Exploring modern Mediterranean architecture: La Muralla Roja and the City of Arts and Sciences

Gentle light, Mediterranean flora and deep blue sea can only enhance visual sensations triggered off by great works of architecture. My recent holiday in Spain gave me the chance to admire two landmarks of contemporary architecture – La Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill and the City of Arts and Sciences by Santiago Calatrava. Read on if you need inspiration on things to see in Calpe and Valencia. There are already many guides on historical and culinary attractions of the area, but this post is about a feast for the eyes and hopefully, it will inspire your future trip to the region.

Calpe and La Muralla Roja

Calpe is a small seaside resort on the northern part of Costa Blanca – a great choice if you’re looking for a summer spot with typical tourist attractions that has preserved its local, Mediterranean vibe. It’s also a peaceful alternative to noisy Benidorm with its high-rise tower blocks.

Calpe Arenal-Bol beach Peñón de Ifach
Postcard from Costa Blanca: colours of the sunset over the Peñón de Ifach rock.
Photo: dreamsanddesign

The heart of Calpe is its scenic Old Town, Casco Antiguo, perched on the hill above the sea – perfect for sauntering along its narrow streets when the late afternoon light illuminates the pastel facades of buildings and it’s possible to see the harmony between the colour of the sky and architecture.

Calpe Old Town Casco Antiguo
Mediterranean fairytale vibes: painted facades of Calpe’s Casco Antiguo.
Photo: dreamsanddesign

If you’re looking for a classic Mediterranean style, don’t miss Carrer del Rector Penalva, opposite the old tower, and Carrer de L’alcalde Vicente Pastor Tomas with outdoor plants lined up in front of entryways and picturesque bay windows. Calpe has two main beaches, Arenal-Bol and La Fossa. I recommend that you book your accommodation near the former as it’s much closer to the Old Town and La Manzanera residential area, where you will find three iconic buildings by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill.

Calpe clifftop path
Views from the clifftop path connecting the Arenal-Bol beach area with La Manzanera.
Photo: dreamsanddesign

During the early days of his career, in the 1970s, he designed some of the best-known examples of postmodern architecture, not only in Spain, but also in the suburbs of Paris, such as the monumental housing estates,  Les Espaces d’Abraxas and Les Arcades Du Lac. Bofill’s unique vision united surreal aesthetic with socially progressive ideas, as an alternative to Le Corbusier’s modernist solutions. You can learn more about his works in this recently published monograph.

La Muralla Roja Calpe Ricardo Bofill
The fortress-like apartment complex, seen from the opposite hill, is a postmodern variation on the Casbah citadel. Photo: dreamsanddesign

La Muralla Roja, Xanadu and El Anfiteatro, the residential projects by Bofill in Calpe, are all located next to each other, overlooking the sea. In recent years La Muralla Roja has achieved a cult status as one of ‘Instagram spots’, attracting influencers obsessed with Millennial pink, in search of visually stunning locations for their curated photos. Below you can see my photos with more details about each building. 

La Muralla Roja Calpe Ricardo Bofill
La Muralla Roja (the Red Wall) was inspired by Moorish architecture in medieval Spain. Photo: dreamsanddesign
Xanadu Ricardo Bofill Calpe
The form of Xanadu alludes to the shape of Calpe’s landmark rock, Peñón de Ifach, and is based on Ricardo Bofill’s theory of a garden city. Photo: dreamsanddesign
El Anfiteatro Ricardo Bofill Calpe
El Anfiteatro, the luxury apartment complex completed in the 1980s, was inspired by a classical Greek amphitheatre. Photo: dreamsanddesign

Please keep in mind that La Muralla Roja is a private apartment building, enclosed by a fence, with no access to the public. As of today, they are no guided tours available, but if you would like to see the internal courtyards and colourful staircases, the best way is to book a room or an entire apartment in the building (some of the residents rent their places). Still, I recommend taking a walk there just to admire the facade and the stunning views over the Manzanera bay. 

La Muralla Roja Ricardo Bofill Calpe
The sharp-edged, brutalist forms of La Muralla Roja softened by vivid hues.
Photo: dreamsanddesign

The City of Arts and Sciences

The centre of Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain, is rich in historical landmarks dating back to the Middle Ages. Yet, the real treat for architecture lovers lies slightly outside the centre, in the dry bed of the Turia river (diverted after the great flood in 1957), where Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava envisioned his futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences).

The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia by Santiago Calatrava
Water and architecture: pools reflecting the sky and futuristic forms of Calatrava’s structures. Photo: dreamsanddesign

The expansive complex of six buildings, built between 1994 and 2009, hosts a Science Museum, a Planetarium, an Opera house and an Oceanarium. Since its completion, it has successfully reshaped the image of Valencia as a modern city – a kind of culture-led transformation discussed by Deyan Sudjic in his essay ‘The language of cities’.

The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia by Santiago Calatrava
The City of Arts and Sciences embodies Calatrava’s sculptural approach to architecture. Photo: dreamsanddesign
The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia by Santiago Calatrava
The Umbracle, a palm alley flanked by the bridge-like arched vault. Photo: dreamsanddesign

So, it’s a must-see landmark in Valencia, even if you’re in the city just for a few hours. Moreover, this year the City of the Arts and Sciences offers a special treat for contemporary art lovers. ‘My Secret Garden’ is a site-specific installation by Belgian artist Arne Quinze, who created colourful, flower-like sculptures to draw public attention to the delicate balance between nature and human intervention in the cities. 

Arne Quinze My Secret Garden Valencia
Contemporary sculptures by Belgian artist Arne Quinze in dialogue with Calatrava’s architecture. Photo: dreamsanddesign

Obviously, there many more examples of interesting architecture in either Valencia or Costa Blanca, but sometimes it’s better to slow down and visit fewer landmarks in order to savour the atmosphere. Especially, in such a relaxing and sensual part of the Mediterranean. 

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