Gandia one of the principle towns in Valencia.
The city of Gandia is situated some 65km south of Valencia and 116km north of Alicante and is one of the largest coastal towns and a rather well kept secret. Traditionally Gandia’s tourism is Spanish based with a major part of it coming from Madrid . It seems though that the cat may be out of the bag with more and more foreign tourism coming to the area. With the foreign tourism, we have also seen a rise in the amount of people coming to live. Gandia is a thriving centre of commerce, and as such does not rely solely on tourism. The beach and the town are actually some 2km apart which succeeds in separating the summer tourism from day to day living. Imagine, in the middle of August being able to visit the bank in Gandia without fighting through hoards of people waving travellers checks and smelling of suntan lotion, to then be able to visit the beach and and be right in the thick of it all. The same advantages also exist in the winter time. Unlike many coastal towns which become deserted as the colder months approach, Gandia itself stays populated and open.
Oranges are a considerable source of income, but also onions, tomatoes, peppers and many other natural crops in La Conca de la Safor, handled and packed in the many local stores, contribute to the obvious wealth of the area, together with the industries that make the most varied of goods, the shops that sell them and the tourism, which has an important hotel infrastructure distributed along the coastline.
All these products were exported, up until recently, via Gandia harbour, inaugurated in 1893 due to an English company that built the narrow-gauge railway from Alcoi to Gandia, where the company boats unloaded the coal that heated the factory boilers. The harbour was for many years the main point of export of Valencian oranges and, though it has not the traffic that it used to have in the sixties, Gandia harbour still has a fishing fleet of some importance, while land transport has replaced transportation by sea. This has generated the appearance of many transport companies owning long-distance truck fleets that travel the roads and motorways of Europe and carry the name of Gandia everywhere in the world where it deserves to be known.
Gandia, a glorious past and very sound present.
La Constitució square is the civic, business, cultural and religious centre of Gandia, not only because its surroundings have the town hall and Santa Maria collegiate church, but also because some of the most commercial streets in the capital of La Safor end there. Lively streets during most of the day, shops full of the most varied goods to be found; places where the old craft tradition is continued by the artisans near the market place, the true commercial place of any active town.
El Palau Ducal de Gandia, a well-built construction erected around a large central court, is one of the architectural monuments that best define the feudal period of Gandia, when large buildings were a symbol of the power and social prestige of the nobility. The birthplace of Sant Francesc de Borja, which had practically become a ruin, was acquired by the Jesuits in 1890, and they started its reconstruction, as they considered it as a spiritual symbol of the order.
The two monumental flights of stairs are the most outstanding part of the palace, where the only ogival window from the former building is kept. Inside the house where Francesc de Borja was born, a building that became a silent witness of the most far-reaching events in local history, we can admired several halls like that of Les Corones, Els Carròs or Els Centelles. There are also some interesting collections, one of them, formed by different pieces of Manises ceramic, is particularly outstanding. But El Palau Ducal is mainly impregnated with the spirit of Sant Francesc, as desired by its restorers right from the start.
Gandia collegiate church, where Santa Maria is venerated, is an excellent example of Valencian Gothic architecture, comparable to the most emblematic buildings in the Valencian 15th century. Created as a parish church for the Bailén borough in the 13th century, the gothic church was built by order of Duke Alfons el Vell during the 14th and 15th centuries. Particularly remarkable is this first period is the gate of Els Apòstols and the sculpture group representing them, the work of Pere Llobert.
In 1499 Duchess Maria Enríquez obtained from her father-in-law, Pope Alexander VI, the name of Santa Maria for the parish church and, by her order, elements were added to the early building, though, according to her wishes, the builder tried to respect the features of the original Gothic style. The unfortunate violent episodes of the Spanish Civil War destroyed many of the treasures kept in the church. Especially remarkable among these is a Renaissance altarpiece by Paolo di San Leocadio and another by Damià Formant. Santa Maria collegiate church, declared as a historical monument in 1931, started to be restored in the 1940s.
Duke Alfons de Vell is one of the historical celebrities best remembered by present-day Gandia. Sant Marc hospital, dating from the turn of the 14th century, was built at his initiative. The building, which is being restored, was reconstructed during the first half of the 16th century; it consists of a central court surrounded by the hospital rooms, with a remarkable roof and slim arches.
But Gandia does not live in the past of course. The footbridge leaving the town centre in the direction of El Parc de l’Est can represent the passage from the past to the present. A present that is obvious every Saturday in the market place and that, very often, exhibits its dynamism in the festivals, public events and entertaining or cultural shows that take place in this new space dedicated to leisure activities.
Gandia, culture and heritage.
The memory of Ausiàs March, the greatest poet that Valencian literature has produced, fills his fellow countrymen with pride. Born in 1397, a date which is only estimated, the noble knight, a descendant from a family of poets and diplomats, took part in different military expeditions in the Mediterranean and, when he was 27, he returned to his native lands, which he never left again till his death in València, on 3rd March, 1459, which we know for sure. The monument in Gandia dedicated to the greatest Valencian man of arts is not a commitment that had to be carried out, but an expression of the love the town feels for the poet.
Other names linked with Gandia and world literature are those of Joanot Matorell and Joan Roís de Corella. The former, author of the novel ‘Tirant lo Blanc’, married into the March family and, besides becoming the first modern novelist in western culture, was a man of action, and hot tempered too. The latter, mossén Roís de Corella, was a poet and an Italianizing essayist, a sophisticated observer of reality, a meticulous stylist and a man of action and thought. His humanist ideology gave him many a problem with the Inquisition, the tribunal that not only controlled people’s actions, but also their ideologies, including those that attended Gandia University at the time, an institution that today revives every summer those glorious times, now without the obvious censorship of the Inquisition.
Gandia, like its neighbouring Xàtiva, feels both historically and sentimentally bound to the Borja family. But the relationship of Gandia with Xàtiva begins after the glorious period of the family since it started with Pope Alexander VI bought the duchy of Gandia for his children. And the man who really grasps the attention of the people of Gandia Sant Francesc de Borja (Borgia), grandson of the Pope. A Borja that had very little to do with the terrifying legend of his forefathers and who is known under the name of El Sant Duc de Gandia.
The man who was to become Sant Francesc de Borja was born in Gandia in 1510 and, from his youth, had important posts at the court of Carlos I (Charles I). But after one day contemplating the body of Queen Isabel, the image of death made him take a decision that was to change his life radically; he gave up the world of the court and became a member of the Society of Jesus, of which he became general. A man with remarkable influence, the Borja saint did many things for his town while he was its lord; he founded its university and other cultural and religious institutions, and tried to help his fellow countrymen as much as he could. In 1671 he was canonised by Pope Clement XI, and Sant Francesc de Borja is the patron saint of Gandia, the town that has been able to preserve in an exemplary way the palace where this Valencian saint was born.
The long literary tradition of Gandia and its area has not lost any of its importance with the passing of time, but rather has consolidated itself. Names like those of El Senyoriu de Beniarjó, Ausiàs March or Joanot Matorell give an enviable reputation to the literary prizes bestowed every year by Gandia. And also the names of some of the most influential contemporary writers, like Josep Piera, continue to honour the literature created in Gandia, its area and the world.
Gandia cultural life throbs in the town all year round, but it intensifies around the celebrations, when the literary prizes are awarded and when they carry out the interesting activities if La Univeritat d’Estiu, El Festival Internacional de Música Clàsica or the different art exhibitions.
Celebrations are also culture, maybe of another kind, but as necessary as literature, music or painting. And Gandia holds so many festivals, that they could not all be mentioned in this limited space: Les Falles in spring, Les Fogueres or bonfires in summer, the local celebrations in autumn, after they are announced by El Tio de la Porra -i.e. the man with the club-. They are just some of the excuses Gandia needs to dress in festive clothes, fill its streets with light, music and strings of fireworks and transmit its joy to its visitors.
Gandia offers excellent food as well as just the Sun and the Beach
Gandia’s fields give a variety of vegetables which the traveller must necessarily associate with cookery in the same way as a visit to the fish market lets loose our culinary imagination with the wealth supplied by the sea. it is difficult to suggest a menu that that could summarise the gastronomic delicacies of the area. But it might be appropriate to begin with a walk by the sea in order to choose the place where to have a meal as well as to wet the appetite.
As starters, grilled shellfish, a good helping of octopus, dries by the sea breeze and the sun of La Safor, a ‘figatell’ -big meatball with liver, minced beef and spices-, snails, mussels full of Mediterranean flavour, or vegetables to help us to get to the heart of our subject.
There are also some nourishing dishes, but if the traveller decides on rice, which is almost a must in these lands, he should try a speciality that the vegetables of the season. So, according to the time of year, we can try rice with beans and turnip, another with fava beans and artichoke, or a milder one with chards and codfish, typical of Lent. It goes without saying that there are also the thousand possibilities that a paella offers and, moreover, the ‘allipebre’, stomach permitting. And if the stomach is no longer tempted by such strong dishes, a fish stew or any of the grilled local fish, are a good alternative to the gastronomy of the Valencian central areas.
In any case, the local speciality is ‘La fideuada’, which consist basically of a shellfish paella cooked with thick vermicelli where all the taste is concentrated. A dish that the locals consider their own, about whose origin they tell different stories and which is the pride of many restaurants in La Safor.