Avenida del Cid is a blot on Valencia’s landscape – a busy, 6 laned monstrosity of tunnels and junctions that drives traffic down from the Madrid motorway exit towards Mislata, Abastos, Plaza España and the city centre. Although undoubtedly making sense in the grand scheme of things, Avenida del Cid is more likely to appear among the pages of Architecture of Doom than get anyone named Town Planner of the Year.
But escaping the fumes and hustle and bustle is relatively easy if you know where to look. Barrio de la Aguja is located a mere stone’s throw away from the Avenida del Cid metro stop, opposite the forboding police headquarters (something which doesn’t exactly help the grey aesthetics of the area). Turn the inconspicuous corner down Carrer de la Mare de Déu de la Salut and enter a neighbourhood that’s worlds -and decades- apart from the high-rise apartment blocks that line the boisterous avenida. Small clusters of two-storied terraced houses populate shady, olive and orange tree-lined streets, some of them pedestrianised, with most homes boasting ceramic tiles typical of the area as well as window and roof cornices. Ornate, tiled signs display the names of small streets, all of which reference saints or virgins. Behind the rows of houses there is a protected 19th century alquería or farmhouse, as well as an old water tower which still serves the barrio. Clearly bordered on all sides by taller buildings, Barrio de la Aguja offers a stark contrast against the typical apartment blocks that surround it, much like in the older parts of the Campanar and Benimaclet neighbourhoods.
Built in the 1930s, the neighbourhood was originally named el Barrio de la Virgen de los Desamparados -or neighbourhood of Our Lady of the Forsaken (epic!)- in honour of the patroness of Valencia. The area, however, soon became known as Barrio de la Aguja due to the fact that it was constructed by el Sindicato de la Aguja -the first women’s union organisation in Spain- with the intention of housing workers of nearby textile factories. Due to absorption, only 55 of the 75 original houses remain on this spot that beautifully conserves some of Valencia’s history in an unexpected part of the city.
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