The Church of Nuestra Senora del Pilar is situated on the ramparts of the town, and the Aragonese fondly believe this portion of the town defences to be impregnable.
I had promised Donna Pelliccia to go and see her at Valentia, and on my way I saw the ancient town of Saguntum on a hill at some little distance. There was a priest travelling with me and I told him and the driver (who preferred his mules to all the antiquities in the world) that I should like to go and see the town. How the muleteer and the priest objected to this proposal!
"There are only ruins there, senor."
"That's just what I want to see."
"We shall never get to Valentia to-night."
"Here's a crown; we shall get there to-morrow."
The crown settled everything, and the man exclaimed,
"Valga me Dios, es un hombre de buen!" (So help me God, this is an honest man!) A subject of his Catholic majesty knows no heartier praise than this.
I saw the massive walls still standing and in good condition, and yet they were built during the second Punic War. I saw on two of the gateways inscriptions which to me were meaningless, but which Seguier, the old friend of the Marquis Maffei, could no doubt have deciphered.
The sight of this monument to the courage of an ancient race, who preferred to perish in the flames rather than surrender, excited my awe and admiration. The priest laughed at me, and I am sure he would not have purchased this venerable city of the dead if he could have done so by saying a mass. The very name has perished; instead of Saguntum it is called Murviedro from the Latin 'muri veteres' (old walls); but Time that destroys marble and brass destroys also the very memory of what has been.
"This place," said the priest, "is always called Murviedro."
"It is ridiculous to do so," I replied; "common sense forbids us calling a thing old which was once young enough. That's as if you would tell me that New Castille is really new."
"Well, Old Castille is more ancient than New Castille."
"No so. New Castille was only called so because it was the latest conquest; but as a matter of fact it is the older of the two."
The poor priest took refuge in silence; shaking his head, and evidently taking me for a madman.
I tried vainly to find Hannibal's head, and the inscription in honour of Caesar Claudius, but I found out the remains of the amphitheatre.
The next day I remarked the mosaic pavement, which had been discovered twenty years before.
I reached Valentia at nine o'clock in the morning, and found that I should have to content myself with a bad lodging, as Marescalchi, the opera manager, had taken all the best rooms for the members of his company. Marescalchi was accompanied by his brother, a priest, whom I found decidedly learned for his age. We took a walk together, and he laughed when I proposed going into a cafe, for there was not such a thing in the town. There were only taverns of the lowest class where the wine is not fit to drink. I could scarcely believe it, but Spain is a peculiar country. When I was at Valentia, a good bottle of wine was scarcely obtainable, though Malaga and Alicante were both close at hand.
In the first three days of my stay at Valentia (the birthplace of Alexander VI.), I saw all the objects of interest in the town, and was confirmed in my idea that what seems so admirable in the descriptions of writers and the pictures of artists loses much of its charm on actual inspection.
Though Valentia is blessed with an excellent climate, though it is well watered, situated in the midst of a beautiful country, fertile in all the choicest products of nature, though it is the residence of many of the most distinguished of the Spanish nobility, though its women are the most handsome in Spain, though it has the advantage of being the seat of an archbishop; in spite of all these commodities, it is a most disagreeable town to live in. One is ill lodged and ill fed, there is no good wine and no good company, there is not even any intellectual provision, for though there is a university, lettered men are absolutely unknown.