So the new list of today’s Wonders of the World is about to come out. I found it bizarre that the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia wasn’t one of the contenders. Machu Picchu, Petra, Taj Mahal, the Great Wall, all undoubtedly wonders of the world, but how about thinking a little outside of the box?
Does a Wonder have to be ancient? This contest is an exciting project amongst the now enormous travelling community on the planet, but it does take after the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And as far as I remember most of those Wonders were very much contemporary to the historians who recorded them. Most of them were an embodiment of progress and contemporary civilisation, not a time machine.
Like I said, I think the City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia would fit in with that concept quite nicely.
It isn’t just one of the most stunning, amazing, impressive, whatever other superlative you can fit here, things I have seen. It is also a fascinating twist, a truly original idea, no less than an entire paradigm shift.
Everyone has seen Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic…how much of it can you see before it all starts looking same but different? Huge ruins like Chichen Itza or Machu Picchu still impress mainly due to their size or how difficult it was for their creators to build them without today’s machinery. But here is a new thought: we have just come back from a trip where we thoroughly enjoyed 23rd century architecture’ that’s something different, isn’t it? Just the courage and ambition of the idea is enough to get one’s attention. What do you do if you don’t have an impressive complex a few hundred years old? You build one which is a few hundred years away!
The City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia is an enormous futuristic leisure complex designed by the renowned superstar of futuristic architecture, Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava happens to be one of Valencia’s sons, so his most marvelous creation is his gift to his home city.
The City of Arts and Sciences lies in the Turia gardens – a river bed which was transformed into 9 km of lush greenery, following the diversion of the river course after a particularly bad flood in 1950s. It is truly a city within a city – once you are here you leave Valencia, you find yourself on the grounds of some distant space base. Huge constructions of white frameworks and glass, in most curious shapes, are surrounded by clear blue open water reservoirs and designer lawns.
The City of Arts and Sciences is composed of five elements. As you approach the City the first thing that comes into your view from far, far away is the flagship of the complex – Palau de les Arts. At 70 metres high (an average 20-25 storey building) and in the shape of a giant eye, it is an awe-inspiring prototype of alien Big Brother. As you come closer the glass foyers underneath, reminiscent of space-ship decks, finalise your arrival into sci-fi.
The Palau is, in fact, an opera house with four auditoriums for classical music and stage arts.
Behind the Palau, in the blue vastness of water, lies the Hemispheric – a smaller glass-flaked dome with sides that slide open, covering with its framework a perfect white ball, like a storage container for a nuclear-core material. The aerodynamic shape of the Hemispheric and a few decorative wings make it look like an all-terrain space vehicle. The core of the Hemispheric is in fact an IMAX cinema theatre.
The Hemispheric is followed by the Museum of Sciences – a giant intermesh of frames with claws and thorns sticking out of it in tidy rows. At 50m high this structure houses three huge floors of interactive science exhibitions.
These last two structures are bordered by LeUmbracle – a tube of a futuristic greenhouse with a tropical promenade inside and rows of decorative ceramic vents all along it. It is good to know where we will keep the remaining greenery in two or three hundred years.
Last comes the Oceanographic – a complex of smaller structures that loosely resemble giant seashells, grouped around and across a water reservoir. Oceanographic is a marine park, with thousands of species from all marine ecosystems of the world. The bulk of the complex is actually underground (or, rather, underwater), while the buildings serve as entry points, infrastructure containers and some also display surface ecosystems.
As a matter of fact, a sixth structure is in planning, which is why the area is still not totally clear of construction work. It will be an auditorium for fairs and social events, roughly speaking a high dome, but this is as far as I can go as I have run out of words to describe Calatrava, and on this particular one I simply have to give up.
As you might have noticed, the City of Arts and Sciences is more than just a pretty face. The Palau has more than just futuristic looks – it also holds cutting-edge futuristic acoustics and is quickly becoming one of the most prestigious venues for the opera world. The Museum of Sciences is the biggest science museum in Spain and is totally fascinating in its interactivity: everything inside is to be pulled, pushed, twisted, touched, experimented with. The Oceanographic has the largest collection of marine fauna in Europe and a state-of-the-art ambience where you get sharks swimming right over your head. And the Hemispheric shows some of the most amazing 3D movies. All very affordable too, plus in many languages.
In addition, Valencia makes full use of the City of Arts and Sciences for various public events – from New Year celebrations to music festivals. The incredible light shows here match the architecture and make it a simply unforgettable experience. When the crowds gather amongst these strange white shapes that reflect the sounds of music in all directions over the water reservoirs while stunning the eye with futuristic light shows’ it is a true glimpse into the cyber-race of tomorrow.
When you walk around the City of Arts and Sciences your fantasy runs wild. This is what the Earth might look like in a couple of centuries. This can also easily be a base somewhere on a distant planet, way after the initial landing – the Museum does look like it could be an artificial biosphere, the Hemispheric – a media / research centre, the Palau – a command tower and the Oceanographic – a complex of living quarters.
However, those fantasies are not even nearly as wild as what you start seeing when you know one curious fact about Calatrava. The architect bases his designs on skeletons – both human and animal.
When you look at the City of Arts and Sciences with this fact in mind your fantasy turns insane. The perfectly white regular frames glisten in the sun and everything makes sense now, but Christ’ what are these creatures whose remains you see on this intergalactic graveyard?
The Oceanographic must be what it first appears as – a handful of mollusk shells. God forbid coming across those mollusks though, because either of them could easily swallow a truck.
The Museum of Sciences, with its tubular shape and rows of short claws at regular intervals, turns into a half-ribcage thrown on the ground. At 220m length and 50m high, which creature would have such a ribcage, and which creature has broken it up into halves?
The Hemispheric resembles a shell of some gigantic turtle-like creature and the Palau – the Palau is most definitely a skull, albeit from such a strange creature that it is hard to imagine what it would look like. It would have eyes on the sides, like a rabbit, but taking up most of the head. It also has a crest over the top of the head. And if only the skull is 70m high whatever this creature is, it could crush T-Rex with a flick of its little finger, if it has any.
Visiting the City of Arts and Sciences is a thoroughly satisfying experience for any type of traveler without exception. That most luring human craving, the “never seen before” factor hits you with so much force that the crater of the impact will remain in your memory for a very long time, whoever you are.
So that is why I am a little disappointed the City if Arts and Sciences wasn’t selected for the Wonders of the World contest. The Sydney Opera House has, yet it doesn’t have a half of what the City sports. But then, I’ve just remembered – when they were selecting, the City of Arts and Sciences still had some bulldozers on site. Well, never mind, I guess in a couple of millennia it may get another opportunity, and it will probably win – as by then it will be sufficiently ancient. “The first-ever Wonder of the Cyber-Age”, if it doesn’t get bombed by aliens first.
Alex is the webmaster of http://www.valenciavalencia.com
– an independent resource on travelling in Valencia, Spain.