Plaça Redona in Valencia, a rumbustious journey to the 19th century
Built in the geometric heart of an area that was historically the town centre of Valencia, Plaça Redona surprises tourists with its unexpected location inside a city block of residential buildings. Built in 1847 in the context of the Mendizábal Disentailment (and the resulting modernisation of Valencia), people who have known it their whole lives describe it as a secret tunnel to the past and a bastion of the typical Valencian way of life. A jewel of mid-nineteenth century Neo-Classical public architecture, its circular shape has welcomed constant commercial activity for almost two centuries and is one of few places to resist the mass proliferation of franchises and big name brands. Shops specialising in orxata (a cold drink made of tiger nuts) or hot chocolate, and traditional embroidery, earthenware and ceramic stores are just some of the businesses that welcome newcomers in a square that was recently catalogued as an Asset of Local Importance.
It was refurbished between 2008 and 2012 to renovate the wear-and-tear of centuries and today continues to welcome businesses. Thanks to its central location in the Ciutat Vella district it can be used to reach other points of interest such as the church Església de Santa Caterina, the Mercat Central [Central Market], the Llotja de la Seda [Silk Exchange] and the Cathedral. Below are further details about its past, present and best kept secrets.
A journey through time
Commercial activity began in the square before it was actually constructed because the space was an important marketplace in Valencia during Moorish times. History reveals that, even after the city was converted to Christianity, the fish market, butcher’s and slaughterhouse remained here until they were moved to the outskirts of the city at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As mentioned above, they were replaced by new spaces such as squares and residences during a period when numerous properties belonging to the Church were expropriated for public use during the Mendizábal Disentailment.
Architect Salvador Escrig was responsible for demolishing the old slaughterhouse and also for designing the layout of the new square, which received a plethora of names following its official opening in 1840: Plaça del Clot, Plaça Nova, Plaza de la Regencia and Plaça del Cid, to mention just a few.
Similarly, its structure also changed over time. At first it was a diaphanous space with shops only operating underneath the residential buildings. However, from 1916 onwards, new mobile stalls opened to form what would become a highly characteristic concentric circle in the centre of the square. Except for its major 2012 refurbishment, the last significant alternation made to Plaça Redona was in 1977 when these mobile stalls were converted into definitive wooden stands decorated with Manises ceramics.
A look at Plaça Redona today
These days the old image of the square with its cladded materials, polychrome tiles and clothes drying on balconies has changed slightly. Following the recent refurbishment when the façades and roofs of the houses that form the square were restored, the space has now also been given an eye-catching glass and steel cover that protects the shops from rain and sun. And although some complain that Plaça Redona has lost some of its true Valencian spirit, what hasn’t changed is its unusual central location in the middle of 34 four-storey buildings whose height adds an air of mystery to the square below.
The shops on the ground level of these buildings haven’t changed either; most are still small businesses that sell household goods: knitting needles, haberdashery items, lace, aprons and bibs, hand-crafted goods and food. There are also some more recent souvenir shops that are firmly aimed at tourists. Every Sunday and public holiday a street market is held around the fountain; it feels rather like a flea market and you can buy everything from paintings and engravings to music, books and stickers for little ones.
The recent refurbishment also saw the pavement changed from stone cobbles to more modern polished concrete; the various names the square was given over the years are written on the ground in tribute to the nineteenth-century Valencia of its creation. There are also quotes in Valencian and Spanish by Valencian writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez from his first Costumbrist novel Arroz y Tartana.
Hundred-year-old businesses around the square
Plaça Redona has four entrance points: Carrer dels Drets, Carrer de la Pescateria, Carrer de la Sombrerería and Plaça de Lope de Vega, each of which has a tunnel leading to the square through its buildings. This prevents crowding in the square despite its small size and internal setting in the heart of the city.
If it had been hard to access, hundred-year-old business such as Casa de los Botijos or the Tienda de las Ollas de Hierro would never have lasted so long. In addition to the municipal market held in the square, it’s vital that the historical heritage represented by these businesses is fully appreciated; the atmosphere and aesthetic of another era live on in their façades and interiors.
The Horchatería Santa Catalina and Chocolatería Artesana Xoco & Vero—both of which opened at the beginning of the nineteenth century—have typical Valencian confectionery products and stopping at these establishments is like a journey back in time. Home-made fartons dipped in orxata or xurros and bunyols with hot chocolate are two perfect treats to enjoy during an afternoon shopping in the historical and bohemian Plaça Redona.
Information of interest
How to arrive
- By bus: Routes 4, 8, 9, 11, 16, 28, 70 and 71.
- Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
- Street market (Sundays and public holidays) from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM.