Spain’s third-biggest city is home to two La Liga Santander clubs, with Valencia CF and Levante UD playing a huge role in the daily life of its 800,000 residents for the last 100 years.
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With both clubs’ stadiums located relatively close to the tourist and commercial centre, supporters arriving from overseas can use football as a stepping-off point to learn more about the great history of the city and wider region.
Many of Valencia’s other most popular tourist spots have links with one or both of the city’s two main clubs, while visitors who take the time to explore some of its hidden corners can discover just how deeply football is written into the fabric of the city.
Valencia’s Mestalla stadium has hosted the club’s games since May 1923, making it the oldest football ground in La Liga Santander. The 55,000-seater stadium has been regularly renovated over the decades and hosted games in both the 1982 World Cup and 1992 Olympic Games, with its orange seats featuring the black bat with extended wings from the club’s crest being particularly iconic.
An official tour brings visitors through the history of both the stadium and the club, telling the story of Valencia’s six La Liga titles and the exploits of famous past heroes including Mario Kempes, Fernando Gomes and current LaLiga ambassador Gaizka Mendieta. The guided stadium visit also includes behind the scenes access to the dressing-rooms, press area, tunnel and pitch.
A must for many Mestalla match-goers is Bar Manolo del Bombo, run by legendary Spain fan Manolo who follows his club and national team far and wide. The national treasure has decorated his establishment with hundreds of flags, scarves, photos and other souvenirs from his travels. Its address – Plaza del Valencia Club Futbol – tells you just how close it is to the stadium.
Another sight not to miss in the stadium’s surroundings is the imposing bronze and iron monument of homage to Valencia’s supporters by world-renowned local sculptor Nassio Bayarri, unveiled on Avenida de Suecia during the club’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 1993.
Ciutat de Valencia stadium
Levante UD’s home ground is the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia [City of Valencia Stadium], located in the Orriols district just to the north of the old town. The 26,354-seater stadium, built in 1969, bounces on La Liga match-days, when Los Granotas’ (“the frogs”) loyal fanbase are in full voice.
Quieter during the week as the team train at their facility in the town of Bunols outside the city, the stadium houses the club’s offices and a recently refurbished and extended club shop. The Ciutat de Valencia’s mystique grew in 2005, when Malaga player Duda claimed that a ghost appeared to him on the pitch, causing him to miss an open goal during a league game.
Historic old town
Valencia’s historic old town has over 2,000 years of history for visitors to discover, with the large palm tree filled square in front of the city’s ‘Plaza de Ayuntamiento’ [town-hall] having particularly close links to Valencia CF.
This is where Los Che fans always gather to celebrate trophy victories, many aware that their club was first established near here back in 1919. The ‘Bar Torino’ which hosted that inauguration meeting no longer exists, but the club recently commissioned a commemorative wall-plaque to mark its foundation location at number four, Calle Barcelonina.
A short stroll away, just past the city’s 13th century cathedral, is the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados. This 17th century baroque basilica is home to ‘Our Lady of the Forsaken’, patroness of the city, who at the start of each La Liga season receives an official visit from the squads of both her favourite teams.
Turia garden park
Both Mestalla and the Ciudad de Valencia stadiums are within walking distance of the city’s old centre. Each trip involves crossing the old course of the river Turia, which was diverted in the 1960s due to dangerous floods. This has allowed for a nine-kilometre-long ‘city garden’ which features 18 bridges as well as many museums, children’s play-grounds and full-size football pitches.
Crossing the Turia on the way to Levante’s ground you pass through the 14th century ‘Serranos Gate’, with its imposing stone towers, while a short detour could mean taking in the Royal Gardens or the city’s Fine Arts Museum.
The fastest way to Mestalla is to cross by the ‘Puente de Las Flores’ [The Flowers Bridge], which is a riot of colour all year around. A short stroll away is the modern City of Arts and Sciences, with its world class Oceanographic Museum.
Watch Valencia CF vs Levante UD this Sunday at 20H45 (CAT) on SuperSport HD 7.