Portal Valldigna (Valldigna Gate) is a portal/gateway built in 1400 to separate the Christian and Moorish areas of the city. It is located in the oldest part of Valencia’s old town, in the Barrio del Carmen, in the Ciutat Vella. The gateway never had a door, and simply separated the nearby buildings, and leaned against the ancient Arab wall around the city. The local abbot had his home over the doorway, and gave the Portal Valldigna after the Monasterio de Santa María de la Valldigna, an amazing monastery built in 1298 outside the city area.
Father Jofre defending a madman, by Joaquin Sorolla (1887) – Source
The portal, seen here in this painting by one of Valencia’s finest artists, shows the portal in the background as Joan Gilabert Jofré, known as Father Jofré, saves a madman from being stoned in 1409. After spending time seeing how Muslims cared for the mentally ill, Father Jofré went on the start the world’s first mental institution in the world, sanctioned by Pope Benedict XIII and King Martín I of Aragon. It was built nearby and named after Valencia’s patron saint Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados.
In 1474, a book named Obres e trobes en lahors de la Verge María was printed with paintings of the Portal Valldigna, showing an inscription in Valencian, es obres or trobes Davall scrites quals them lahors tracten of the sacratíssima Verge Maria (in praise of the Virgin Mary). In 1589 a new plaque was put above the portal depicts King Jaime II of Aragon at the founding of Valldigna monastery.
Speed forward to the 1940’s and the portal was in a state of disrepair and the city planned to demolish it along with the historical buildings surrounding it. In 1944, the Valencia Director of Fine Arts stepped in to have the Portal Valldigna named a historical monument and saved it from its fate. The portal and above building was fully renovated in 1965, making sure the original Arab and Christian stones were saved. A new plaque was put over the entrance into the ‘old cities’ with the shields of both the city of Valencia and the Valldigna monastery. The Valencia inscription next to it reads : Dona Nostra Son of Bona, Pregueu per nós, Valldigna Portal (Good Women of Our Son, Pray for us, Valldigna Portal).
Today, Portal Valldigna is a good spot to stop by and see a pocket of Valencia’s ancient history, away from the crowds. It is easy to find if you are already visiting some of Valencia’s more well-known sites. If you are new to Valencia, just head up Carrer Concordía off Carrer Serrano, and follow the road right, and you will be on Carrer Portal Valldigna. Or, head down Carrer Cavallers (Calle Caballeros if your map is in Spanish) and head down either tiny Carrer Landrer, or even narrower Carrer Salinas, which, while not the prettiest street in the city, has a section of the ancient Arab wall, just standing alone between two buildings. A landmark often missed by many.