When I moved to Valencia, I had no idea Fallas existed. The term Fallas refers to the Valencian celebration and the monuments that are created and burnt during said celebration. These festivities are widely renowned in Spain, yet they were completely unknown to me in my first year in this beautiful sunny city. And boy, did I get a surprise! When ninots and fallas started appearing, I was blown away by the colourful statues that were scattered around Valencia, on virtually every street corner. When I felt the thundering bangs of the mascletà race through my body, I finally understood the Valencian’s love of gunpowder. When I bit into the soft, sugary dough of a buñuelo, I couldn’t wait to buy more! By and large, Fallas is a unique festival which plays on your senses and brings out the revellers in all of us. So, can you name five events not to be missed during this unique celebration?
On 1st March, Valencians, tourists and falleros alike, fill the city’s main city hall square. An enormous cage stands in the middle, surrounded by thousands of spectators looking at hanging strings of what look like toilet rolls packed with gunpowder. The expectant crowd waits on the tip of their toes for the warning bang, eager to feel the thrill of the blasts coursing through their veins. At my first mascletà, I didn’t get it. Fireworks during the daytime? What’s the point? You can’t see pretty colours lighting up the sky if it’s sunny. So, what is it about this event that has everyone bopping on their feet? Well, after my first mascletà it was easy to understand. It’s difficult to put into words what it feels like to have so much gunpowder go off right in front of you, how the shockwave jolts a rush of adrenaline and makes you shudder. The event lasts about five minutes and builds up to a final crescendo. Done right, by the end you’ll feel the ground shake beneath your feet, a true masterpiece. You have to experience it to understand. At times it’s also a visual feast, as clouds of pink, green and blue smoke rise into the sky. Don’t worry, you’ll utter your oohs and aahs. The mascletà is the longest event held during Fallas as the first one starts on 1st March and they continue every day religiously at 2pm until 19th, the night of the Cremà. So, there are tonnes of opportunities to enjoy this event. Just make sure to get there around midday so you can find a good spot before the first bang at two o’clock.
What does the ofrenda involve? The ofrenda or offering is one of the most moving acts for the falleros. It consists of a small pilgrimage, from their falla to the Plaza de la Virgen, carrying a bouquet of flowers to the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Foresaken), a 15-metre-tall wooden structure towering over the square it is put up in. And what a sight it is to see! The falleros are all decked out in traditional 18th century dress. The men and boys wear black trousers and an embroidered waistcoat over a white shirt with a stiff collar and a sash around their hips, whereas the women and girls wear vibrantly coloured embroidered gowns, their heads decorated with golden finery and lace veils falling down their backs. It’s quite a sight to behold. I was mesmerised the first time I witnessed it, as the dazzling pattern made up of flowers on the Virgin’s cloak slowly began to appear as each fallero handed over their bouquets to the men and women hanging from the structure who placed each flower in its designated space. The bare wooden structure slowly becomes a virgin wearing a flowery cloak. If you don’t want to miss out on all the finery, head over to the Plaza de la Virgen on 17th and 18th March and watch as the falleros rejoice over their pilgrimage.
The origin of Fallas dates back to 1774. They were initiated by the guild of carpenters, who burned the shavings and old leftover junk from their workshops in a purifying bonfire before the spring, on the eve of the day of their patron Saint Joseph. As the years went by these old shavings and junk slowly took the shape of ninots. So, what is a ninot? A ninot (from the Valencian «doll») is a papier-mâché figure that makes up a falla. One of the most striking things about these great figures is that they are usually of a satirical nature, mocking some of the key players in current affairs. They can also be of a vindictive character, guaranteed to make you burst out laughing. I couldn’t help myself after seeing some of the most frightening political leaders donned in outrageous women’s apparel. Needless to say, some of these ninots will make you look at world issues in a completely new light. They might even cause sadness at times. This year’s Falla in the city hall square is a perfect example, with one of its ninots being a melting polar bear. You’re bound to be taken aback, but that’s part of the beauty of it. They will make you stop and think. The other part is simply the workmanship involved. It takes a year to build one of these complex and ornamental figures, and the level of detail is awe-inspiring. So, one of the must dos in Fallas is to take a stroll around the city and soak up the beauty on every street corner. You don’t even need to plan out a route as no matter where you’re heading, you’ll certainly have your breath taken away.
Nit del Foc
Who doesn’t love a good firework display? Well, if we’ve learnt anything from the Valencian’s love for gunpowder is that they definitely know how to put on a good show and la Nit del Foc is the biggest one of them all. Between 500,000 and 800,000 people congregate around the Puente de las Flores bridge on 18th March at 01:30 am awaiting the shattering sparks, whirling spirals and luminous waterfalls that light up the sky in an array of bright colours. La Nit del Foc is the longest firework display in Valencia and lasts around twenty minutes, and it is a wonderful feast for the senses. But that’s not the only reason people congregate. The atmosphere will take you by storm. Local bands gather and you’ll find yourself swaying to the infectious rhythm of drums and the melodic sound of wind instruments. The scent of buñuelos and churros floats in the air, seducing you into sinking your teeth into the fried, sugary dough, despite those extra calories. All in all, it’s a magical night and one you shouldn’t miss out on. So, before having one drink too many, make sure to head to Valencia’s riverbed on the night of the 18th. You won’t regret it!
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and the Cremà marks the end of the Valencian festivities. After five days of non-stop partying, the time has come to burn down the ninots and the fallas. To be perfectly honest, I was shocked when I learnt that the falleros simply burned these amazing figures. Why in the world would they let their precious work go up in flames? It’s heart-breaking! But it took a wise-old fallero to explain it to me. From the beginning, Fallas have always been about starting anew. Think of the phoenix rising from the ashes. On this day we burn our ties to the past and look forward to the future. It’s an opportunity for new beginnings. That’s what the Cremà is all about, and what a show it is! By day number five, most of us drag our feet to the nearest falla, or the one in the city hall square. You’d think it would take a long time to burn such a structure down, but you’d be surprised by how fast it goes. One minute you hear the sharp crack of firecrackers popping and the next you feel an extreme blast of heat, nearly singeing the ends of your hair. It’s remarkable. The night of the Cremà is the busiest time for firefighters in Valencia and they are always on hand as the burning ceremony unfolds. Eventually, they point their fire hoses onto the blaze, dousing the flames. Each falla ends up being burnt at a different time, so if you plan properly, you can make it to several displays in one night. What I love best about the Cremà is that the sky takes on an orange glow and the city’s alive. If you’ve made it through the rest of the festivities, then the Cremà is the perfect way to end them all.
Well, we hope we’ve helped you out with your plans for these Fallas and if your goal is to learn Spanish, at Crown Idiomas we offer online courses, with native and experienced teachers, to give you the final push you need to achieve your goal. If you are looking for an experienced language school that offers Spanish courses, French courses, and German courses with guarantees where you can obtain your official qualification, contact us. We will listen to you, advise you and look for the best solution to your needs.