March 26

The Fallas in Valencia: the Beauty of Fire

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The Fallas in Valencia are a traditional holiday that has become a unique celebration in the world.

Declared of interest to humanity by UNESCO they have become extremely popular among tourists who flock here during the month of March on time to welcome the pleasant spring weather and participate this extraordinary fiesta not that will not go unnoticed, rivaling or probably surpassing the famous “Tomatina” held in the nearby town of Buñol.

falla burning
Photo @ Flickr by Joe Calhoun

What are Fallas?

Designed and created by renowned artists, painters, sculptors and architects, these craftsmen spend months designing and constructing Las Fallas- no easy feat, as they can soar up to 30 meters tall! Masterfully-created, the colorful Fallas – made of papier maché and wood – depict well-known celebrities, politicians and current events of the past year in a famously satirical manner.

The constructors are given exactly one night to fully erect their masterpieces. By daybreak on March 16th, Valencia’s public squares and open spaces suddenly become exhibition areas for these incredible pieces of artwork. Three days later – at midnight on the Feast Day of San José – the city quite literally lights up.

The figures, which represents a whole year’s work for hundreds of people, are burnt on the night of 19 March in towering flames, and each bonfire is a temple devoted to this colossal festival of fire. The crafty individuals behind each of the hundreds of Fallas in Valencia watch as – to the deafening cheers of thousands – the fruits of their talents and labors burst into flames and eventually meet their end as piles of discarded ash are blown by gentle breezes and put off by nearby firemen.

fallas in valencia
Admiring the Fallas a few hours before being burned

The History of Fallas

The origins of the festival are rather humble but not yet clear as there is hardly any documentary evidence. The most widely accepted of the three main theories is that the origin of the Fallas could have happened at the time of the medieval guilds as the first written testimonies of the Valencian Fallas date from the middle of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th.

On the night of St. Joseph the carpenters’ guild used to light a bonfire in honour of the saint. In it they burnt the standing pole on which they had kept their lamp during the winter – the estai – and the sweepings from the workshop. Which the passage of time, however, matting and various old pieces of junk were added.

The custom of burning an effigy in the blaze is somewhat subsequent. The feuds between the different workshops provoked the creation of grotesque figures which represented rivals, for the purpose of making everyone laugh at them. These effigies were thrown onto the fire together with the old pieces of junk.

In the Middle Ages the artisans took out their broken artifacts and pieces of wood, burning them to celebrate the spring equinox.

Fallas Valencia festival
The intricate effigies are a true piece of art.

Food During Fallas

While all the food popular during Fallas can be found at any time of the year, it is true that it is easier to find and certainly more appreciated during this month. As much of the city becomes pedestrian only food stalls pop out out of every corner and the time to indulge in otherwise not-so healthy delicacies begins.

Of all the delicious foods to be found there are three that stand out above the rest: churros, buñuelos and of course, paella. Churros are a long stick of deep fried dough covered with sugar, and sometimes with chocolate or filled by jelly, chocolate cream and similar. Buñuelos are somewhat similar in the making but lack that stick shape, and paella the mother of all Valencian dishes is primarily a fabulously flavorful rice dish, with all manner of “tropezones”, tasty bits and pieces of meats, some seafood, beans and vegetables.

 

 

The Mascletá

A mascleta is an audio firework display that takes place throughout the Fallas festival in Valencia. Unlike the nightly firework shows that are all about color and visual splendor, the mascletás make up for with their sonic impact.

Hundreds of little and not so little explosions are carefully choreographed to provide the most phonically experience you could possibly be subjected to in Spain. Each small barrio usually has one of its own at around noon, but to witness the largest and loudest of them all make your way to the Plza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) any of the first 19 days of March.

First timers will definitely be impressed by how loud they are, and I guarantee young children will get scared. Perhaps this is as good a moment as any to mention that during Fallas firecrackers are to be found anywhere and everywhere. They are also loud, and potentially dangerous, so if you plan on throwing some around while here you might want to consider getting Spain travel insurance

The Fiesta

The Fallas in Valencia are divided into seven important stages: the nomination and proclamation of the Queens of the Fallas for the year, the Exaltation, the Crida, the Cavalcade of the Ninot the Offering of Flowers, the Planta and the Crema.

The Exaltation is, with the Offering of Flowers, one of the most colorful moments of the Fallas. In this ceremony, the city’s citizens and the various institutions pay homage to the Falla Queens who receive their sashes and jewels of office in the Palau de la Musica. As the Attendant Courts of the Falla Queen and the Falla Princess go up to the stage, the place begins to be filled with baskets of flowers donated by Valencian and a few Spanish collectives. One of the most important figures at the Exaltation is the chairman, who represents the world of culture and makes a speech to all those present which can be of a justificatory or political nature- or sometimes just poetic.

The Offering of Flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken in the ceremony for which Valencia is entirely dressed in its best and renders homage at the feet of her patron saint, offering thousands of bouquets of flowers, baskets of posies and floral shrine arrangements. During the twenty-four hours during which the Offering lasts, the Virgin, fondly referred to by the Valencians as “Geperudeta”, receives her tribute. On this day, the sobriquet of Valencia, city of flowers becomes reality, and the Basilica square becomes a beautiful and colorful garden, with more than thirty tons of flowers decorating just one of the principal squares of the city.

falla burning
Falla burning in Valencia

The “Planta” is the ceremony everyone awaits with impatience. On March 15 the papier-mâché effigies are assembled, not without a considerable struggle, in the squares and streets of Valencia. Hundreds of these Fallas invade the city, as many as there are houses to make them. The effigies and ninots (representations of public figures) are admired by both the Valencians and the tourists. The Fallas show off their lively colors and enormous size, and make clear which personalities have been the focus of public opinion and attention- there are few Spanish politicians who escape from the satire of the “fallero” masters!

The Crema is the culmination of the Fallas. For some it is the saddest moment, while for others it is the highest point of the festival. At around midnight, On the night of the feast of St. Joseph, 19th March, the Fallas are lit. The last effigies to be devoured by the flames are those Fallas that have been awarded prizes by the General Fallas Committee and those in the City Hall square. Only one “Ninot” is saved each year from the flames by popular vote, and exhibited in the Museum of the Ninot together with those from various years which won the same privilege.

As the city goes up in flames hundreds of thousands of people cheer, hug, and some even cry as they watch the Fallas fall and burn. The months of work together with the long partying nights are over, and the most important festival of the city comes to an end. But all is not lost, as the countdown begins in Valencia for the Fallas of the following year!

Resources

Museum of Falleros Artisans (with the Ninots): http://www.gremiodeartistasfalleros.com/museo.html

The city of Valencia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valencia

Tourism board of Valencia http://www.turisvalencia.es/home.aspx?elemento=Home

Have you visited Valencia during Fallas? What did you think about the fiesta? And the ninots? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you think others might find it helpful!


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    1. Haha…it’s a win-win situation isn’t it Simon? You have a blast while seeing something new and treat your buds with great flavors!

    1. I am surprised to learn that several of well traveled people had never head about Fallas! Great you do know about them now though 🙂

  1. Makes me think of ‘carnaval’ here in Belgium, only we don’t burn the creations afterwards.
    And darn, I’m feeling like some churros right now.

    1. And to think that I lived in Brussels for two years but never quite thought about it… By the way, any time is a good time for churros 🙂

  2. I was just not aware of this fest but I am happy that I know about this one know. Will surely participate in this fest next year around if I travel to Spain for any of my business trips. Looks quite a lot of fun.

  3. Feel so sad to see those statues burning in front of my eyes but still I would say that it is a great fest. We have a great time on this day with the environment getting crazy. It is the best fest in the life of a spaniard.

  4. Great photos on Fallas. Also recommend for more fun travel in Spain to go to the horse festival in Jerez, Feria in Seville, and just about any festival is amazing in Spain.

  5. Guys, this piece of information is entirely wrong: paella the mother of all Valencian dishes is primarily a fabulously flavorful rice dish, with all manner of “tropezones”, tasty bits and pieces of meats, fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

    We definitely do not put fruits or nuts in paella.

    1. Well, I certainly have to admit you are totally right. I’m not sure how those ingredients ended up in the article, as they are certainly not present. I just edited it! Thanks for taking the time to get in touch!

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