History of Valencia

Do you want to get to know the history of Valencia? We will tell you the origin of its name, get to know Valencia before you go.

Famous for its beaches, its cuisine, for the City of Arts and Sciences, with futuristic structures and of course, for its history!

Origin and history of Valencia

The history of Valencia is fascinating. But let’s take it one step at a time.

Roman Valentia (138 BCE – 711 CE)

The history of Valencia begins in 138 BCE. Valencia was a Roman city built on the current Plaza de la Virgen, by Consul in Hispania, Décimo Junius Brutus. It was a walled citadel (much more basic than we know today) near the sea and the Turia River, where it was crossed by the Via Augusta, the Roman equivalent of a highway, which spanned from Italy to Andalusia.

Valencia, an island in the middle of the Turia River, was the only area suitable for cultivation, as there were only marshes and swamps around it.

It was considered a big city for the time. About 2000 settlers lived there. These were former soldiers who were given land around the city. There is a theory that the first inhabitants of Valencia were deported Lusitanians. I personally do not believe in this hypothesis, for two reasons:

  • Nearby were the allied cities of Sagunto and Xativa, and Valencia was a strategic point. A city located on the Via Augusta road, which gave some control over the territory, would not have been given to defeated enemy soldiers.
  • The name valentia, which was given by Décimo Junius Brutus, means “brave”, so it is more likely that the consul awarded his men land for their courage and bravery.

In 75 BCE the city was destroyed by the war between Pompey and Sertorius and was almost completely abandoned. Some 50 years later, Octavian Augustus recovered it with the rank of colony. The city began to grow, due to the influx of peninsular Romans. Valentia received a boost to its status with the construction of of a circus, water supply and most importantly, a forum – which today is an area comprised of the Almoyna Square, Plaza del Virgen and Valencia Cathedral.

In the 2nd century CE the circus, where chariot races were held, had a capacity of 10,000 people. This gives us an idea of the growth of Valencia.

In 306, the first Christian community in Valentia was established in memory of Vicentius, a deacon from Zaragoza. After prolonged torture in Valentian prisons, Vicentius died on January 22, 304. He is remembered today as St. Vincent the Martyr, patron saint of Valencia.

In the 5th century, Valentia endured a period of instability. In the year 476, barbarian tribes dethroned Romulus Augustus, leading to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Islamic Valencia (711 CE – 1094 CE)

In 711, under the rule of Agrescio, Valencia was besieged by Umayyad Moorish armies led by Berber commander Tariq. The initial attacks were rebuffed and Moorish casualties were three times those of the defenders. Both Agrescio and Táriq, agreed on a capitulation, obtaining the surrender of the city to the Moors. The inhabitants could continue to live in their homes, respecting the political and military authority of the conquerors and the payment of the agreed tax. Under the Moors, the city became known as Balansiya.

Mixed marriages became frequent as the Moors brought few women on their conquests. Everything seems to indicate that after the conquest, both populations, the Christian majority and the Muslim minority, comprised of the political and military elite, lived together peaceably.

Over time, the majority of the population adopted the Arabic language, Islamic faith and Moorish customs. Mosques were built and the richness of Valencia’s cultivated areas increased.

Muslim Spain was known as Al Andalus and was governed from Cordoba, first by the Independent Emirate established by Abderraman I in 756 and later by the Caliphate of Cordoba, proclaimed by Abderraman III in 929.

Following the death of Abderrahman III, the Caliphate of Cordoba was dissolved and the Taifa Kingdoms were born, with Balansiya being one of the most important in the Muslim world. Abdullah al Balansí (the Valencian), governor of the city, built a small garden palace on the outskirts of the city, calling it Russafa, today, the bohemian Ruzafa district.

In 1011 and Balansiya was governed by Mubárak and Muzáffar, whose despotic rule caused a popular revolt, thus ending their mandate.

In 1021 Balansiya’s luck changed under the leadership of Abdulaziz ben Abi Amir (grandson of Al-Mansoor). At the age of 15 he became the first king of the Muslim Taifa of Balansiya. The 40 years of his reign were characterised by peace and prosperity. During his reign, Abdulaziz created great works of engineering, and built extensive fortifications around the city.

The construction of this new wall is one of the fundamental milestones in the history of Valencia, since the configuration of the Muslim city will remain unchanged until the 14th century.

El Cid (1094 CE – 1102 CE)

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, remembered as El Cid, was a Castilian knight who fought during the wars of succession under Sancho (the future Sancho II of Castile and Leon). It is likely his epithet, campeador, stems from his time as a warrior in open field battles.

El Cid conquered the city of Valencia in 1094, taking advantage of political instability. He died in Valencia in 1099. Doña Jimena, his widow, managed to defend the city against the Almoravids until 1102, when King Alfonso VI of Castile ordered the evacuation of the city. Before fleeing Valencia, the Castilian armies set fire to the city and the main mosque.

Muslim Valencia H3 (1102 CE – 1238 CE)

From 1102 to 1145 the city was ruled by Almoravid governors controlled from Marrakesh. A short period of peace and stability follows.

The fall of Almoravid power coincides with the rise of a new North African dynasty, the Almohads – a radical Orthodox group that demanded strict compliance with Islamic norms. The Almohads ruled the peninsula from 1145. Their entry into Valencia, however, was halted by Mohamed Ibn Mardanis, monarch of Valencia and Murcia. Born in Peñiscola, a Christian converted to Islam, Mardanis boasted having the purest of Arab lineages however his surname was a corruption of his original family name: Martinez.

Mardanis was an Andalusian military man, a ruthless dictator, who proclaimed himself an independent emir. He dedicated himself to building palaces and gardens, which meant an increase in taxes and the subsequent discontent of the population.

The Madarnis repressions provided the impetus for the Almohad onslaught. In 1165, at the battle of Fahs aj-Jallab, the vast combined Christian-Andalusian forces were defeated by the Almohad armies.

On his deathbed in 1172, Mardanis advised his sons to surrender, and they reached an agreement with the Almohad caliph Abu Yakub Yusuf. Henceforth, Valencia was ruled by the Mardanis family, but under the authority of the Almohad Empire.

Kingdom of Valencia (1238 CE – Present Day)

In the year 1238 Jaime I conquered the city and established new laws, a new society and new language that have continued to this day.

At the time of its capture, the Kingdom of Valencia comprised a population of 120,000 Muslims, 65,000 Christians and 2,000 Jews.

According to the Arab historian, Hussein Mones, King Zahen delivered the keys of the city to Jaime I, saying to him:

“In the city of Valencia, Muslims, my noble people, live together with Christians and Jews. I hope that you know how to govern them so that they continue to live in the same harmony and work this noble land together. Here, during my reign, Holy Week processions went out and Christians professed their religion in complete freedom, since our Koran recognizes Christ and the Virgin. I hope that you will grant the same treatment to the Muslims of Valencia.”

On October 9th, King Jaime I entered the newly-conquered city and went to the Mosque. He consecrated the space and converted into a Cathedral, thereafter officiating the first mass.

In 1240 CE the Kingdom of Valencia was officially cited.

Present-day Valencia

The city of Valencia has around 800,000 inhabitants and is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.

A Latin inscription mentioning the foundation of the city is still evident in the pavement of the Plaza de la Virgen. Within the same plaza is a monumental neo-classical fountain, inaugurated in 1976. In the centre of the fountain, a reclining statue of a man, respresenting the River Turia, holds a cornucopia from which spill the fruits of the Valencian countryside. The eight women who accompany him, all with Valencian hairstyles, represent the eight canals of the River Turia.

In the mid-1980s, excavation work on the Metro uncovered the remains of the Roman forum, the original kernel from which the city of Valencia grew. To visit the Plaza de la Almoina and its spectacular Museum, is to journey to the very origins of Roman Valentia and the history of Valencia.

If you are planning to visit Valencia, here is what you need to know: Valencia Information

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