Lonja de la Seda in Valencia
Lonja de la Seda

Architectural elements and style

The Silk Exchange is one of the most outstanding examples of civil Gothic in Europe (as opposed to religious Gothic). Art historians distinguish its style as Mediterranean or Southern Gothic.

This is because this style arrived in Valencia only after the Reconquista (the recapture of the Iberian peninsula by the Christians, after centuries of Moorish occupation), later than in other countries. It therefore presents some differences from Northern European Gothic, which was considerably more cavernous and sepulchral.

Gothic architecture is characterised by its vertical elevation, with tall pillars, long, stained-glass windows, and different types of pointed arches. Stone sculpting is used to decorate buildings, with reliefs depicting geometric or plant motifs. We can find all these elements in the Lonja de la Seda.

The Lonja stands on a rectangular plot of land covering about 2,000 square metres (about 21,500 square feet). The complex is divided into four parts: the Sala de Contratación, the Torreón (which includes a chapel), the Pabellón del Consulado, and the Patio de los Naranjos.

A sizable proportion of the area is occupied by the Sala de Contratación, but the elements are in perfect harmony with each other. The central tower is robust, with an elegant and serious outline.

Sala de Contratación

Sala de Contratación (Trading Hall, in English) is the main body of the building. It consists of a large hall divided into three long naves with a vaulted ceiling. Light enters through the decorated windows. The room has a markedly symbolic character, with strong allusions to paradise.

The ribbed arches of the ceiling are supported by a total of 24 helicoidal (twisted) columns. These comprise not only free-standing and half columns, but also quarter columns, one in each corner of the hall. On the keystones on the ceiling, we can find figures of saints, (corresponding to the patron saints of the various Valencian guilds of the time), angels, musicians, and coats of arms.

The halls look like a palm-tree forest, with columns imitating tree trunks, and ribbed vaults resembling branches. This effect was originally enhanced by paint, with the ceiling being tinted blue to mimic the heavens, and the vault ribs being painted in green, red, and gold leaf to mimic the branches of the trees.

The spectacular decoration and iconography found in this hall pervade the entire building. We can find religious, natural, and even everyday motifs interlaced with one another in the numerous wood carvings and stone reliefs of the Lonja.

For some time the Taula de Canvis i Dipòsits (Deposit and Exchange Table) was kept in the Sala de Contratación. A Taula was an early type of municipal public bank, the predecessor to a central bank. In practice, the Taula in Valencia was a desk at which mercantile transactions, exchange of currency, and the deposit of valuables were carried out, under guarantee and regulation of the City.

Patio de los Naranjos

The Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees, in English) is accessed through the Sala de Contratación. The doorway has very similar characteristics on both sides.

It consists of a segmental arch (which is a type of very wide arch) surmounted by a larger ogee arch (an arch that ends with a pointed tip). The decorations on the side-posts and lining of the doorway are adorned with whimsical figurines, plant decorations, and leaves chiselled in stone. Some recurring figures are centaurs, creatures, people playing musical instruments, coats of arms, mythical or legendary figures, combat scenes, dragons, and other kinds of monsters.

This inner garden has a peaceful and intimate appearance, with its orange trees and its fountain. The fountain, in the shape of a seven-point star, produces a relaxing gurgling sound. All around, the benches allow visitors to rest and enjoy this quiet enclosure.

Pabellón del Consulado

The Pabellón del Consulado or Consolat del Mar (the Consulate Pavilion or Sea Consulate, in English) was originally designed in gothic style but was finished in Renaissance classic style. This was due to the long time the construction took.

The Pavilion was so-called because it once housed the Court of the Consolat del Mar, an ancient Valencian institution created to deal with maritime and mercantile matters. It consists of a basement, ground floor, main hall and upper floor.

The upper floor is easily identifiable from the outside because of the gallery of arches and the forty medallions that surround the entire perimeter. The medallions are carved in Renaissance style, representing busts of Roman illustrious figures and gods.

However, the most striking floor of the Pavillion is certainly the first floor, with its Golden Chamber.

The Golden Hall

The Chamber of the Consulate of the Sea is also known as the Golden Chamber. It is called so because of its gilded coffered ceiling. The ceiling is the true centrepiece of the room, both for the richness of the materials, and the detail in the carved decorations.

It is made up of 670 pieces representing various figures and scenes. Some allude to the zodiac, combat, or nature, some others are grotesque, heraldic, or chimerical in nature. Still, others represent children’s games, musical performances and prophets.

The tower and chapel

The tower has a square floor plan and is divided into four floors and a terrace. The entrance is protected by a small iron gate, and its ground floor is occupied by a chapel. All the other floors can be accessed via the spiral staircase.

The chapel

The chapel, on the lower part of the tower, has a ribbed stellar vault, meaning a vaulted ceiling that creates a star-like shape with its ribs.

The whole chapel is decorated with biblical symbolism and allegorical figures. We can find them along the arches, the side-posts, the keystones and the corbels. Some of these symbolic ornaments represent the apostles, coats of arms, dragons, fantastic beasts, angels, and devils.

The tower staircase

The circular staircase was a display of architectural mastery and skill by Pere Comte. You will see that the 142 floating steps, seemingly carved out of the surrounding wall, leave the centre of the staircase completely empty, creating a serpentine effect.

Architectural elements and style