14 February 2011

Valencia's spectacular Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències

Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències is this complex's name in Valencian. In Spanish it's known as the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and in English it's The City of Arts and Sciences. What ever the language, the entire complex is nothing short of magic.

I was in Valencia to attend Cevisama, the Spanish tile and bath industry's massive trade show and I was there as a journalist. My transportation, food and lodging were taken care of by ASCER, the Spanish tile manufacturer's association. ASCER is known in North America as Tile of Spain.

Valencia is an ancient city. It was founded along the banks of the Turia river by the Romans in 137 BCE. The Romans called it Valentia. Valentia means valor in Latin and Valencia was a city established for the benefit of retired Roman soldiers.

The heart of Valencia looks like an ancient city should and the buildings show the effects of 2100 years' worth of human habitation and development. Like a lot of European cities, Valencia juxtaposes the ancient with the shockingly modern with grace and gusto. That's definitely true of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències. In this case, Valenica let homegrown architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela go wild and despite the free form nature of these buildings, they relate to the actual uses of the buildings and they're thoroughly grounded in Valencian culture.

The complex consists of seven principle structures and they are:

  • L'Hemisfèric — an Imax Cinema, Planetarium and Laserium. Built in the shape of the eye and has an approximate surface of 13,000 m².
  • El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe — an interactive museum of science but resembling the skeleton of a whale. It occupies around 40,000 m² on three flats.
  • L'Umbracle — a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia (such as rockrose, lentisca, romero, lavender, honeysuckle, bougainvillea, palm tree). It harbors in its interior The Walk of the Sculptures, an outdoor art gallery with sculptures from contemporary artists. (Miquel from Navarre, Francesc Abbot, Yoko Ono and others).
  • L'Oceanogràfic — an open-air oceanographic park. It is the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe with 110,000 square meters and 42 million liters of water. It was built in the shape of a water lily and is the work of architect Félix Candela.
  • El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía — an opera house and performing arts center. It contains four large rooms: a Main Room, Magisterial Classroom, Amphitheater and Theater of Camera. It is dedicated to music and the scenic arts.
  • El Puente de l'Assut de l'Or — a bridge that connects the south side with Minorca Street, whose 125 meters high pillar is the highest point in the city.
  • L'Àgora — a covered plaza in which concerts and sporting events (such as the Valencia Open 500) are held.
I walked around it for a few hours on Friday afternoon and I was struck mute by the experience. It was great to have the chance to be alone with these buildings and I could let the complex affect me without having to worry about other people's reactions to my oftentimes emotional responses to what I saw.

I'm standing under one of the support structures of El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, the Science Museum. That's El Puente de l'Assut de l'Or bridge and L'Àgora in the background. The entire structure of L'Àgora is covered with deep blue Trencadís mosaic. Trencadís is shattered, ceramic tile and is a very traditional material all over Spain.

I'm looking to the northeast of the complex in this photo. To the right is El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe and to the left is the underside of L'Umbracle. To the rear is L'Hemisfèric and behind it is El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

The first shot I ran is one I took in the opposite direction to this shot. Here it is again.

So looking to the southwest shows L'Hemisfèric and El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe to the left, L'Umbracle to the right, and El Puente de l'Assut de l'Or bridge and L'Àgora to the rear.

There was an art installation going on along the walkway next to L'Umbracle and like a fool I didn't write down the name of the artist. I apologize to the artist, the work was exuberant and cheerful.

I'm standing on a bridge directly in front of El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, the Valencia Opera House. The Palau shines because it's covered entirely in white Trencadís mosaic. Here's a detail shot of Trencadís.

Here's another shot of the Palau.

The cantilevered roof over the Palau is nothing shot of miraculous. The building itself is enormous and its unsupported roof is the largest cantilever I've ever seen. That it arcs down over the course of its run defies every rule of physics there is.

Here's a shot of the concrete work of El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe. I kept marveling the whole time I was there, how do you get building products like concrete and steel to behave like this?

I've been following the building of this complex since it started in the late '90s and that I've now seen it with my own eyes makes me wonder whose life it is I'm living all of the sudden. I cannot thank Tile of Spain enough for the chance to experience the wonders of Spain.


  1. Absolutely stunning architecture.

  2. Thanks Raina, it was like visiting another dimension.

  3. I miss you, Paul!! So excited i get to hear your voice on Tuesday! Question on your post though, why the French? http://www.cac.es/home/

  4. Paul I'm so glad I had your help buying a new camera. Your shots are incredible!
    I want to attend your webinar on Tuesday too. Can you send me the details. I'm going through Paul withdrawls!

  5. Nice job on the post and the pix, Paul. How long are you home for this time? ;)

  6. Amanda: I miss you and the rest of the gang too. That was an amazing eight days and something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. Again, thank you. All of the names of the buildings are in Valencian and I thought my links were too. Do I have some French links in there?

    Emily: I just shot you an e-mail with the info. "See" you tomorrow at 11am!

    Gloria: Thanks. I am home for the next four weeks. Now ask me how happy I am about that.

  7. Amazing architecture and shots! You and Bob Borson should combine your photographs and do a Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias lookbook.

  8. The structures look amazing, you'd wonder how it was constructed.

  9. WOW doesn't come close to covering it. These buildings are absolutely spectacular! The thought and time and work and effort and planning that must have gone into designing and then making those designs reality.... it's pretty mind-boggling! I don't blame you for getting emotional over these buildings, they're truly spectacular!


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