Grotesque statues in Lonja de la Seda in Valencia

Curiosities about the Lonja de la Seda

Have you noticed that at the very top of the building, crowning its halls, there are almost 30 gargoyles? To find out more about them, as well as the origins of the building’s name and its many functions throughout the years, you can keep reading this section.

The gargoyles

Among the many decorative features, typical of the gothic architecture of the Lonja, we can find a total of 28 gargoyles along the top part of the building.

They are decorative elements as much as they are practical ones, channelling water from the roof. In fact, until 1535, they were simply called canals. It was only later that they started being called with the name we know them by, gargoyles.

The gargoyles in la Lonja de la Seda in Valencia
Looking up the exterior of the building, you’ll be able to see the gargoyles that decorate the water channels.

Most of these allegorical figures present fantastic, erotic, and satirical features. The subjects vary from monstrous creatures, fantastic animals, people caught in amusing or grotesque gestures, usually alluding to vices or sins.

Over the years the gargoyles have sparked much debate as to their enigmatic symbolism, which has mostly been lost to time and is thus difficult to identify. What we can say is that they present characteristics of primitive expressionism, inspired by the various Bestiaries popular in the Middle Ages (these were collections of moralised beast tales).

The name

The building’s name, Lonja de la Seda, which we generally translate to Silk Exchange, literally means Portico of the Silk.

The term Lonja comes from the early Italian Loggia, meaning portico. This alludes to the fact that in early times, merchants used to conduct business under the churches’ porticoes, in an attempt to shelter themselves and the goods from the weather.

Consolat del Mar - Lonja de la Seda in Valencia
Here you can see the Sala del Tribunal and its beautiful wooden ceiling.

The fact that this is called the Silk Exchange, and not any other material, is due to the fact that, at the time of construction, the most important guild in Valencia was that of the silk merchants. The Silk Guild’s first administrators, between the 14th and 18th centuries, were Jewish silk workers. They later had to convert in order not to be exiled or executed during the Spanish Inquisition.

In any case, other goods like oil and cereals were also traded in the building. In fact, the previous Exchange was called the Oil Exchange.

Uses throughout history

Over the years, the Lonja was put to various uses that were not limited to the ones suggested by its name or origin. For example, on more than one occasion, the Sala de Contratación was used as an improvised storage house for wheat in times of grain shortage.

During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the building was converted into military barracks and the garden was used as a kitchen for the troops. This was the time when the building was known as El Principal. It was used for these purposes until 1762 when it was abandoned by the military.

The exteriors of la Lonja de la Seda in Valencia
The exterior façade of the Lonja de la Seda overlooks the Market Square.

In times of pandemic outbreaks, like the cholera wave of 1854–1855, the site was also used as a makeshift hospital.

Almost at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when the Republican government took refuge in Valencia, the Lonja was used to hold meetings of the Spanish Parliament.

Until quite recently, the coin and stamp flea market also took place inside the Lonja on Sunday. Such an event now takes place in front of the building.

The prison tower

One of the four parts into which the Lonja is divided is the famous Tower, with the renowned spiral staircase. What not many know is that its two upper floors used to be a dungeon.

The prison tower in la Lonja de la Seda in Valencia
The upper floor of the tower, pictured here, used to be a prison dungeon.

Here, any merchant who failed to pay their debts, dishonest trader, or thief was kept prisoner. They would stay so until they were tried.

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Curiosities about the Lonja de la Seda