Ever since I first visited Valencia in 2017 I’ve been intrigued by the huge dry riverbed of the Turia that defines the northern and eastern edges of the Old City. It is now a busy linear park, with sports pitches, mature trees, grassy spaces and the occasional decorative water feature.
Thoroughly tamed, it has a zoo at its western end and a Science and Arts Park at the other, but peters out into reed beds before seeping unnoticed into the Mediterranean Sea to the east.
But the grand old stone bridges and massive masonry embankments remain; their shady arches now span dusty boulevards and frame views of mature trees. But their names remember past pomp, saints and royalty; Puente Real, de Serranos, Reino...
The waters were banished for a reason. On the 14 October 1957 the Ria Turia rose 5 metres in a few tumultuous hours and devastated the city of Valencia; with huge loss of life and property.
Now I’m returning to Valencia for a Art Residency in the small town of Chelva about 70 Km to the west of Valencia, in the Iberico mountains.
I know nothing of the town, but fell in love the photos of the little house advertised on the internet. It is owned by Dutch artists Ben and Helma who have lived in Chelva for many years.
Today, my main task is to buy art materials to take with me. Ben has recommended a shop near Torres de Serrano; indeed an Aladdin’s cave. I’m hoping to make mono-prints so a few tubs of paint and an A2 pad of paper add to my already over heavy suitcase.
Then I visit one of my favourite galleries: MuVIM. It’s an impressive modern building surrounded by contemporary gardens based on the footprint of an old hospital.
I had no idea what was showing and was amazed when I entered the basement gallery to find an whole exhibition concerning the Turia flood of 1957.
Top. A photo from the exhibition catalogue showing the Turia in full flood
Lower. Exhibition booklet cover which translates from Catalan as WATER MUD SILENCE
The photos are dramatic; the river in full spate filling the arches of the bridges with much of the city flooded two storeys deep. Diagrams explain how the whole city became a network of destructive currents as the water battled its way to the sea. Apparently the city fell silent once the waters had receded; all transport and trade had ceased.
I had originally thought of entitling my residency project ‘Missing Waters’ but ‘banished’ is a truer interpretation. But what became of the mighty Turia?
In a word it was ‘diverted’ to a concrete channel completed in 1969; its route prettily coloured blue or pale grey on the tourist maps. I decide that tomorrow I must go and pay my respects.
Tourist Map of Valencia showing a small part of the diverted Turia in the lower left hand corner. The original course of the river is now coloured green; El Jardines Del Turia.