La Seu district in Valencia, the oldest in the city.
Discover the centre of Valencian life with La Seu district
The district of La Seu in Valencia, is the oldest in the city and has been the centre of social, religious, political and military life since its origins. And it has remained so throughout the city’s more than 2,000 years of history. Passing through Romans, Visigoths, Muslims and Christians. Until the nineteenth century when the city council was moved from the Plaza de la Virgen to its current location. From that moment on, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is also the civil and social centre of Valencia.
Come and visit with us the most curious corners of the district of La Seu in Valencia. The historic centre of Valencia has a rich cultural heritage, including two World Heritage Sites: the Water Tribunal and the Silk Exchange. Discover with our guided tours in Valencia a city that will surprise you travelling more than 2,000 years back in time.
Origin of the district of La Seu
It is called La Seu district because it is the location of the Cathedral or Seu de Valencia. It is located within the district of Ciudad Vella.
Since it is the oldest district of Valencia, its limits are close to those of the Roman and Visigothic Valentia. These would be articulated around the streets of Avellanas, Mar, Corregería, Serranos and the old bed of the river Turia.
Origin of the La Seu district and the city of Valencia
Our city was born with the name of Valentia in 138 B.C. It was founded by discharged Roman soldiers who are awarded these lands under the command of the Roman Consul Decimo Junio Bruto. It is in the neighborhood of La Seu where they settle and therefore this is the origin of the city.
Why this place?
The Romans chose this place for several reasons. It was a river island, close to the sea, which facilitated the movement of goods by sea and therefore maritime trade and was also a strategic point of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, being an island offered some protection against the enemy.
Access to water is essential for any settlement and here there may also have been springs or wells because for the Romans the water is, even if possible, more important. In fact there are several building elements related to water. Opposite the thermal baths, located in the west, was the sanctuary of Asklepios, dedicated to the worship of water and its divinities.
To all this we must add that this place was just where the Via Augusta crossed on its way to Cadiz (Gades) from Rome.
The center has always been the center
The city was articulated around the intersection between the Cardo (north-south axis) and the Decumano (east-west axis). Today that intersection would correspond to the archaeological center of the Almoina.
After the destruction of the city of Valentia by Pompey’s troops in 75 B.C. it is not founded again until almost a century later. It was then, with Imperial Rome, that a major urban restructuring was undertaken. With it the forum, where we find the political center with the curia, the judicial center with the basilica and the religious center with the temple. In addition, a Roman circus was also built, located to the east, to carry out the carriage races.
With the arrival of the Visigoths in the 6th century the forum continued to be the centre of the city. Around it was located the temple (where the Cathedral of Valencia is today) and other key elements of the society of the time.
When the Muslims settled in Valencia in the 8th century, the main mosque replaced the former Byzantine temple. The Arab fortress was located in the Almudín. The royal pantheon in the current Plaza de la Almoina and the medina around the Plaza de la Reina to the west. Therefore the center of Muslim life remained the same as for their ancestors.
The Water Court
One of the most important things that the Muslims have left us, and which still remains to this day, is the Water Court. It has met every Thursday for more than 1000 years at the Gothic door of the Cathedral at 12:00. It is the oldest legal institution in Europe. It is a court that decides matters related to the use of water and irrigation of the channels of the river Turia. It has absolute legal validity and its sentences are unappealable. In addition, everything is done orally, in Valencian, and nothing is written down. It is Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Valencia also has two other World Heritage Sites: the Silk Exchange and the Fallas.
La Seu district and its main monuments
For anyone coming to Valencia, a guided tour of the district of La Seu in Valencia is essential. Around the district of La Seu we find some of the most representative and important monuments and buildings in the history of Valencia.
As an example of military Gothic we find the Torres de Serranos. Together with the Torres de Quart, they are the only defensive and entrance gates to the city that have been preserved from a total of 12 that were in Valencia to protect the city for more than 500 years.
As far as political life is concerned, we can visit the seat of the Cortes Valencianas, located in the Benicarló Palace or the Borja Palace. It was built in the 15th century as a residence of the Borja in Valencia. In medieval times, the importance and wealth of a family was also measured according to the dimensions of the façade of its buildings. This building has a lot of façade but it is not deep. From the 19th century it passed into the hands of the Count of Benicarló. It should be noted that it was the seat of government of the Second Spanish Republic, Valencia being the capital of the Republic.
The seat of the Valencian government is also located in the La Seu district, in the Palau de la Generalitat. It has its origin in the fifteenth century and its artistic style is the late Gothic. It arose with the need to administer the kingdom’s funds and have a place where the deputies of the Generalitat could meet. Its structure corresponds to those of the Valencian Gothic palaces. Its outbuildings are articulated around a central courtyard. The building consists of a central body and two towers. It is curious to note that although both towers seem to belong to the same period, this is not the case. The tower overlooking the Plaza de la Virgen dates from the 16th century, while the tower overlooking the Plaza de Manises was built in the middle of the 20th century.
As far as religious life is concerned, there are many temples in the district of La Seu. Among them the most representative would be the Cathedral and the Basilica of the Virgen de los Desamparados.
- Cathedral. Of Gothic style, with later enlargements. The altarpiece of the high altar painted by Fernando Yánez de la Almedina, disciple of Leonardo da Vinci, the Chapel of the Holy Chalice, that of San Francisco de Borja, with paintings by Goya, is worth mentioning. And the Cathedral Museum with its crypt and its spectacular Custody, one of the largest in Spain.
Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados. Dedicated to the patron saint of the city, built in the 17th century in baroque style. Inside, the frescoes in the dome painted by Antonio Palomino stand out. Considered one of the most notable figures in Spanish painting from the 17th to 18th centuries. In them Palomino shows us a great celestial vault that leaves no one indifferent. One of the great works he left in Valencia.
Santa Catalina church. This temple is one of the 10 founding parishes of the reconquest of Valencia by Jaume I. In its place there was a Muslim temple. In the Cistercian Gothic style, the bell tower is one of the most original examples of Baroque architecture.
San Nicolás de Bari y San Pedro Mártir church. One of the most emblematic churches in the city of Valencia that has recovered its splendour after a complicated and spectacular restoration that was completed at the beginning of the year 2016. San Nicolás and its baroque frescoes captivate all its visitors. The church maintains its fifteenth-century Gothic structure but is completely covered with baroque frescoes from the seventeenth century with an area of almost 2,000 square meters (more than the 800 square meters of the Sistine Chapel), made by Antonio Palomino and his disciple Dionís Vidal. Known as the “Valencian Sistine Chapel”, nickname given to it by Gianluigi Colalucci himself, chief restorer of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Basilica.
San Esteban church. It is one of the first Christian churches built on a mosque. According to Gaspar Esclano there may have been a Roman temple in his place. This temple has undergone several interventions over the years. The 17th century interior is decorated with plasterwork and stuccoes. It was the baptismal place of San Vicente Ferrer.
San Lorenzo church. In the same way, this temple was also one of the first founding parishes built over an old mosque.
Santísimo Cristo del Salvador church. It was also one of the first churches after the reconquest built on an old mosque.
La Seu was also home to the nobles and most influential people of the time. That is why the district has many palaces and stately homes. Let’s mention a few of them.
Marqués de la Scala and la Bailía Palace.
Catalá de Valeriola Palace.
The Almudín. This is a medieval building that would be located on the Muslim Alcazar. Its function would be to store wheat and grain in the city of Valencia.
The Almoina. It would correspond to a charity and would be located in the square that has his name.
The Town Hall. Until the 19th century it was located in what are today the gardens of the Palau de la Generalitat. However, due to the conditions in which it was found, it was moved to its current location, in the Town Hall Square.
If you want to know the details of the history of the origin of the city of Valencia by visiting its oldest district, La Seu district, contact us. With our guided tours in Valencia and by our official guides we will show you all this and much more in a pleasant way.