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The Town With a Grudge

Revenge is a confession of pain.

Latin proverb
Castle of Xàtiva

Only an hour train ride south from our current home in Valencia, Spain, lies the town of Xàtiva. Before arriving here, we’d never heard of the place. But it was well known by famous people through the age including General Hannibal of Carthage, General Scipio of Rome, and the Borgias. Xàtiva is also known for being able to hold a grudge—in a unique way. 

We chose this town for a day trip because it has a castle that dates to Roman times and it was a convenient train ride. We didn’t expect it to be so fascinating. 

Our first stop was a local information center, just a few blocks from the train station. The woman there gave us an overview of some of the sites, including the castle. Her most difficult task was to teach us how to pronounce the name of the town: Shah-tea-va. I nearly choked trying to pronounce it before. 

She also told us about…the grudge. 

But first, the castle. From the train station it’s about a forty minute hike up the hill that looks down upon the main town. They also have a tourist train to carry people up. It’s a steep hike up to the fortifications, but well worth it. 

The castle played a role in historical battles in this region, including the one that led to…the grudge.

Frankly, we just loved exploring it. The upper, or newer castle, dates to medieval times. It includes prison cells, ramparts, chapels, and rooms dedicated to the Borgia family. The view down into the valley is spectacular.

The lower section dates to Roman times. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, Hannibal stayed here and planned elements of his campaign against Rome. His wife bore him a son in the castle. Although Hannibal had his famous elephants in Spain, I’m not sure if they stayed in the castle. Seems like tight quarters for pachyderms.

Our meandering tour took us about ninety minutes—not including lunch at the restaurant located onsite. 

Back down in the town proper is the evidence of, the grudge. In the historical and art museum, Casa de L’Ensenyanca, hangs the painted portrait of a Spanish monarch, upside down. 

King Felipe V

It’s complicated.

Early in the 1700s the War of Spanish Secession was fought over, among other things, who would be the king of Spain. In 1707 forces opposing King Felipe V holed up in the walled city of Xàtiva. 

Felipe didn’t take kindly to this.

After a month, the city fell and Felipe ordered the city burned to the ground. It burned for eight days. To this day the people of Xàtiva are know as “Socarrats” or, “the scorched.”

After the city was devastated, a local painter was commissioned to paint a portrait of the victorious, vengeful, king. Eventually the city was rebuilt and the portrait placed on exhibit. 

But in 1940, the museum curator ordered the portrait to be hung upside down as protest for the indignity the city suffered over two hundred years before. According to our source at the information center, the museum has offered to turn it right side up if the current king of Spain, Felipe VI, will apologize for the burning of the town by his predecessor.

The painting still hangs there, upside down. 

We only spent a day in this fascinating city. I expect we’ll be back.

For more information on Xàtiva check out:

Hillside sculpture honoring pelota, or Spanish handball

Trip Update: We expected to spend only four weeks in Valencia, but will be here for six. We spend Thanksgiving week in Madrid, and then return to the Seattle area. 

2 thoughts on “The Town With a Grudge”

  1. Gorgeous city–you chose a perfect day to photograph! And fascinating–too bad the current king won’ “pay the two dollars”.

    1. The day did turn out well. What you don’t see are photos of the thirty minutes we spent under a gate while it poured rain!
      And I think the locals are glad they didn’t get an apology. A right-side-up painting wouldn’t attract nearly as many tourists.

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