Saturday, October 6, 2012

Culture Overload: Museums in Valencia

Living in the old city of Valencia, the neighborhood is a living museum.  Walking out my door, I see historic buildings, beautiful churches, crazy street art.  Within minutes, I can be at the Modernist Mercado Central (yum!), the gothic Lonja de Seda and the Cathedral and Michalet Tower.  I can take a stroll through the Turia (a former river, now a beautiful park) and view the extremely modern buildings that make up the City of Arts and Sciences.  We are situated between two towers  (Torres Serrano and Torres de Quart) from the old city walls, which I can climb for a magnificent view of the city's rooftops (free on Sundays!).

In addition to the living museum that is the city, Valencia is full of wonderful museums.  With their ever-changing exhibits in addition to the art galleries and other events constantly going on in the city, I experience bouts of "cultural guilt" when I just want to indulge in the popular Spanish past-times of relaxing or lingering over a long lunch followed by siesta.  However, just walking to lunch can be an artistic journey, through beautiful buildings and amazing graffiti works.

 Here are just a few of the museums I enjoyed visiting:

The Museum of Prehistory and Valencia Ethnology Museum

I was so impressed by this "two for one" museum (ethnology museum in one side of the building, prehistory in the other).  Both are housed in the former Casa de Beneficencia right next to the IVAM modern art museum in The Carmen neighborhood.

The ethnology museum provides great context to the people and life in the Valencia province.   It is beautifully done and includes little information sheets in various languages so you can interpret the exhibits.  The prehistory museum is a poignant reminder of the deep, long history of Spain.  Is is dedicated to the archaeological heritage of the area and spans from the first inhabitants through the bronze age to the Roman world.  I particularly enjoyed the section on Iberian writing as well as the money display between the two museums (on par with the British Museum's exhibit).

I'm not sure this museum would be as interesting to someone visiting Valencia for the first time, but it should be appealing to almost anyone with how well done it is and wonderful for history buffs or anyone with a great interest in the area.

MUVIM (Museo Valenciano de la Illustracion y la Modernidad)

So, this was actually my second trip here (one of the great things about most of these museums is the ever-changing exhibits).  They've recently had a breathtaking African photo exhibit and a traveling jewelry exhibition.  Currently, they have quite apt futbol exhibits in light of all the excitement over the EuroCup championship.  I really enjoyed Cathedrals of Football and Football and Identity.

The permanent exhibit here is quite unique and more an experience than an exhibit.  It is called the Adventure in Thinking.  You tour it as a group at set times--they have regular tours in English but you need to find out the times and plan ahead.  I don't think it is really possibly to describe, but the concept is bringing you through the evolution of man and our relationship with the world around us as we developed science and philosophy and different ways of understanding our world.  Towards the end it can feel quite grim as you ponder some of the horrible things done in and to the world and think about where the future might be leading.  It was a truly unique experience.  The only part we found odd was when there is a brief "break" in a parlor where they give you some chocolates (that part was great!), but you just sit there for quite a while as they tour guide sits and reads a book (it kind of replicates a Victorian parlor and I guess this helps time the next stage and might be needed for larger groups).  I'd highly recommend checking this out, I think I'd like to go back and see it again to further "digest" it all.

Museo de Bellas Artes

Bellas Artes Museum

The fine art museum has some great Spanish classics, particularly from the Valencia school.  While it is no Prado, there are some real gems here which you can enjoy in a short time (unlike the Prado which I feel I have barely touched upon in two visits).  The building was used as the Convento del Carmen but has been added on to in order to house the museum and related offices.  There is a wonderful park adjacent as well, and the museum is just off the Turia, on the opposite side of the old city.  I particularly enjoyed the Sorolla paintings.

Valencia has so much to offer for all tastes, but don't miss some of the wonderful museums as well as some dedicated time to strolling to see the living art of the streets.  The best days can be spent wandering, getting lost in the old city and discovering.  Within Barrio Carmen there are small museums and historic buildings around every corner.  You just need a lot of extra time to look around, take photos and take things in at a Spanish pace...

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