Once upon a time, the Turia River ran through Valencia, Spain, cradling the Old Town and flowing into the Mediterranean Sea just to the east. The river was prone to floods, and in 1957, a particularly nasty one did massive damage to the city and even killed many of its citizens. The Valencians had had enough and decided to show mother nature who’s boss. They diverted the river out of the city and turned the riverbed into a fabulous eco-park.
Bit by bit over the years, they have added things to the riverbed garden park, from playgrounds to fountains and even major buildings. The influences of the Arabs, Romans and Christians are all present, and the bridges, some of which date back to the 15th century, still cross the river, so you won’t find any cars disturbing the peace.
I took a bike tour through the riverbed in Valencia and encountered all sorts of unexpected and awesome things. Here are ten of them.1. The most amazing jungle gym ever
It looks like something you’d design in math class but never actually create. I would play all over that.
2. An idyllic bower
This bower is so classical it looks like a painting, and its benches have a lovely view of a secluded fountain.
3. A cat on a tree covered in graffiti
I couldn’t resist shooting this cat. Let’s call him Freddy W.
4. A fleshy playground shaped like Gulliver
I know, right? Believe it or not, the Valencia riverbed is home to a Gulliver playground, inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It’s really weird-looking, and the idea of playing all over some giant’s body makes me sort of uncomfortable. I’d prefer the jungle gym.
5. Bicycles built for four
That’s me in one of the kooky bike-carriage thingies you can rent in the riverbed. They have larger ones for more people.
6. An opera house
This building is the northernmost one in the infamous City of Arts and Sciences complex, designed by Valencian Santiago Calatrava. I’m not completely certain, but I have a hunch that it can fly.
7. A dinosaur (and science museum)
Brawwwrrrrrr! This dinosaur, advertising a temporary exhibit at the Principe Felipe Science Museum, is enormous. And he moves.
8. A planetarium
The is the Hemisferic, Valencia’s planetarium, also within the City of Arts and Sciences complex. Legend has it that it was designed specifically to look like an eyeball at night when it’s reflected in the water.
9. An event space that looks like a blue whale
This Calatrava building in the City of Arts and Sciences reminds me so much of a blue whale I thought it must be the aquarium, but the aquarium is further south. This is an event space.
10. An aquarium
Lastly, the Valencia riverbed is home to the Oceanografic, Valencia’s fantastic aquarium. To read about it and watch some videos of the amazing marine life there, click: Night at the Valencia Aquarium – videos and more.
If you want to rent a bike to tour the gardens in the riverbed where the Turia once flowed on your visit to Valencia, you can find them at ValenciaBIKES.com.
[Photos by Annie Scott.]