Moors. It was finally finished in what has become the Valencian Gothic style of architecture.
Just outside the church there was a small road train that took visitors up the hill to the castle itself, for expediencies sake we jumped on the train and took the lazy way up the hill. Outside the main castle is an old amphitheatre, recently renovated and still used as a theatre.
I was very excited on the final walk up to the entrance, hoping we would be allowed in so late, I am a little boy at heart when it comes to castles and ruins, cannot help it ! Even the outside walls, especially with the un-British sight of cacti growing below had me bouncing…
We arrived at the gate at 13:30, were allowed in but advised we had 30 minutes. I am going to have to go back and visit another day, it is a big place and worthy of a couple of hours! We did make it in, I was very happy.
There has been a settlement on the bluff for hundreds of years. The Roman settlement was under siege by Hannibal way back in 219 BC, this event was the start of the Punic War, one of the most significant periods of warfare in ancient times, Hannibal’s army was finally stopped just outside the gates of Rome. Any further and the world would be a different place !
In 214 BC the town was retaken by Rome and as you would expect what followed for the next few hundred years was long periods of settlement interspersed with the odd invasion, change of ruler, change of religion when the Muslim Moors ruled this part of Spain for 500 (ish) years, with a brief change in the middle. It was in 1238 when Aragon conquered the area that things pretty much settled down for a while.
All this time the castle on the hill was expanded, modified, knocked down a bit, built up some more, but was never really destroyed. You can see influences from all the different groups who have occupied this vast site.
There is little information about the actual interior of the castle, there are a few signs inside that describe some of the sections, but they were not overly verbose and they were in Spanish so not much use in the short time we had. We only managed to see one side – the far end is over a kilometre away.
The Temple of Diana is pretty much the first thing you see once you are through the gate. There is a lot of renovation work going on, numerous sections are fenced off, and you can tell there is a monumentally large and long project going on to explore and renovate the interior. If it is all done as well as the already completed sections then it will be a fabulous place to visit in the future. There are photos of this building from 1923 and it was looking very similar to what it is like now. It must have been maintained for a very long time.
As we did not have a lot of time, I left El and Paula to it and nipped off here and there, taking photos where I saw something interesting, there are parts of the castle that can be explored and clambered on, and I am always up for that. I imagine as things become more formally renovated then the clambering will stop, I am not against that of course, but will take the opportunity to explore where I want when I can. Obviously I take as much care as I can, and do not risk either myself or the place I am exploring.
We explored the eastern end of the castle, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, as you can see the western end is quite a long way away.
Paula took a photo of me taking the photo….
I walked around a small section of the perimeter, there were great views down on to the rooftops of the houses below. I really like a good view of rooftops, especially the higgledy piggledy view over a town built on a hillside. Sagunto looks great from up here and the Church really stands out when viewed from this angle, from the ground it is all bunched up in the narrow cobbled streets and much harder to feel the scale of the building.
The walls are really imposing, and I could see why so much is still standing after such a long time. I also have a thing about walls and trees…
With time running out I headed quickly back over to the centre of the castle, to try and get a good look at the far end, from a distance it looks even more imposing than where I had just been. I really must come back here and explore again more fully. There is a whole castle up on that hill!
The walls show building materials and styles from most of the various occupiers of the site, from the Romans, the Moors and the later Spanish.
There were some great details, in some cases, literally lying on the ground.
All too quickly it was 14:00 and the gates were going to close, so I reluctantly bade adios to Castillo de Sagunto and walked outside to meet El and Paula.
We headed back down the hill, through some of the streets and past houses that I saw from the top of the hill. Looking back at this trip, and back further to my time in southern Spain in 2012, these small hillside, ‘white house’ villages are some of my favourite places to wander around. I love the randomness of the streets, the twisting and turning, the ones that end in steps, or just go nowhere, the fact there are few people about and almost no visible cars. Perfect!
By pure co-incidence at the end of one of the streets we wandered down we found Paul sitting outside Mason el Castillo, a roadside cafe, drinking a beer and waiting for us to turn up. We ordered some food and drinks all round and relaxed there for a while, enjoying the atmosphere and some really nice tapas (again)!
I went for a quick walk around the area, up and down a few more streets, this part of town is really lovely.
It was not a bad day so we decided to head back to the car and drive down to sea and hopefully find an ice cream. On the way back we passed this building which looked like it had an old Roman era pillar holding up one corner of a mezzanine. Wonderful.
On the way to the car, parked in another free train station car park, we passed a real estate agent and was surprised to see that you could by a one bedroom flat in town for 26000 Euros… It probably wasn’t very nice, but that is much less than a car park in parts of London.
We drove down to El Puig, a small beach side town. Sadly, like so many other places in Spain El Puig has its share of failed building ventures and we parked right outside one of them. Liberally covered in graffiti, and broken walls visible through the gaps where doors and windows would have been, this place was a reminder of the failed fortunes of Spain and other places in Mediterranean Europe.
The beach was still nice, and there was plenty of other far more successful businesses along the strip of beach and the marina nearby. We walked down to the end of the marina and then back again, stopping for an ice cream – just as it started to get cold, before heading back to Lliria and Paul and Paula’s house.
I lit the fire inside, while Paul set up the fire in the outside stove, where he eventually baked a wonderful fresh salmon which we had for tea. It was another evening of wine and The Walking Dead and another quite late one. But we did almost finish season two!
We had another good sleep, before getting up quite early on Monday morning as El and I were flying back to London. Paula dropped us off at Lliria station and we caught what must have been a late rush hour train back into Valencia. It was reasonably full by the time we got in to the centre, though we crossed over to another line for the almost deserted train out to the airport.
And that was the end of our trip to Valencia. We had a great time, Paul and Paula’s place is fantastic, Paul and Paula are great hosts, Valencia is an awesome city and we are both really looking forward to going back again.