Valencia Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda), Spain
Valencia would not be the city it is today without silk. And the most important symbol of this is in the heart of the city, at the Valencia Silk Exchange.
We’ve all heard of the “Silk Road”, the vast network of trade between Asia and Europe. Well, it got that name because a key product that was traded between the countries along the way was silk.
At the eastern end, the silk was produced in China and, at the western end, it was sold to Europeans who found comfort and status in the luxurious material.
One of the most prestigious of the places where this silk was sold was right here in the Spanish city of Valencia.
The Valencia Silk Exchange (or Lonja de la Seda, in Spanish) was built between 1482 and 1492 when the previous building that was being used for trade became too small. By this stage in history, much of the silk coming into Europe was actually being transported through North Africa, so Valencia was in the perfect location to be the distributor from Spain to the rest of the continent.
If you head into the centre of Valencia’s Old Town and wander around, you won’t immediately spot the Silk Exchange in the same way you might naturally find yourself in the grand plazas in front of the cathedral or the town hall.
The Valencia Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda) is actually a relatively small building for what it represents. Its legacy is not in the grandeur of its architecture but in the opulence it helped the rest of the city afford. You see that in the cathedral, in the town hall, in the boulevards.
But that’s not taking anything away from the architecture here. It is still a beautiful building and one worth seeing inside and out. The Valencia Silk Exchange is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe.
Visiting the Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda)
To understand the layout, it’s easiest to think of it in four parts.
The first part, as you come in through the main gate, is the courtyard. Calm and cool, these days it is filled with orange trees that proudly hold the fruit that has become the city’s unofficial symbol.
But what is now peaceful would once have been full of activity, as traders gathered here to talk and trade, away from the authorities who were inside the building just metres away.
Going through the large doors off the courtyard, into the first main interior section of the Silk Exchange, you’ll find the main hall. It’s also known as the Contract Hall.
The columns that rise up throughout it would almost create a continuous atmosphere of garden coming in from the courtyard if they weren’t so big. Rather than being amongst quiet orange trees, it’s now as though you’re in a vast ancient forest.
I love the design of this room, where something that could be huge and cavernous actually feels quite intimate. I’m assuming this was intentional and was partly so people could trade one-on-one and do quite negotiations without everyone hearing.
Next to the Contract Hall is the next section of the Valencia Silk Exchange, the Tower. It’s made up of three levels connected by a spiral staircase. There’s a chapel at the bottom of it and parts of the tower were once used to lock up traders who hadn’t paid their debts. These days, though, there’s not too much to see here.
But the final section of the Silk Exchange is particularly impressive. It’s called the Pavilion of the Consulate of the Sea and has two levels.
Going up an external stone staircase, you get to the more impressive of the pavilion’s levels. Here, in this room with richly-decorated 15th century ceiling, was where the tribunal sat to work out disagreements between traders.
It doesn’t take too long to visit the Valencia Silk Exchange, even if you take your time and look at each room carefully. It’s not the size, it’s the significance.
Here are a few options to learn a bit more about the site from a local, as you explore the history of Valencia.
However you choose to visit, make sure you don’t miss it. Silk trading was the most lucrative part of the economy here in Valencia for centuries and inside the walls of this masterpiece is what makes the city how it still is today.
On Sundays, it is open from 10:00 until 14:00.