Las Fallas

Fallas Valencia

‘La Nit de Foc’ – Valencia

Whilst thousands of festivals are celebrated all over Spain throughout the year there are only a few that bring overseas visitors specifically for the event. The Fallas fiesta which takes place in Valencia from 15th to the 19th of March every year is undoubtedly one of those ‘super-festivals’ attracting many foreign visitors as well as Spanish tourists from all over the country. This was the first major festival I ever went to in Spain and to this day cannot get over the sheer craziness of it all.

San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of carpenters, is the official focus for the festival. It all started back in the Middle Ages when carpenters used to hang up planks of wood called ‘parots’ in the winter to support their candles when they were working. At the onset of spring these pieces of wood would be burned as a way of celebrating the end of dark, winter working days. After a while they began to put clothing on the ‘parot’ and then started to try to make it identifiable with a well-known local personality. These became the forerunners of the contemporary ‘ninots’, the enormous cardboard, wooden, polyurethane, Styrofoam, cork, plaster and papier maché figures of today. The authorities later decided to link the burning of the ‘parots’ with Saint Joseph’s Day to try to stop it getting out of control!.

Nowadays, each neighbourhood has an organising committee, the ‘casal faller’, who raise the necessary finances for constructing the ‘ninots’. There is even an area of the city called the ‘Ciutat Fallera’ where whole groups of workers and designers spend months creating all the incredible towering tableaux. The ‘ninots’, which are placed at key places throughout the city, are nowadays often cruel satirical lampoons of well-known Spanish and international celebrities or politicians.

A Day at the Fallas

If you decide to go to the Fallas festival prepare for an early start. Each day begins with a startling wake-up call called ‘La Despertà’ at the ridiculous time (in Spain) of 8am. You’ll just love being woken by brass bands marching down the streets accompanied by those preposterously loud firecrackers; which themselves activate car and shop alarms – just to make sure you’re ready for a day’s fun.

All day, you’ll see processions and hear explosions and then at 2pm ‘La Mascletà’ begins when there are organised pyrotechnical explosions all over the city, especially in the city’s main square, the Plaza Ayuntamiento. At first you’ll think they’re earth-shattering but they’re just an appetizer for what will come later.

On each night there is a firework display in the old river bed and they escalate in degrees of spectacle until the final night, 19th March, the Night of Fire – ‘La Nit de Foc’. This is the famous event when the enormous creations are destroyed. Neighbourhoods will have their own ‘falla infantile’ for the children at about 10pm and then, at around midnight, the neighbourhood ‘fallas’ will begin. The final, grandest fire, in the Plaza Ayuntamiento, won’t get under way until 1am at the earliest with huge crowds waiting in eager anticipation of the burning. The ‘ninots’ will all have been stuffed full with fireworks, the street lights switched off and the firemen will be in position when the 20 to 30 foot models, which took months of painstaking construction, will be razed to the ground. Each year, one ‘ninot’ is spared the ordeal – as a result of a public vote: the rest suffer a spectacular fate.

'Ninots' in Valencia
Typical 'Fallas' in Valencia

Noisy Like Nowhere Else

However loud you think this is going to be you’ll be wrong. There is no way of beginning to describe the amount of noise generated. Pregnant women are forbidden from attending and each year people are injured or faint. It is true that you should keep your mouth open to allow the sound to escape and not echo around your head – or something like that – but be prepared to feel the ground shake beneath your feet and your head to spin uncontrollably. This is an adrenaline rush with few equals and a completely unique experience.

And please don’t think you can rest up during the day to prepare yourself for the evening’s bombardments. After you’ve been unceremoniously startled awake at 8 o’clock the whole of Valencia is one enormous street party, with various parades, pageants, beauty shows, paella competitions and bullfights all over the city.

Whilst photos of the event give you some idea what the effigies are like they cannot portray the atmosphere of the city during this crazy fiesta. The following video goes some way to giving you a feel for street life during the festival. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a news report on TV from a war zone!

Hotels in Valencia and the surrounding areas sell out many months before the Fallas festivals so be sure to book your Valencia hotel well in advance. And make sure you don’t ever book to go back to work on March 21st: you’ll need at least two days rest and relaxation before you can even think about it!

If you’ve been to the Fallas festival please let us know what you thought of it in the comments section below.

Reader Comments:

  1. Jerry says

    Hola Gerry

    I’ve not yet been to Valencia for either of the big festivals, but your article in my e-mailbox today certainly made me think about it, and it brightened up a very gloomy morning here in the northwest of England.

    Thank you.

    Jerry

    • Brian Parker says

      If you stand as near as you can to the middle of the Plaza you will experience quadraphonic sound . The noise appears to wrap itself around you like a blanket. I have never felt this before. Your chest also vibrates from the shock waves from the explosions. You cannot explain it – just go like we did for the experience
      Brian

  2. Mervyn Davies says

    By luck and chance last year my wife and I went to Benidorm and stayed at the Magic Rock Gardens for nine days, from the 13th March to the 22nd March. Mystified at first as to what everything was about we eventually found out from the staff at the Hotel. What a brilliant time we had walking around and seeing the exhibits in the three locations. We’ve always liked Benidorm, and we were also able to see on TV what was happening in Valencia, with the parades of people carrying bunches of flowers for the really large figure of (I think) the Virgin Mary. It could never happen in this country (England) let alone a region of it.

    We will be going back at some time in the future.

  3. Maureen Hatch says

    The most spectacular and awesome firework display in the world. Brings tears to my eyes when they burn the efigies. Because our best friends live in Almassarra we always get involved in the village burn, so friendly and as we are guests of their village, drinks and food are always free to us – so sad that we couldn’t get over there this year.
    The downside is the cost of the flights to Valencia triple in price, we are fortunate in staying with friends so the cost to us is more than halved.

    Will be back next year.

  4. Kathleen Hart says

    In 1968 I was attending La Universidad de Valencia for a semester. I was there for Las Fallas. It was an incredible experience. I distinctly remember the Desperta …jumping up in my bed while the firecrackers blasted! Unforgettable!! A group of us students went to the Main Plaza to witness the final event on March 19th. Truth be told, it was scary!! So hard to believe that all of the magnificent creations were burnt to ashes .
    After the burning, we strolled around and got lost…we wound up in the Barrio Chino…..the Red Light District!! We saw a sign that read “Clinica Verereal” and scantily clad women hanging in doorways! We didn’t expect that in Franco’s Spain.That was another unbelievable experience for us 20 year old Americanas….certainly not on the tourist route.
    I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to experience this event, I have been back to Spain many times over the years…but there was only one Fallas for me.

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Kathleen

      Thanks so much for sending us your story of the Fallas. It must have been quite an experience.

      Best Regards

      Gerry

  5. Nancy Hudson says

    The festival of Las Fallas is fantastic. There are fireworks and bangs going off all day and into the night. The huge fallas have to be seen to be believed, and they are built at city centre crossroads, and near to ancient buildings. When they are set alight on 19 March, the bomberos have to be in attendance to damp down buildings and extinguish trees which catch fire! The firework display at 2.00 pm every day outside the townhall is so noisy that the ground shakes. Other things not to be missed are the flower parade which takes place on two nights, with ladies dressed in beautiful traditional costumes, the fire and demons parade and the ninots exhibition. I would highly recommend anyone to visit for the duration of the festival.

  6. Bob says

    We were in valencia 2 years ago for the fallas- absolutely unbelievable. To see the ladies and children dressed in their finery to bring their bunches of flowers to the madonna being prepared by the cathedral is astonishing. In groups of 4, each lady with a specific bunch of flowers, they delivered their flowers for more than 20 hours, thousands of ladies must have taken part. All on local TV, together with the lunchtime fireworks and the bullfighting from the arena, this is a very special festival. The Spanish do not really care what the fireworks look like, as long as they make a loud noise. The day we went to the lunchtime display the noise reached 128 decibels, the ground and buildings shook and the local Cruz Rioja were there to ensure people did not cover their ears during the bangs – otherwise eardrums can shatter. Absolute must see

  7. LaRae Groves says

    I have seen “Las Fallas” twice and am from Anchorage, Alaska and have taught Spanish and English for 28 years. The first time I saw it in the 70′s it rained so they could not burn the “big one.” The second time (in the 70′s) when they did it was absolutely awesome. I really appreciate the explanation since otherwise, even having picked up brochures etc., I could only guess at what it was all about. Now I know.

  8. Julian Pearce says

    Have enjoyed the ‘Fallas@ in Denia and awesome event, fortunate to be staying with friends.

    Advice – park outside of town and go in by train or bus as many streets are blocked. Enjoy!

  9. Dom Mellonie says

    So – tonight is the final night of Las Fallas: La Nit Del Foc. I first experienced Las Fallas in 89 when I was studying over there. It absolutely rodded it down with rain and quite a few of the organised events were cancelled … but it was still an amazing few days and La Nit Del Foc was stunning (despite the rain!). I’ve been back a few times since – sadly not recently. But every year during these few days, I always think of the amazing events, sights and sounds (VERY LOUD SOUNDS…24/7!)…and the smell of “el Polvo” (gunpowder).

    Ian Gibson’s sublime TV series in 1992, “Fire In The Blood” had an interview with a Valenciano who spoke about the love most of the Valencianos have for these amazing fiestas. He said that whilst he was doing “La Mili”, he couldn’t go back to celebrate Las Fallas and cried on La Nit De La Crema. Now cynics out there might pour scorn on this but – do you know what – I get what he means.

    It’s a mad few days and a real mixture of Paganism, Religious Reverie…and loads of noise and merry-making. The ‘Mascleta’ really symbolises the whole thing – madness as the whole city comes to a standstill. When I was there they even broadcast the Mascleta every day….on the radio.

    Felices Festes, Valencia. I’ll be back one day and until then a little bit of me is always thinking of these unique fiestas during these days.

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Thanks Dom

      I really understand what you mean about just how a person can fall in love with such fiestas so much so that they become a part of the person. Such is the love affair that Spanish people have for their local festivals that I think the majority experience this lifelong feeling and attachment to their town’s fiestas and they’ll always try to be there if they can. If they can’t attend they long to be there during every day of the festivities. Your words describe how you too have ‘caught the bug’.

      Hope you manage to get back to Valencia soon.

      Gerry

  10. Jon Dunn says

    I’ve been three times and been based at Alcira, Cullera and then in central Valencia. There’s no hiding place throughout the entire province of Valencia! Nothing can quite prepare you for the five days of mayhem, partying and firecrackers / fireworks to follow! (Shame your video has fairly tame soundtrack music, rather than the actual sounds of the pyrotechnics involved). There are street parties, live bands on makeshift stages, people selling rum punch and their own variants of Sangria and it’s mental!

    The only real “solemn” part is the ‘Offrenda des flores” to the giant virgin Mary outside the cathedral, where all the barrios of the city file past and offer bunches of different coloured flowers which are placed on a giant wooden framework to make up a gigantic floral model of virgin and child. I and my two friends were invited to march with one of the barrios – albeit right at the back, but what an honour!!

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Jon

      Thanks so much for your great description. I know what you mean about the video, the reality is more like being in a war zone.

      Regards

      Gerry

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