Finally, Las Fallas!
Valencia Spain, 15th – 19th March 2022.
Las Fallas Festival.
Las Fallas is a festival held every year to celebrate the arrival of Spring and to commemorate Saint Joseph (the Patron saint of carpentry). The festival comprises of several events, not least of which are: the building and display of Las Fallas (comprising structures and figures ‘Ninots’), parades around the city in traditional costume with music provided by marching bands, the Ofrenda (a flower offering to the Virgin Mary where a huge statue structure is covered in flowers), Nit Del Foc fireworks display, the Mascleta (pyrotechnics displays of firecracker detonation) and finally La Crema (where they burn the Fallas).
Add to the above, street markets, (did I mention the ‘endless’) host of parades everyday (of men, women and children all looking very colorful in their respective traditional dress) each with their own marching bands, and what seemed like a never-ending stream of firecrackers from early morning to late at night. It’s no wonder Valencia sees an influx of well over a million visitors during what’s billed as ‘Europe’s loudest festival’. Each neighborhood has its own organized ‘Casal faller‘ (there are some 400 registered in Valencia) that raises funds and build the fallas and I only managed to capture a small number despite walking all over the city during my week-long visit.
An amazing part of this festival is that the fallas are actually burnt at the end of the week in a spectacular display, especially given they are actually situated in mainly small spaces at the junction of streets all over the city. This event, called La Crema, is carried out on the Friday night and takes the festivities well into the early hours of Saturday morning (see the dramatic photos later in this article).
La Ofrenda a la Virgen
On the Thursday of Las Fallas week I made my way to La Plaza de la Virgen to watch the Ofrenda. A giant statue / framework (see below) is covered in flowers and the parades bring more flowers as an offering to the Virgen Mary. The building of the flowered statue carried on through the next day and was completed late in the evening as the paraders continually contribute huge bouquets to the spectacle.
Although the main part of the festival is a five-day event, some parts start a lot earlier in the month and carry on right through until the final day of the festival. One such spectacle is La Mascleta. Held every day around 2pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, a large caged area holds an incredible amount of very loud, very smoky firecrackers which result in a fairly short but extremely noisy pyrotechnic display. I arrived there an hour early and crowds tended to be at least ten-deep by ‘show-time’.
The above photos show part of the caged area with all the pyrotechnics setup ready to be lit. The video below gives some small idea of what it was like, but certainly doesn’t convey how extremely noisy and smoky the displays are. I attended three Mascletas in all to gain perspectives from different areas of the plaza and all were just as deafening!
Each neighborhood decorates their streets with lights and vendors sell food and drink, especially churros (a sweet-dough spiral that is deep-fried and eaten like a doughnut, usually coated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar). The falleras (female) and falleros (male) resplendent in their traditional Valencian regional costumes parade all over the city accompanied by their own marching bands.
Now you may be thinking that given the high cost and the large amount of work and time that obviously went into the making of the Fallas and Ninots that they would be taken down and carefully stored away for another year.
That is certainly not the case here, as come Friday night they are set alight and burnt to the ground in spectacular fashion, its called La Crema. The only survivors are those that win the best fallas competition which are rescued and displayed in the Valencia fallas museum.
I’ve always loved traveling and visiting cities and have done just that for many years. Then a couple of years ago I suddenly had an epiphany (not in the religious sense, but direct from the Greek ‘an experience of a sudden and striking realization’). Why don’t I visit these cities/regions when there is a major cultural event happening? And that’s how I ‘discovered’ Las Fallas. It was a great experience, and I thoroughly recommend a visit to Valencia while its taking place. Every year around mid-March its a great way to exercise all five senses!