It is not often you feel like lingering at a train station, but even queuing for a ticket is an uplifting experience at the Estacion del Norte in Valencia. Built betwen 1906 and 1917, the walls and ceilings are covered in ceramics, tiles and mosaics which depict the flowers, fruit and vegetables that grow in the nearby fertile plains.
The station is just one example of the city’s rich heritage of Art Nouveau architecture, known in Spanish as modernismo. A century or so ago, the city was expanding fast as a result of the booming agricultural trade, which developed after the wine industry was destroyed by the phylloxera bug. Oranges were – and still are – the mainstay of this economy, and feature in the decoration of lots of buildings.
At the station, great ceramic bunches of them adorn the facade. Inside the central market, a short walk away, I gazed up at the main dome, where oranges are painted on white tiles. On the stalls, there were heaps of the real things, on sale for next nothing. I sat on a stool at the kiosk just outside the entrance and drank a big glass of zingy juice, squeezed in front of me, before heading for the smart shopping strets off the Calle Colon. There were more oranges here too.
On Calle Cirilo Amoros, I came upon the Casa Ferrer, a magnificent town house which is more commonly known as the House of the Oranges. Inside, orange metal discs adorn the carved doors, banisters and every other available surface.
Nearby, on the corner of Calle Jorge Juan, another Art Nouveau market has been revamped and filled with cafes. Designed by Francisco Mora, a friend of Gaudi, the Mercado de Colon is an open-sided iron structure with elaborate brick walls at each end. The mosaic and ceramic decoration features ears of corn, bunches of grapes, and, of course, lots of oranges.