There is an old joke, not so funny when you think about the high standards of journalism to which we all adhere, about the Pope arriving at JFK airport and a reporter asking him if he planned to visit any brothels during his stay.
The Pope, in all innocence replies “are there brothels in New York?” and the headline next day is ‘Pope Asks if there are Brothels in New York’.
When you think about Valencia, brothels are not the first form of refreshment to spring to mind. You are more likely to think of an Horchata, made out of tiger nuts, or a Sangria, or even one of the various cocktails served in the city that has produced some of the best barmen in Spain, such as Spanish champions Iván Martínez and Hilario Fombuena.
Nevertheless, if you had been a medieval tourist in Valencia, then you may well have been attracted to the city that never sleeps, like Casanova who visited in 1769 after the brothel had been shut down, but was, nevertheless, impressed by the lasciviousness of Valencians.
Between 1325 and 1671 Valencia had what may well have been one of the biggest and best brothels in the world; and it was legal, unless you were Jewish or Muslim of course!
At first this enormous complex housing ladies of the night was situated outside the city walls, in the vicinity of Guillem de Castro, but in 1356 the area enclosed by the walls was expanded and the brothel included among the city’s inner attractions.
It should be remembered that during that epoch, at sunset the cathedral bells would chime and the city gates would be closed, and that Valencia’s brothel was one of very few that were inside the walls when all the beer had flowed and men’s thoughts turned to what men’s thoughts turn to. Also the medical controls were notoriously better in Valencia.
The party didn’t last of course and it was that famous wet blanket King Carlos II who closed down all the brothels in Spain. The last Valencian prostitutes were taken to the Convent of San Gregorio, situated in Calle San Vicente, where the Olympia Theatre is located today.
Sexual entrepreneurship is not dead in Valencia however; one resourceful Valencian travel agency organises tours of the brothel’s location, a tour that includes aphrodisiacal tapas and an exhibition of Shibari, as described in the book 50 Shades of Grey.