Tribunal de las Aguas – Tribunal of the Waters

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One of Valencia’s most well-known regular events is the Tribunal de las Aguas, which is held every Thursday at noon outside the Puerta de los Apostles in the Plaza de la Virgen.

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The Tribunal’s fame is due mainly to its age. It’s difficult to find definitive information about exactly when the tribunals began — Wikipedia (in Spanish) says that no accurate date exists — but most seem to agree the legislative process still in use today was inaugurated by King Jamie I almost 800 years ago.

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Adjudicators representing the 8 huertas (irrigated areas) surrounding the city are elected democratically every 2 years to sit on the council. They hear arguments concerning the fair use of the irrigation system, and their decisions are final. The proceedings are oral, entirely in Valencian, and there are no records kept.

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The history might be fascinating, but the tribunal itself isn’t. We went this past Thursday, arriving 15 minutes early to jostle with huge groups of school children for a decent view. The council members arrived promptly at 12:00, heard one argument, then got up and left at 12:05. I don’t know what I was expecting — it’s not like a “water council” is going to decree someone’s immediate beheading — but the quickness with which it was all over left me unsatisfied.

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Perhaps there just aren’t that many water disputes nowadays. Although it’s one of the “top tips” in every guide book about the city, HolaValencia recommends that you skip the Tribunal de las Aguas if you’re at all pressed for time… unless you’re fascinated with irrigation history or enjoy watching old men babble for a few minutes in a language you don’t understand.

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