BY Dan Allen
September 15 2009 9:00 AM ET
The spanish have a saying, De lo perdido, saca lo que puedas: Literally, from what’s lost, extract what you can. Make the best of a bad situation. So after a devastating 1957 flood took the lives of dozens in Valencia and left the city center submerged under eight feet of water, locals cleaned up, dug deep, and took the adage to heart. They diverted the very path of the Turia River, by which their beloved city had grown for centuries, and along its former watercourse created one of the world’s most impressive civic spaces, a work still in progress that’s part gorgeous parkland, part futuristic culture complex, and all a living testament to a 21st-century Valencia that’s completely reborn -- and still on the rise. While it won’t eclipse the big gay centers of Spain -- Madrid, Barcelona, and Sitges -- Valencia is becoming increasingly popular with travelers who have had their fill of gay beaches and raucous clubbing and nightlife.
The city’s inspired municipal remolding hasn’t been hurt an iota by the fact that one of the world’s most prominent modern architects, Santiago Calatrava, is a proud native. Calatrava, who’s also designed such notable stateside projects as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the in-progress World Trade Center PATH Station, was the visionary behind the gleaming City of Arts and Sciences at the east end of the old Turia River route. So far, the Jetsons-esque enclave includes a science museum, Europe’s largest oceanographic aquarium, an eyeball-shaped IMAX theater, and most recently a 14-story, 400,000-square-foot city opera house and cultural center, already world-acclaimed and set to start its fall season October 31 with Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens.
Continuing westward, the ingenious Valencianos have converted the rich former riverbed into Turia Gardens, a glorious six-mile, 550-acre stretch of city park with areas for every conceivable outdoor pursuit, including bike lanes, running tracks, soccer fields, a skateboarding zone, and even a giant chessboard. At its far west end you’ll find the massive new Bioparc, a fantastic next-generation open-air zoo with different climatized habitats for its more than 4,000 animals, representing more than 250 species.