UNESCO World Heritage Site: La Lonja or the Silk Exchange, Valencia

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The Contract Hall, La Lonja, Valencia

In a country with no less than 43 sites listed in UNESCO’s famous list (number surpassed only by Italy with 47 sites), La Lonja de la Seda or the Silk Exchange is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site Valencia has. Declared so back in 1996, La Lonja is the most important and best preserved example of Late Gothic architecture in the entire Europe.

Built between 1482 and 1533, La Lonja dramatically illustrates the power and wealth Valencia had back then, during what is called the Golden Age of the city – a time when Valencia was one of Europe’s main economic centers. However, La Lonja was also a desperate measure to keep business going and traders coming, as the trade was rapidly shifting from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic due to the recent discovery of the New World.

La Lonja details from the Orange tree Garden

Though La Lonja is a huge building, the visit won’t take more than 15 minutes of your time, unless you take the guided tour. The place pretty much lacks furniture, but the super tall palm tree like columns, the beautifully and richly decorated ceilings and the immense wooden doors are the real charm of La Lonja.

La Lonja has five chambers open to the public – the Contract Hall, a small chapel with stained glass windows, the Pavilion of the Consulate, the Golden Chamber and a poorly decorated basement – plus the Orange Tree Garden – a walled court-yard.

The fountain situated in the center of the courtyard
Orange Tree Garden

The main hall, The Contract Hall is an enormous, lavishly decorated space supported by gorgeous twisted columns. This was the centre of life in La Lonja, the place where the merchants would meet, deal and sign. A Latin inscription in Gothic characters runs round the walls, which proclaims the principles upon which trade within the hall is based: honesty of its traders and justice of its syndicalists. The Contract Hall is lit by soaring Gothic windows, the external frames of which are exuberantly ornamented, notably by a series of grotesque gargoyles.

The Contract Hall, La Lonja, Valencia
Twisted columns in the Contract Hall, La Lonja, Valencia

The side-wing is named the Pavilion of the Consulate, and it was the seat of the Tribunal del Mar – the first merchant tribunal to ever be formed in Spain. Nowadays it hosts Medieval and Renaissance music concerts.

Pavilion of the Consulate
On the first floor you can find the Golden Chamber, named so because of the richly decorated ceiling it features – a Gothic masterpiece which had the King ride out of the capital just to see it. The Golden Chamber can be accessed via a stunning stone staircase from the Orange Tree Garden. However the ceiling was not meant for La Lonja in the first place, and it’s a 20th century addition. The golden ceiling was rescued from the old Casa de la Ciudad which was demolished. Fortunately it fitted just fine in La Lonja. The ceiling is made out of painted wood, with hundreds of zodiacal, war, grotesque and chimerical symbols, as well as musical and heraldic shields of the city of Valencia.

The Golden Chamber
The Golden Chamber ceiling details, La Lonja from Valencia via Felivet (Wikimedia Commons)
The entire building is constructed in limestone on the site of the former Oil Exchange. The design was derived from a similar structure in Palma de Mallorca.

La Lonja is situated in a nice part of the old town, only 5 minutes from the Town Hall and just across the street from the wonderful Modernist Central Market, great for picking up fresh produce. La Lonja is also surrounded by a myriad of restaurants, souvenir shops and typical tapas bars tourists and locals alike greatly enjoy. 

Main entrance

The tower can be accessed from The Contract Hall through a spiral staircase. Nowadays unfortunately it’s not open to the public anymore. Or maybe it’s not that unfortunate after all, as the room at the first floor was actually used as a prison for bankrupt traders. In today’s economy, the little room would be so crowded!

You can tour La Lonja for free during the weekends and public holidays. Otherwise the entrance is €2. Student and senior discounts are available. La Lonja closes on Mondays, like many other European museums.

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