The love story between the city of Valencia and silk goes back a long way. Since the Arabs introduced the mulberry trees in the 8th century, the production of silk has been very much at the centre of the city’s industry and its culture. The silk trade reached its peak in the 15th century, Valencia’s Golden Age, and silk is still very much at the heart of Valencian traditions. It is no wonder then that Valencia has been named City of Silk 2016, and, with a new Museum and Silk Trail, there are more ways to celebrate this delicate material and its role in the city’s history.
You only have to look at the elaborate costumes worn by the falleras – whether it is during the Fallas or any other major festival – to appreciate the beauty of Valencian silk. Delicate hand-made fabrics with colourful floral designs or gold satin that shines in the Mediterranean sun, the fallera dresses are true works of art.
You can find the fabrics used to make these dresses at traditional shops like Albaes (Quevedo 6), Amparo Fabra (Maestro Gonzalvo 14) or Aguas de Marzo (Cirilo Amorós 13). Hundreds of colourful rolls of silk fabric, with designs ranging from simpler, classic patterns to elaborate floral compositions, as well as many other accessories and sample dresses, are usually on display. You will also see that there are many different types of silk – at very different prices! The most precious of all is a hand-made type known as espolin, the highlight of every fallera costume.
To understand what makes it so special, go to the new Museo de la Seda (Silk Museum), where you can watch it being woven in a traditional 18th century loom. The museum has just opened at the fully restored Colegio de Arte Mayor de la Seda (College of High Silk Art). The beautiful 15th century building is well worth a visit, not only for its content of old costumes, sketches and fabric samples, but also for its ornate façade, Gothic chapel and colourful tiled floors and walls. The Room of Fame, for example, has one of the best examples of Valencian ceramics on its floor, depicting the success of Valencian silk (represented as a woman) in the world.
The Silk Museum is in the barrio de Velluters, the neighbourhood named after the guild of velvet weavers, stretching from the Quart Towers to the Central Market in the historic city centre. You can explore it on a guided tour, the new Silk Trail available from 1 July, also taking in the museum and the Lonja or Silk Exchange building. This is one of the most beautiful example of Gothic civil architecture and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Before you go in, check out the enigmatic stone carvings on its façade and gargoyles – you may find some surprising characters! Inside, the vast space divided by tall, twisting columns simulating drapes of silk falling from the ceiling, is simply stunning.
A gift of silk is always well received, and never more so than if it is on 9th October, St Denis Day (also the Day of the Valencia Region), and a peculiar “alternative Valentine’s Day” in Valencia. On this day, cake shops are full of trays of colourful marzipan figurines representing fruits and vegetables from the Valencian huerta, or the tronador and piuleta (simulating rockets). The tradition is for men to give some of these to his loved one, wrapped in a silk scarf known as the mocaorá. For a Valencian girl, keeping an ever-growing collection of silk scarves is the true proof of lasting love.