Already two years ago, I have been here for Las Fallas, but only for about 24 hours. Back then I was a little disappointed, that I didn’t see the peak of the festival. But this year, things would be different!
Due to random circumstances, I changed my planned route and went back to València a few weeks ago. I knew, that the annual festival was approaching, but originally I didn’t even plan to stay until their beginning. When that changed, I thought I might as well extend my stay and finally see the city in flames.
According to my local friends, the huge Fiesta started one week early this year.
On March 1st we got to enjoy the first, so called Mascletà, a firework show by daylight, that is aimed to imitate the rhythm and sometimes even the melody of a song.
This first one was the introduction to three weeks filled with exploding gun powder and has set a new record in length, since it took 15, instead of 5 minutes.
In none of the Mascletàs I have heard, I could actually recognize a song, but they are rather impressive anyway, due to their final bombardement of the sky that gets the ground beneath the audience’s feet shaking.
Sadly, I could only find parking spots close to the areas where they shot, and so I experienced one Mascletà when I was in the van. It kinda felt like Hermes was falling apart…
Besides that, the entirety of València’s population seemed to have bought all the gunpowder in existence, only to scare the sh!t out of passers by.
Especially the last week felt like there was a civil war going on. The more shocking it was to me, how easily you get used to constant shooting in the background.
The last week of Las Fallas is definitely the most spectacular one. While we could enjoy costume parades in the weeks prior to this one featuring funny masquerades, the last week the streets belong to the Falleras and Falleros.
The beautiful and yet (in my opinion) slightly over the kitschy top traditional dresses decorate the streets everywhere, worn by women and men of all ages. It’s not uncommon to see buggies with dressed up babies, either.
The men tend to wear traditional costumes that remind a little of pirates with colourful ponchos.
Together with marching bands that seem to have a never ending sortiment of songs to play, they walk the streets of València for hours, every day.
About 700 of these groups wander the city for the entire week and you stop wondering why every now and then you see one of them with painful tears in their eyes. These shoes were not made for walking, but to look pretty.
They all bring little bouquets of red and white flowers as a gift to a huge wooden construction, with the head (and child) of virgin Mary. Those little gifts get tossed up to people climbing around on this construction, who place them in a way, that at the end the entire body of the virgin (that used to be only wood) is covered in a red and white silk coat, made of flowers.
Sometimes you feel like you’ve seen it all. I tend not to be like this, but when it comes to fireworks I thought they wouldn’t excite me too much anymore. After all, I see them at least annually at New Year’s Eve (except for 2014-15, but that’s another story…)
And yet, somehow my friends managed to drag me along to the show that started at 1am, every night in the final week of Las Fallas.
And boy, was I wrong! By now I know why Spain hasn’t got enough money. They literally blow it up!
Nightly the city of València shoots the sky with the most beautiful fire effects I have seen so far. Reaching from hyper-kitschy heart shapes to fire fountains and golden star showers. It all takes 15 minutes, every time and it seems like entire València comes together on the bridges, crossing Jardì del Tùria, the former, but now dry river of the city, that has been transformed into a beautiful park.
Even after I saw the first one, I didn’t want to continue seeing the fireworks anymore. I had seen it. It was gorgeous. But it was also raining and recently I’m not having too much fun in big crowds. And yet, they managed to bring me along anyway. And proved me wrong yet again. For those shows were only getting prettier with every night!
It is a special profession here in València. There are people who do nothing else, all year long, but building them. The Fallas are sculptures with rather comic like features, that tend to be a few storeys high. They are meant to symbolise the mistakes and failures of the past year, sometimes very bluntly, sometimes in a very sarcastic way and at times they are simply beautiful.
While I had a hard time seeing the mistakes, most of them symbolised due to my lack of knowledge about Spanish politics, I surely appreciated the beauty most of them bring to the city after they get set up on the street crossings all over town.
Almost 400 Fallas you could find in the actual city of València, more than 500 including the outskirts.
My favourite I found on the very last day of the festival. A fusion of Venetian buildings, masquerade and… mermaids. If there isn’t a movie about this yet, I have to make it…
All of these spectacles lead up to the 19th of March. After almost three weeks of constant explosion noises, València comes to a certain silence within only six hours.
In those six hours, the city with it’s own little sublanguage – which is called Valencià (notice the change of the accent) – burns the bad ghosts and mistakes from the past year. You have guessed it. The beautiful giants, the Fallas go to the flames.
Those burnings are called La Cremà and happen hourly from 10pm to 3am.
I was lucky enough to experience and film three of them. It still amazes me, how Spain hasn’t gotten into huge fights with the EU yet, when it comes to their fire rituals.
Not only are those burnings quite dangerous, but also they are environmentally unfriendly. The Fallas are mainly made of styrofoam and release a disgusting, thick layer of smog over the city.
Since they are very close to the buildings around, it’s no wonder the crowd of people loudly catches breath when parts of the huge, burning figures fall to the ground.
Not to mention the screams and running, as soon as the wind changes direction and the black smoke and flakes of flames get carried in your direction.
The firefighters are around and – to be fair – most of the time they seemed to have everything under control. And yet, I am surprised València hasn’t burned down over the period this tradition has existed.
I excuse for my little rant about safety here. Because after all, La Cremá de Las Fallas is spectacular like only few things I’ve seen so far and should definitely be put onto your bucket list!
As soon as the last Falla has been turned into a tiny, little pile of ashes – the Spanish surely know how to burn stuff – the city is dipped into silence. At least in the outer districts, the people seem to have vanished from the streets completely and every youngster, who lights one of his remaining firecrackers the coming days is being punished with annoyed looks of the people around.
Las Fallas is not just a festival – a Fiesta. It’s an experience.
Surely not everybody’s cup of tea. But a lot of people’s pint of beer.
If you ever get the chance to see it. Do so.
Usually I share my experiences in the About Wings video episodes. But since they suffer a great time delay, sometimes I write about things, that can’t wait any longer to be shared with you.
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Also, in case you’ve experienced Las Fallas before, we’d happily read your stories in the comment section underneath this post!
PS.: If you are a country or city, that aims to attack Valéncia: Don’t do it during Las Fallas. In those three weeks, the city is one giant pit of gunpowder 😉