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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

All the History You Need to Know About Valencia

The original arms granted to Valencia by Jaume I.

All the History You Need to Know About Valencia

People had been living in this area of the Mediterranean since before recorded history. A city was founded here by the Romans in 138 B.C. which they called Valentia Edetanorum. In the 6th century A.D., after centuries of Roman decline, the city was taken over by the Visigoths. This is a part of their history that locals here rarely discuss. Most Valencianos sort of see the Visigoths are their hillbilly ancestors who ran things for a while until more civilized folks moved in. In arguments at home when the insults are flying, the Visigoths are always on the other side of family.

Valencia was under Muslim rule for centuries beginning in 714 A.D. They brought with them oranges, olives, silk, rice and ceramics which were to remain integral to the local economy for centuries afterward, some are still vital today. They also introduced irrigation to the area and because of this the region is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Spain. Other than these things, and the great architecture they introduced, and their relatively tolerant view of other religions, the Moors didn’t do much for Valencia and the rest of Spain, at least not if you believe the history written by the eventual victors.

In 1094 Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid from the Arabic meaning “The Man” or “The Boss,” took back Valencia from the Moors. El Cid converted nine mosques into Christian churches which went a long way in assuring his popularity with the clergy which was the only literate class in this era. He was rewarded for his deeds with the Lay of El Cid, the oldest preserved tale of heroic deeds in all of Spain. He died five years later in 1099 and the city was recaptured by the Moorish dynasty of the Almoravids in 1102. Writing a heroic tale of El Cid’s very short-lived conquest of Valencia would be like someone writing a song praising a bad car repair job. I would say that El Cid’s conquering and Moor-evicting feats were way over-rated.

The single most celebrated event and date in Valencia is October 9, 1238 when Jaume I, king of the Crown of Aragon, entered Valencia and freed it, once and for all, of Moorish occupation. The people here are Spanish which means that they have a love for holidays, but October 9th is the most important of the dozens of holidays throughout the year. On second thought, the spring Fallas festival is a huge affair. They take their holidays here pretty seriously so trying to rate them in terms of importance is a dangerous business. Perhaps it would be safer if I were to simply say that October 9th is an important day for Valencianos. I don't think I am stepping on any toes when I put it that way.

This date in history marks the beginning of Valencia as an independent kingdom and has shaped the way Valencianos have thought about themselves from that day to the present. Part of the national character of Spain involves the ways in which the different regions of the country either try to emphasize how different they are from the rest of Spain or how their region epitomizes the true essence of what it means to be Spanish.

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