Valencia Photos of the Month: La Lonja

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia (Silk Exchange, or Silk Llotja in Valencian) is one of Valencia’s greatest marvels. Set in the Plaza Mercado, next to other great buildings (which I’ll have to blog in a separate post due to their awesomeness), the La Lonja is a great representation of Valencia in its golden age. Designed in a Gothic style by Pere Compte, construction started in late 1482,  after 20 homes were demolished to make way for the building. Its Sala de Contractació, (Trading Hall or Hall of Columns), was completed in just fifteen years. However, the complex building, named a UNESCO site in 1996, wasn’t completed in 1548.

Since 1341, Valencia had been trading all major products from the Llotja de l’Oli (Oil Lonja) on a nearby site, but as the city boomed, it was time to upgrade the trading hall. Silk was becoming a major product in Valencia, and the city had big plans. Opting for the style of trading halls in Barcelona, Mallorca and Zaragoza, Valencia set to building La Lonja, comfortable that sales in the market would recover costs due to Valencia being Europe’s biggest port. The Trading Hall was built in the traditional style of a tall building held up columns. La Lonja’s main room is 36m by 21m, with 24 columns holding the spectacular ceiling 17.4m high. Despite other major works going on in Valencia, multiple sculptors and artists were employed to make this vital building a success. The quality and speed of the build cemented La Lonja as the symbol of Valencia’s golden era. The spiral columns were to represent palm trees, and the ceilings painted bright blue with golden stars, and around the building is a latin inspiration – Inclita domus sum annis aedificata quindecim. Gustate et videte concives quoniam bona est negotiatio, quae non agit dolum in lingua, quae jurat proximo et non deficit, quae pecuniam non dedit ad usuram eius. Mercator sic agens divitiis redundabit, et tandem vita fructur aeterna. (A rough translation says that the famous building requires no particular religion or nationality in those who wish to sell their wares. Merchants can enjoy wealth and eternal life). 

At the same time as the Trading Hall build, La Torre was also built, a third higher than the rest of the building. The bottom floor of the tower became a chapel designed by Juan Guas and the second and third floors were for prisons where merchants were held if they missed payments to La Lonja. The glorious staircase leading up to these cells is off-limits, but is beautiful example of the architecture of the building. The tower underwent a good quality restoration by Josep Antoni Aixa Ferrer between 1885 and 1902, to bring the simple roof details more into line with the rest of the building.

Once these aspects were completed in 1498, the Patio de los Naranjos was started. The courtyard was filled with orange and cypress trees, native to the area, with an eight-pointed star fountain, Moroccan style. The courtyard walls are covered with gargoyles, humorously representing figures of the time. The courtyard held many of the city’s most important fiestas and meetings, including royalty and ceremonies. The courtyard is accessed through the beautiful Chambers of Trade doorway.

But the La Lonja needed more beauty. Pere Compte died in 1506, and Joan Corbera carried on his work with an additional building off the courtyard, to be named the  Consulado del Mar (Consulate of the Sea). Started in 1238, the court held meetings on matters relating to maritime trade and commercial matters. They were given a large space within La Lonja and the room beholds a golden detailed ceiling. All of these rooms have been well maintained and all accessible for visitors. The cellars have also been recently restored and can be visited (and would have made great prison cells, not sure why they wasted the good views on the prisoners in the tower!).

The main door to the La Lonja, the portal sins (since the ‘original sins’ are carved around it) is not always accessible. When I first moved to Valencia, it was the main entry to the building, but now the building can be accessed from the back entry only, in Plaza de la Companyia (where you can see the plaque to El Palleter) and only costs a few euros for entry. The exterior is fully covered in gargoyles and carvings representing the kingdom of Valencia, and also has many Renaissance designs over the original Gothic details. Each doorway and window is heavily detailed and designed for a glorious all over effect. La Lonja became known at the Silk Llotja because the product was so essential to the city (around 25,000 people were working at around 3000 looms in Valencia at their height), though all items were traded here along with the silk. Sadly, the bottom fell out of Valencia silk industry in 1800, and the city lost its golden age forever. The building now exists as a tourist attraction after trading ended 30 years ago, but has been kept in perfect condition.

Spain named the building as a Property of National Interest in 1931, survived relatively unscathed in the civil war, and La Lonja became a world heritage site because “the site is of outstanding universal value as it is a wholly exceptional example of a secular building in late Gothic style, which dramatically illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great Mediterranean mercantile cities.” Valencia deserves great praise for maintaining such a priceless gem.

Click on each photo to start slideshow or see year of each shot.

Historical photos via Valencia Historia Grafica

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