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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

El Jardín del Turia

Before I got here I had read a little about Valencia’s Turia Garden, a park that meanders from the northwest corner of the old city to the southern reaches and will soon run all the way to the port. This marks the 30th anniversary of the park when this former river bed began the change from a muddy expanse of debris and overgrowth into what is now a signature feature of the city.
There is a new causeway for flood waters to the west of the city which left the old river bed superfluous. At one point there was talk of using the site for a highway but in December of 1976 the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, handed over this area of Valencia to be used as a public park. Perhaps it isn’t coincidental that his was only a year after the death of the Spanish dictator Franco.
The Turia Garden is like a Central Park that comes to you. It stretches from one side of Valencia to the other. You have to walk down to enter the park, as if you were descending into a subway entrance. About midway through the park there is a subway stop. The park is bordered on both sides by the ancient stone river walls and is crossed by 18 bridges, the oldest of which date back to the XIV century.
The park is a blend of aesthetic beauty and function. There are manicured gardens as well as forests of pines and date palms. Fountains and ponds are scattered throughout the park which now is something like eight kilometers long. A separate bike path runs from one end to the other. I saw some Spanish kids playing baseball the other day, they weren’t playing very well but they were trying. One kid fielded an infield grounder and then stood there thinking whether he should kick it or throw it to first base. There are rugby fields, diamonds, basketball courts, and, of course, soccer fields all of which have lights for night games. There is even a rock climbing wall hidden under one of the ancient bridges.
There are a few scattered cafes inside the park, but for the most part it is free of any sort of commerce—there is plenty of that above the park on either side. There is no vehicular traffic in the park, aside from the kiddie train the rolls by occasionally. Although it is only a few hundreds yards in width, the park is incredibly quiet because it is below the level of the street. The Turia Garden is a perfect refuge from the city above and around it. It is one of my favorite things about Valencia.

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