“Quedamos en el río” (Let’s meet up in the river) is a phrase that is often heard in Valencia but if you are a tourist or a newcomer you might find it difficult to actually locate this mysterious river we go on about.
What we actually refer to is the Old Riverbed of the Turia River (Antiguo Cauce del Río Turia). In 1957 there was a disastrous flood that inundated the whole city centre resulting in countless lives lost and causing significant damage. In response to this catastrophe, known locally as La Riuà, the river was diverted to the south of the city via a huge man-made channel in order to protect Valencia from any other potential floods. The old riverbed was going to be converted into a high-speed motorway but luckily it was rescued from such a ridiculous idea and converted into a park instead.
Nowadays this area is the green lung of Valencia, a sort of oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The park starts close to the actual river (with water) with the Parque de Cabecera (Cabecera Park) adjacent to the new zoo of Valencia known as Bioparc and it flows towards the Mediterranean Sea with the Jardins del Turia (Turia Gardens) containing the Palau de la Música (Palace of Music) and Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). During the flood many bridges were destroyed but thankfully some of the oldest bridges survived such as Puente de la Trinidad and Puente de Serranos.
In most cities where there is a river, the underside of a bridge is rarely seen but in Valencia we have the advantage of being able to experience these bridges not just to cross from one side to another but also to wander underneath.
Let’s check out these bridges from a different perspective, a perspective that most people don’t really stop to appreciate:
Pasarela Arco del Bioparc
This footbridge built in 2008 crosses the central lake of the Parque de Cabecera (Cabecera Park) and allows access to the Bioparc (Valencia Zoo).
Puente Nueve de Octubre (Pont del Nou d’Octubre)
This bridge named after the date of the Reconquest of Valencia from the Moors on the 9th October 1238 was built between 1986-1989 by Santiago Calatrava before he was well known. It was meant to include a shallow pool to reflect the bridge in the water but construction costs got so out hand that it wasn’t built; going over budgets later became synonymous with Calatrava’s works across the world.
Pasarela Peatonal de la Casa del Agua
This precarious footbridge lined with metallic grates was built in the 80s over an ancient dam known as Azud de Rovella; it still remains in situ although it has been altered.
Puente de Campanar (Pont de Campanar)
It was originally built in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War but it had to be reconstructed in 1958 following the tragic flood of Valencia.
Puente de Ademuz (Pont d’Adémus)
After the death of Spanish Dictator Franco in 1975 and consequently Spain’s transition to democracy many rural to urban migrants set up camp under this bridge. In order to usher them out “peacefully”, a shallow pool of water was built under the bridge so that these migrants would have to find an alternative place to sleep.
Pasarela Peatonal del antiguo Patronato
This footbridge was originally built in 1922 after the disappearance of the boatmen who used to cross people on their little boats when there was no other means of crossing. Following the flood of 1957 it had to be reconstructed.
Puente de las Artes (Pont de les Arts)
This bridge was built between 1993 – 1998 when the old riverbed had already been converted into a park.
Puente de San José (Pont de Sant Josep)
There has been a bridge in this spot since 1486 but the one we see today was actually built in 1607. One of the primitives bridges made of wood was damaged during the flood of 1517 and therefore it was rebuilt in masonry so that it would resist any other disaster. Under this bridge on the banks of the river there was a sort of shanty town but it was completely destroyed in another flood which affected Valencia in 1957; countless lives were lost and most of them were undocumented poor people who no one claimed.
Puente de Serranos (Pont dels Serrans)
As with the Puente de San Jose, this bridge was also initially built in wood but following the flood of 1517 it too was rebuilt in masonry. This is the second oldest bridge in Valencia and was built between 1518 – 1550 in the Gothic style.
Puente de Madera (Pont de Fusta)
Originally it used to be a wooden footbridge that used to disappear each time there was a flood in Valencia. Following the flood of 1957 it was built in concrete but in 2012 it was replaced by a contemporary bridge instead. One side is a footbridge lined with wooden planks to evoke the original design of the bridge while the other side is used just for traffic.
Puente de la Trinidad (Pont de la Trinitat)
This is the oldest surviving bridge in Valencia and dates from 1402 although it was restored following the 1957 flood. It is built in the Gothic style.
Puente del Real (Pont del Real)
Originally built in 1598 it was reconstructed following the 1957 flood. My favourite part of this bridge is, without a doubt, the funny looking trees that you are met with once you go under this bridge. In Spanish they are known as Palos Borrachos (Drunken sticks) and they are part of the baobab family. The trees have swollen trunks with thorns but these thorns are shaved off periodically to avoid any mishaps.
Puente de la Exposición (Pont de l’Exposició)
The original bridge was built in 1909 mark the celebrations of the Regional Valencian Expo and was decorated with Art Deco motifs but it was destroyed during the 1957 flood. It was replaced by an austere bridge and finally it was replaced with the current bridge built by Santiago Calatrava. In contrast to Calatrava’s first bridge (Puente de Nueve de Octubre) built at the beginning of this architects career, this bridge is clearly built in the style that Calatrava is now famous for. Beneath the bridge there are are triangular glass shapes which provide light to the metro station located below.
Puente de las Flores (Pont de les Flors)
I am not going to get into the controversial waste of money of the flowers that are replaced periodically that gives this bridge its name (Bridge of Flowers). It was also built by Santiago Calatrava and was opened in 2002.
Puente del Mar (Pont del Mar)
Yet another bridge with a shallow pool of water that beautifully reflects both the bridge and the palm trees that line it. It is also one of the historic bridges that still survives dating from around 1596.
Puente de Aragon (Pont d’Aragó)
The Turia River may be a distant memory but the theme of water is still present; apart from a shallow pool of water it also has a series of water fountains that flow in shallow channels around the central pool of water. Under the bridge there are also a few rock climbing holds for those who want to hang around like monkeys.
Puente del Ángel Custodio (Pont de l’Angel Custodi)
This bridge built in 1948 is as underwhelming underneath as it is up top. Moving on…
Puente del Reino (Pont del Regne)
In contrast to the previous bridge, this bridge is as interesting underneath as it is up above. First of all you are met with imposing statues of winged creatures reminiscent of medieval gargoyles and underneath there are a series of protruding gutters in the shape of some sort of mythological bird. There is also (or at least there used to be) a few graffitis depicting humans with bird heads characteristic of the Valencian street artist Vinz. And to top it all off there is a famous park known as Parque Gulliver (Gulliver’s Park). This bridge has definitely stolen the show from the Puente del Ángel Custodio.
Puente de Monteolivete (Pont de Montolivet)
You can only tell from down below that this bridge is actually two completely different bridges built in contrasting styles. The first bridge was designed in 1992 by José Antonio Fernandez Ordoñez, however, it was redesigned in 2007 by Calatrava after the City of Arts and Sciences was practically completed. The redesign fits in better with the futuristic atmosphere of this part of the river.
Puente del Azud de Oro (Pont de l’Assut de l’Or)
This is the only single pylon cable-stayed bridge that spans the former riverbed of the Turia River and was built by Calatrava in 2008. As impressive as it is I shan’t get into the controversy of the actual total cost of this bridge…but hey, it was designed by Calatrava so who can be surprised?
A word of warning: don’t wander under these bridges after around 11.30pm as it can be a bit scary if you bump into some undesired character and then can’t find a ramp or stairs to get the hell out of there.