Xàtiva was called Saetabis in Roman times and was famous for its linen fabrics, mentioned by the Latin poets Ovid and Catullus. Xàtiva is also known as an early European centre of papermaking. In the 12th century, the Arabs brought the technology for making paper to Xàtiva (Arabic: Shāṭiba). It is the birthplace of two popes, Callixtus III and Alexander VI, and also of the painter José Ribera.

We had the most beautiful weather to explore Xàtiva and visit the museums. After parking, we went to the main market to have a coffee, but nothing was open yet. We decided to try the main street where all the cafés were open, and the coffee was delicious. A marathon race was about to start, and we watched while enjoying our coffee.

* Report by Karla Ingleton Darocas. Hons. B. A.  (

Once the runners had passed, we were able to cross the street and head back to the museum. We stopped in front of the Casa de l'Ensenyament (House of Education), which is now the Xàtiva Museum of Fine Arts. We had to analyse a street installation artwork. It was very interesting and captured our attention.

There was a large clothes rack on which lay several hats and a scarf. On the floor next to it was a huge suitcase. A sign next to the street art read: "The young people marching to defend freedom and the republic thought of returning to Xàtiva to reclaim their lives left at home."

The power of art always helps us to learn and understand. For the Spanish people, it also helps them to remember their past, in the hope that the saying of the great Spanish philosopher Jorge Santayana remains valid. He said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

This dynamic street art actually prompted me to do some research and find out more. This is what I discovered.

The History

On 26 January 1939, when Barcelona fell to General Franco, nearly half a million Spanish republicans fled across the border into France. The crossing was mostly on foot, sometimes in carts or lorries. These long lines of refugees were bombarded by the Francoist army and Italian aviation. Following the motto "every man for himself", the refugees fled through the mountains in snow and cold in the middle of winter

The military and the young refugees were sent to the beaches of Roussillon in Argelès-sur-Mero and Saint-Cyprien. Barbed wire was simply placed around the area. In the first weeks, the refugees had no way to protect themselves from the cold. They buried themselves in the sand to protect themselves. They built their barracks themselves. There was no drinking water. The mortality rate in those first weeks was very high.

After a painful stay in the cold sand of the French beaches, many of the survivors were sent to war as soldiers in the French army, whose troops fought on the various European fronts against the unstoppable advance of the Wehrmacht, the combined forces of Nazi Germany, during World War II (1939-1945).

When France fell and its soldiers were captured with it, the Spanish republicans, who had already survived two wars, became stateless and were sent to the macabre network of Nazi concentration camps at Mauthausen and elsewhere.

Of the 9,161 deportees, 5,166 died in execution or became victims of life in the concentration camps. This is almost 60% of the total number. There were 3,539 survivors, but the whereabouts of the 456 missing are unknown.

The Fine Arts Museum

We now entered the Museum of Fine Arts in Xàtiva. This impressive building was built in the middle of the eighteenth century as an educational institution and was in operation until the end of the last century. It has a baroque façade and above the door is the coat of arms of Archbishop Mayoral, who was the founder of the school.

We were the first at the door and the two women at the cash desk could not have been nicer. When I explained that I was a fine arts teacher and that we had come all the way from the Javea area to see Goya's Caprichos, they were very impressed and gave me free entry and reduced the girls' entrance fee from four euros to two euros because they were fine arts students.

We went straight to the floor where the two complete sets of engravings by Francisco de Goya are exhibited - the Caprichos and the Disparates. These prints offer us irreplaceable testimony to a turbulent time in Spain when Goya lived and worked. His allegorical critique of Spanish society was laced with satirical humour, and it was great to see these works close up We then toured the other areas of this really beautiful museum and enjoyed many of the paintings. We all agreed that we loved the paintings by the unique, award-winning, romantic painter from Madrid, Federico Jiménez Fernández ( 1841-1931), who specialised in painting animals.

Appealing to his classical training, he entered the realm of mythological art by using a proud roaster and three chickens to parody the Greek story The Judgement of Paris. This event led to the Trojan War and, in later versions, to the founding of Rome. According to the mythological image, Paris of Troy, the son of Priam, had to judge and decide on the beauty of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite and give a golden apple to the chosen one. We all agreed that this painting would provide plenty to talk about at the dinner table.

Apocalyptic Events

Then we had our picture taken in front of the legendary painting of the upside-down king, which has a very sad story to tell.

In 1719, a portrait of the new Spanish Bourbon king, Felipe V, was made by the local painter Josep Amorós and placed above the town municipal hall. The canvas was of little artistic or technical value, but it served its purpose. The Bourbon king stands pointing with his right hand to the Battle of Almansa, a decisive clash in the War of the Spanish Succession, but which did not mark the end of the war 

As the Habsburg King Carlos died II without an heir, two foreign princes sought the Spanish monarchy to strengthen their hegemony in both Europe and the Americas. Prince Felipe of France (Duke of Anjou) and the Habsburg Archduke Carlos of Austria (both foreigners) wanted to ascend the throne and the war began, both counting on the intervention of their respective European allies.

After the Battle of Almansa in April 1707, the troops loyal to the Habsburg Carlos were in disarray and retreated to Catalonia. Only a few pockets of resistance held out. One of them was the historic town of Xàtiva. 

For several weeks they made a desperate, suicidal last stand. The French completely devastated the town and killed a large part of the inhabitants. While an estimated 12,000 people lived in Xàtiva before the siege, deaths and emigration reduced the number to 400 the following year. But the most controversial decision was the order dictated by Felipe V himself to set fire to all the houses, buildings and churches.

The fire, which lasted several days, was apocalyptic. The pride of the locals was to suffer even more when the new king ordered that the town be renamed Nueva Colonia de San Felipe and that Valencian administrative privileges be abolished and the Castilian legal and political model be introduced.

After this tragedy, the inhabitants became known as 'Socarrats', which literally means 'the scorched'. 

The Reverse Painting

In 1957, the curator of the old City Museum, Carlos Sarthou, decided to turn the Bourbon painting upside down as a symbolic act to mark the suffering of the people of Xàtiva at the hands of their terrible first Bourbon monarch 

To this day, as an act of solidarity with the people of Xàtiva, it is customary to be photographed with the portrait of Felipe V turned upside down. Art teaches us history once again!

Ionic Columns 

Then we walked a short distance to the Almodí Museum. We stormed through the Palaeolithic artefacts as well as the Iberian, Roman, Visigothic and Muslim pieces and went into the extraordinary Renaissance courtyard with Ionic columns. 

The building itself was an old grain market from the mid-16th century with a Gothic façade.  It was completely modernised inside, except for the courtyard, which was in the adjacent building.

Royal Hospital

We left this building and went down to the old hospital. Founded in 1244 by Jaume I as a royal hospital and rebuilt centuries later, it is one of the most beautiful and interesting buildings in Xàtiva. Apart from its formal beauty, it is interesting fusion of the latest Gothic architecture with the first essays of the Renaissance. 

It is the building that best describes the situation of Valencian architecture in the middle years of the 16th century. The central portal is designed as a triumphal arch with Doric pilasters, frieze, pediments and venerated niches, and belongs entirely to the Renaissance style.


Now, tired and hungry, we returned to the central market and found it bustling with activity. We grabbed a table and a beer and chatted about all the great art we had seen. 

A fabulous day in this great cultural place.