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It has become a reliable formula: host a major event or commission a world famous architect and hey presto, a completely forgotten city is back on the map. It worked for Lisbon, Barcelona and Bilbao. Then, it was the turn of the capital of the Orange Blossom Coast. And the formula proved successful once again: the City of Arts and Sciences has become the top attraction in Valencia.
Strangely enough a natural disaster turned out to be the precursor of Valencia’s revival. In 1957, the eternal sunshine that has made the eastern Spanish coast so popular made way for a diabolic thunderstorm. Through a bizarre combination of weather conditions it rained for 13 days straight. The Turia, a river that normally flows calmly through town, transformed into a raging mass of water. The floods left 10,000 residents homeless, claimed 400 lives and destroyed Valencia.
After the floods of 1957, the city took drastic measures: the Turia River was diverted. As a result, the city was left with a huge dry river bed, which decades later provided the required space for an ambitious project. The first stone was laid in 1996 and 13 years later, the City of Arts and Sciences was completed. The complex consists of 7 buildings, including the Palau de les Arts, an opera building in the shape of a sailboat; the Museu de les Ciències, a huge science museum in the shape of a whale skeleton; and one of the newer buildings, the Àgora, an event hall that symbolises 2 folded hands. Like UFOs in the river bed, the buildings sprouted from the creative mind of Valencia’s most famous son: world famous architect Santiago Calatrava. His “sculptures” are musts for fans of modern architecture, but even regular visitors will find plenty to see and do in the City of Arts and Sciences.
“Santiago Calatrava’s unique buildings seem to have descended like UFOs.”
The Museu de les Ciències is one of the most fun science museums in the world. It says “Es prohibix no tocar” – forbidden to not touch. The 40,000 square metres of exhibit space provides insight into complex topics like gravity, the theory of relativity and DNA. That may sound boring, but the displays are colourful and flashy, with images and sounds, bells and whistles and many interactive features. The only building that wasn’t designed by Calatrava but by his colleague Félix Candela, is the Oceanogràfic. Europe’s largest aquarium contains 42 million litres of water and is home to 40,000 animals, ranging from colourful puffer fish to adorable penguins.