Valencia Region History & Geography

Alicante, Valencia and Castellón form the three provinces of the Region of Valencia, a widely diverse landscape with more than 450 kilometres of coastline and beaches along the Mediterranean, bordered by Cataluña to the north and Murcia to the south. With a total area of some 20,0000 square kilometres, yet only 120 kilometres at its widest point, the area has both high mountains and plains, wetlands and beaches, a temperate climate yet with semiarid desert environments and lush forests in the interior. In the north the high rocky outcrops of ancient limestone in the mountainous El Maestrazgo region are fiercely cold in winter and have a benign summer climate. In total contrast the rolling hills of Xátiva in central Valencia province and its fertile agricultural lands have some of the hottest summer temperatures of the entire Region making it popular with sun worshippers.

Map of Valencia. Illustration by Lisa Joanes

Peñon de Ifach, Valencia. Photo by Lisa JoanesTwo mountain ranges dominate the zone; the ancient Iberian range extending from the north west to the south east, more or less bisecting the area and the younger Bética formation which extends from the south to Cap de la Nao. This younger limestone has given rise to the distinctive high rocks like the Peñon de Ifach crag, a climber's paradise. Where these mountain ranges meet the sea, a dramatic landscape of high cliffs, hidden coves and beaches is created, with reefs offshore providing excellent marine habitats for the rich sea life which abounds off the Valencian coast.

Interspersed with these rugged capes are the wide kilometre long beaches of fine sand for which the Region of Valencia is famous. Some of these beaches are separated from the mainland by large wetlands of brackish water lined with reed beds. These well irrigated areas are well suited to the cultivation of rice, which is an important part of the rich gastronomy of the area, but are also ideal breeding grounds for many species of both resident and visiting migratory birds, making the Region one of the most popular locations for bird watchers during the migrating seasons of spring and autumn.

The diversity of natural habitats means that there is a wide range of flora and fauna in the Region. In the north, deeply wooded valleys of pine and oak trees are interspersed with high moorland covered with juniper bushes and closer to the coast the more typical Mediterranean garrigue of thyme, rosemary and other fragrant herbs can be found. In total, more than three thousand different species of plants and trees can be found within the Region, many of which are unique to the area.

Sagunto Castle, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardThe richness of the land and the variety of habitats mean that the Valencian Region has been settled for many thousands of years. Discoveries of artefacts and paintings in the Parpalló Cave in Gandia indicate that small groups of hunter gatherers were active in the area some 29,000 years before Christ.

As the first maritime trade routes were established in the Mediterranean, both Greeks and the Phoenicians set up small communities and trading settlements on the coast and in the interior.

They have left a permanent mark on the land, with ancient terraces built more than two thousand years ago still lining the rocky valleys of the interior in Alicante close to Jalón.

Xativa Castle, Valencia. Photo by Valencia Tourist BoardFollowing occupation by the Visigoths, of whom little trace remains after the collapse of the Roman empire in 4th century AD, the Muslim invasion in the 8th century marked a dramatic turning point for the region.

Under five centuries of Arab rule the region prospered, with large advances being made in irrigation techniques (the palm plantations of Elche date from this period), the cultivation of rice, the manufacture of paper in the region around Xátiva and centers of learning established in the Region of Valencia and Denia.

One legacy from the Arab era which still exists today is the Tribunal de las Aguas in the regional capital, Valencia, where a council of ordinary people meets every year to discuss the distribution of water.

The period of Moorish occupation also transformed the appearance of all three provinces, with the systematic use of irrigation canals enabling the cultivation of large arid tracts which today are worked as fertile agricultural farm land. The Arab epoch came to an end in the 13th century, although the final expulsion of the last families would not take place for another two centuries, under the rule of Philip II in 1609. Many of the villages deserted by the Moors were taken over by people from the nearby island of Majorca, who in turn brought their own influences to the language and cuisine of the area.

In the 18th century the Region of Valencia made huge strides both in agriculture and industry, with more sophisticated irrigation systems helping to create one of the most productive areas of the entire Iberian peninsula. During this time of rising prosperity the university of Valencia became one of the most prestigious and well known centers of learning in Europe. In the 19th century, with the creation of rail links to Madrid, electrification of the provinces and improved road networks, the Region became one of the most advanced areas of Spain.

A combination of the tough post-war years of the 40’s and 50’s, when the region lost its position as a leading territory of Spain, the industrialisation process and the upsurge of tourism in the 60’s and 70’s and the return of the monarchy heralded a turning point in the Region’s fortunes. Today, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain, with excellent air, road and rail links connections (the High speed AVE links both Alicante and Valencia to the Spanish capital in less than two hours) the Region of Valencia is once again one of the most important cultural and economic powerhouses of contemporary Spain.
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Valencia Tourist Board for their sponsorship of this guide
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