April 22nd, Valencia - City of Arts and Sciences

Sueann and I had only two days to visit Valencia.  On the first day we walked around the old town as we described in our previous story, “Valencia - Old Town”  (http://www.jedast.com/catalonia/6-story.html).

On the second day we took the bus to Santiago Calatrava’s Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias which we shall henceforce call the City of Arts and Sciences, an assembly of amazing structures/buildings that make up a large-scale urban recreation center for culture and science.

At the point where we got off the bus, all we could see was the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía which is Valencia's new stunning opera house and performing arts center.

The Opera House    The Opera House      
And stunned is actually what I felt as I stepped down from the bus and saw this large ...  this large ... this large lovely thingWas it the vanguard of an extra-terrestial civilization come to Earth or perhaps a huge killer whale looking for its next meal.

"Almost ethereal, Valencia's Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía stands at the edge of the Mediterranean, its egg-shaped dome looking something like an ocean liner's hull or a spaceship. Designed by leading architect and native son of the city Santiago Calatrava, the building is a gleaming composition: curved walls, rolling stairways; turquoise reflecting pools topped by a detached, feather-like roof. But the Palau is more than an architectural masterpiece. An opera house that cost in the neighborhood of 325 million euros to build, it is also the riskiest element in the city's gamble to become one of Europe's major cultural destinations." Geoff Pingree, Time Magazine Feb 6, 2007.

According the the City of Arts and Science's website, the Palau was designed with two intentions: to act as a multi-hall auditorium and also to serve as an urban landmark "of monumental nature for the city of Valencia."  While I cannot atest to its value as an auditorium it certainly achieves the goal of being a great landmark for Valencia.

The photo below which I found on the Web shows some of the building/structures of the complex.  The closet building (on the right) is the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía Opera house which is separated from the remaining structures by a Calatrava bridge.

                                        Panorama of the City of Arts and Sciences

Standing on the bridge and looking away from the Opera house we see several of the building structures.


In the center up front is L'Hemisfèric which has the shape of an eye (a bit hard to see from this angle).  It has an internal dome which functions as an Imax Cinema, Planetarium and Laserium.  I was disapointed to learn that none of the shows in the Hemisferic concered the City of Arts and Sciences itself.  Nothing about Calatrava.  All Imax marine shows and the like targetting families and children..

Here is a photo (not mine) of the Hemisferic at night with its reflection in the surrounding water..


And here we see the Opera house "chasing" the Hemisferic, about ready to jump over Calatrava's bridge.


From the bridge looking to the right we see the Umbracle (greenhouse) which is shaped by a succession of fixed arches and floating arches.   The Umbracle serves as a garden area below which is a large parking garage.  Because of its parking function, it is considered to be the entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences.


From the bridge looking to the left of the Hemisferic is the the Prince Felipe Science Museum with "220 meters of white concrete prongs that resemble the ribs of a dinosaur or the spine of a giant fish." (Dale Fuchs, International Herald Tribune). This structure houses a hands-on science museum mostly for young people.  We walked though the bottom story where there are gift shops, a small book store and a cafe.


Behind the Science Museum lies the Oceanographic, which we did not have the time to visit. L'Oceanografic was designed by Spanish architect Felix Candelais and is the largest marine park in Europe, home to 500 species of fish and other sea creatures from every ocean of the world. It consists of a collection of smaller structures grouped around and across a water reservoir. Most of the viewing is undergound where walkways go under and between transparent tanks..

               Entrance to L'Oceanofgrafic                                                                                  Tunnel  

                                                                 Map of L'Oceanografic - Click to Enlarge

Some Final Thoughts on The City of Arts and Sciences

The City of Arts and Sciences is a spectacular display of Calatrava's architecture and as the Michelin Travel guides would say "it is worth a visit" (i.e., not only a detour).  It is visually stunning and one can easily spend a few hours just strolling around its 7 kilometers of walkways.  Calatrava was proud that you need not spend a penny to do so.  I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to find that these stunning works of art, the buildings, were used only for recreation aimed at children.  I would have liked, for example, for the Prince Felipe Science Museum to have been used as a science library and for the Hemisferic to have shown films that would help us to appreciate and understand Calatrava's vision and realization of the place.  But for sure, if you ever have the chance, do not miss a visit to the City of Arts and Sciences.

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