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Founded as a Roman military colony called Valentia Edetanorum in 138BC, Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain. Its original ruler was Roman consul Decimus Junius Brutus Galaico. Razed in 75BC by Pompey to punish it for supporting Sertorius instead of him, it was rebuilt 50 years later and quickly became one of the most important cities in the Roman province of Tarraconesis.
Following the end of the Roman period, Valencia was occupied by the Moors, Visigoths, Catalans and Aragonese. When Islamic culture settled here in the early years of the 10th century, Valencia prospered thanks to a booming trade in paper, silk, leather, ceramics, glass and silver-work. The Saint Vincent Cathedral was turned into a mosque and the Moors left their marks in Valencia’s architecture.
In 1238, Valencia was besieged by the King James I of Aragon who kicked out 54,000 Moors and repopulated the new kingdom with Catalans and Aragonese. The Christians reconverted many edifices back into churches, including the cathedral. Despite the best efforts of attackers, and the harsh punishments meted out by royals and church, by the 15th century Valencia had developed into one of the biggest cities in the Mediterranean.
This was Valencia’s golden age, a period in which the city became so rich, it was able to lend Queen Isabella I the money to fund Christopher Columbus’ inaugural voyage to the Americas. But despite its efforts, Valencia was among the cities banned from trading with the fledgling Spanish Empire and it went into a steady decline. Then, during the War of the Spanish Succession, it was captured by the British and held for 16 months.
Eventually returned to Spain, much of the 19th century was dominated by more war: the War of Independence and a succession of civil conflicts. The 20th century, although bringing with it another war, also brought some relief as the city industrialised and started to grow once more. Today it is a hub for the tech industry, as well as a popular spot for tourists.
Did you know?
• The controversial Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) was born in Valencia in 1431. He broke his vow of celibacy and had several children.
• The Torres de Serranos, towers built to defend medieval Valencia, were used as a prison for aristocrats between 1586 and 1887.
• Valencia Cathedral claims to house the Holy Grail.