One of the places we visited today was the Lonja de la Seda. Only a few blocks down from our hostel, we had walked past it a few times before realizing that it was a national monument and an internationally known piece of architectural art. Also known as the Lonja de los Mercaderes, this gothic masterpiece was constructed during the 14 and 15 hundreds as an emblem of the golden age of Valencia, during which there was a commercial revolution and great social development as the middle class rose to a position of prestige. It used to be a hugely important commercial center, where bankers, merchants, and every sort of important person would meet up, hang out, and do business. And it really is quite impressive.
The outside walls go straight up into the sky, relieved by ornate gothic arches and the sprouting figures of grotesque gargoyles. As you step in through the massive doors, you are greeted by a room not exactly ornate, but simply beautiful in it’s details and proportions. It’s a large rectangle with lovely marble floors and stately columns that swirl up to the many-vaulted ceiling. There is a series of lines crisscrossing the vaults, following the curvatures that separate them, and displaying at each meeting point a circular ornament worked in stone, every one of them different. Hanging down from the peaks of the many vaults are massive chandeliers, fairly simple in style in keeping with the general tone of the room as a whole. They seem to be hanging at a middle height between their anchors and the floors, and yet it would still require an extremely tall ladder to reach them. Just through some doors you find a small courtyard filled with a lush garden of trees and bushes, and after pausing there for a minute to enjoy this oasis, you mount a set of stairs seemingly carved into the rock of the outer wall and pass through a set a stately worked brass doors. Inside is a heavy, rich room with the feel of state and weighty business. The ceiling is richly detailed with designs in brass, the floor has a to-the-point yet beautiful pattern in marble, and the darkly paneled walls lend to the overall feel that here met the most important people, the ones with the most money and the most power, to hold court amongst themselves. Just downstairs is another equally impressive room with heavy blue drapes setting off the rich wood of the ceiling and the heavy marble of the floor. Perhaps some bankers did business here, seated with pomp at weighty desks filled important-looking ledgers and surrounded by hovering flocks of clerks ready to jump to it at the slightest nod from their masters.
You can seat yourself on the marble star in the very center of the main room and imagine what used to go on here, imagine the people milling about as they took care of the most significant business of the city of that day. Imagine the clothing worn by the rich of old, perhaps a cloak here, a high-heeled boot there, weighty clothing to denote weighty importance. Since the most important industry of the city up through the 1800s was silk, perhaps there could be seen the flowing colors of some bolt of cloth brought in for inspection, the sheen of as yet unworked silk waiting to be purchased by a clothing merchant, the visibly cool feel of the perfectly made cloth on a hot summer day.
Sit and imagine, enjoy the coolness of the marble floor against your legs, then when you’ve had your fill, it’s time to leave this magical cavern, time to step back through the door and right onto the busy thoroughfare of a modern Valencia.