Las Fallas Festival – One of The Most Unique and Crazy Festivals in Spain!
Is the smell of gunpowder something that excites you? Does the sight of flames gives you a big grin from chin to chin? Are any of these things part of what you consider fun? monuments, flowers, traditional costumes, music, satire, emotions and a great deal of fun are the ingredients of a unique cocktail known as the Fallas Fiestas. If you agreed to any of these questions, then the Las Fallas festival of Valencia is your kind of event. A loud, smoky, high-spirited fiesta where the whole town is literally set ablaze!
About the Las Fallas festival
Las Fallas festival is undoubtedly one of the most unique and crazy festivals in Spain. Then again, Spain is a country known for its unique and odd fiestas. It is thought that Las Fallas festival was originally a Pagan fiesta, with huge fires made to burn the wood left over from winter and to celebrate the arrival of spring. In later years, however, Fallas has been more associated with being a celebration held in the commemoration of St Joseph. Today, what started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration involving fire. As a result, Valencia, a quiet city with a population of just over 1 million, swells to an estimated three million flame-loving revelers during Las Fallas festival.
Las Fallas literally means “the fires” in Valencian. From this perspective, the objective of the Las Fallas festival has always been the creation and destruction of ninots (“puppets” or “dolls”), which are huge cardboard, wood, paper-machè and plaster statues. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events. A popular theme is poking fun at corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities. The labor intensive ninots, often costing up to US$75,000, are crafted by neighborhood organizations and take almost the entire year to construct. Many ninots are several stories tall and need to be moved into their final location of over 350 key intersections and parks around the city with the aid of cranes on the day of la plantà (the rising).
The history of Las Fallas festival
Las Fallas festival origins dates back to the mid-18th century. During the holiday morning, in the windows of houses stood out rag dolls and the vertical walls of the raised platform had figures that showed the events or individuals that had attracted the attention of the entire community. At midnight, they were burnt at the stake as part of a larger celebration. It was believed that in this way they destroyed the evil spirits that were previously trapped in the dolls.
Las Fallas festival’s prohibitions
The first document that mentions the Las Fallas festival is the letter from Valencia’s mayor that prohibited installation of dolls and platforms in the narrow streets close to facades in order to prevent fire. With these measures, the city police had to force the residents to burn their dolls and platforms only in wide streets and squares, this formula is held up to the present day. In order to comply with it, citizens have the platform raised to the point. Since the platform with the sculptures was no longer on the walls, it could be observed from all sides, which led to changes in its design.
Las Fallas festival symbols
The sculptures are now pyramidal, wooden based, decorated with drawings and paintings that are concealed from combustible material. Along with the sculptures on the nearby walls or the pedestal, were hanging records that explained their significance in Valencia’s language. Since the mid-19th century, they are printed and connected into the book called “llibret”.
How do the Spanish themselves celebrate the Las Fallas festival?
For four days every year, the city’s residents mark the end of winter and the impending arrival of spring by building huge puppet structures that are then ceremoniously set on fire.
Some of the puppets surpass 15 metres in height and therefore have to be assembled days ahead of the Las Fallas festival. While strolling through Valencia before the event begins, you might notice some of these puppets being put together on the street corners of the city.
As well as daily puppet parades, which take place all over Valencia, each day at 14:00 local time the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is filled with firecracker explosions as part of La Mascleta, which literally translates to the concert of gunpowder.
Pagan rituals marking the arrival of spring are thought to have inspired the festival. Back in the 16th century, residents of Valencia marked the start of spring, and all the new life the season brings, with the lighting of fires across the city. As well as this, street lamps were hung on wooden poles around Valencia, which mirrors the puppet structures seen during Las Fallas today.
A holiday to Spain would not be complete without the chance to taste some of the food and drink for which the country is famous. During Las Fallas festival, residents often take part in cooking competitions, battling with their neighbours to prove their paella is the best.
You as a visitor, make sure you get a chance to try a plate of this famous Spanish dish, maybe washed down with a delicious glass of sangria, a refreshing blend of red wine, orange juice, spirits and fruit pieces.
Another food closely linked to Spain is the tortilla, which can be enjoyed hot or cold and usually contains a mixture of potatoes and onions, or a combination of vegetables such as red peppers.
Before the Las Fallas festival officially begins, will be the best time to mingle with the locals and getting a great spot along one of Valencia’s winding streets to ensure the best view of all the exciting action and the chance to take some fantastic pictures to show family and friends on your return home.
How to enjoy your Spain holidays during the Las Fallas festival
Where is Las Fallas?
Las Fallas festival takes place in the Valencia region, on the East coast of Spain. Most towns and villages in the region are engaged in the festival, but the capital, Valencia, is where most of the action takes place.
Every neighbourhood, totalling hundreds across the city of Valencia, has their own organised street parties – and there is healthy competition between the areas to make the best party.
What to see during the Las Fallas festival?
You would be hard pressed to miss these large structures as you walk the streets of Valencia during Las Fallas festival. The structures are displayed proudly for the duration of the festival, before being burnt to the ground on the last night during La Crema.
On the night of 15 to 16 March the plantà (installation) takes place, when the falleros and falleras, the men and women who construct the fallas (monuments), get together to work through the night on erecting them, to have them finished by dawn on the 16th.
La Mascleta is similar to a firework show, but without any colours or elegant patterns. The aim of La Mascleta is to make as much noise and smoke as possible.
From 1 to 19 March, every day at 2 pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the city vibrates to the sound of the traditional mascletà, a display of gunpowder explosions that beats out a unique sound. Afterwards, the city’s terraces fill up as people go to enjoy a typical aperitif and some traditional Valencian food under the Mediterranean sun.
Mascletas are held fairly regularly throughout the Las Fallas festival, with the most famous held in Plaza Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square). The loudest, however, is held on Valencia beach where there are no restrictions on the amount of noise that can be made.
Spain’s most famous dish originates from the Valencia region and is embraced during Las Fallas festival. Throughout the city, huge paellas are cooked on street corners over a traditional log fire.
The ingredients are for Paella Valenciana (chicken, rabbit, snails, rice and beans – no seafood), and it is a far cry from what you may have tasted before on the Costa del Sol or Costa Blanca.
Las Fallas festival prize giving ceremony
On the morning of 17th, the falleros and their commissions go to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to collect their prizes. Prior to the Las Fallas festival the jury visits all of the city’s sculptures, of which there are over 750 including the large and the children’s sculptures, in order to decide upon the winners.
Fireworks at the Las Fallas festival
The old river bed in Valencia is the scene for several firework shows throughout Las Fallas festival. Valencia prides itself on having the best firework displays in the world, and it may well be right.
Every night from 15 to 18 March, the sky of Valencia is filled with the light and colour of impressive firework displays. The grandest is on the 18th of March – La Nit del Foc (The Night of Fire) and often lasts close to an hour. At 12 midnight, people gather on Paseo de la Alameda to enjoy the best display of colour and light. Not to mention the spectacular Nit del foc (Night of Fire), which is held during the early hours of the 18th and offers a fireworks display which is the only one of its kind in the world.
Ofrenda de Flores (Offering of Flowers)
All of the city’s fallas commissions will take place in a parade from their respective districts to the Plaza de la Virgin in order to make an offering of flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Patron Saint of Valencia. This part of the Las Fallas festival takes place from 4 pm until past nightfall. With all of the bunches of flowers given by the falleras to the Virgin, an impressive 15 metre-high tapestry is formed on the main façade of the Basilica and a mantle is made for the Virgin.
La Cremà (The Burning)
On 19 March all of the sculptures, both those in the large and the children’s categories, go up in flames. At 10 pm the Cremà of the children’s sculptures begins. Two hours later it is the turn of the large monuments. The falla in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the last one to burn, at 1 am in the morning. It is always preceded by a small display of spectacular fireworks which fill the square with noise, light and colour, leading to the Cremà of the city’s last falla and with it the end of the Las Fallas festival.
The neighbourhood of Ruzafa is generally seen to have the best parties during Las Fallas festival. Centred on the streets of Calle Sueca and Calle Cuba, the fallas here are among the most impressive and there are markets and entertainment lining the area.
While Ruzafa may be the best, El Carmen is certainly the busiest neighbourhood during Las Fallas festival. The streets are packed towards the end of the festival, with people watching live music, eating and just mingling in a great atmosphere right in the heart of the Valencia old town.
Going for Spain holidays during the Las Fallas festival?
If you plan to visit spain at the time of Las Fallas festival, make sure that you plan in advance because accommodation tends to sell out quickly.
When you first get on the streets of Valencia during Las Fallas festival, you will be confused. All those people in stunning dress, what is happening? Are you missing a big show or event somewhere? Is this where they are all going? Where is it?
No, that’s just what they wear for the duration of Las Fallas festival. And at any slightest opportunity throughout the rest of the year. That’s what they walk around in during fiestas. As mentioned before, the Fallas are about celebrating the Valencian traditions. The Valencians proudly put on their traditional costumes at the first opportunity and don’t take them off for as long as they can. Here, it is still very cool to wear them.
These costumes mean a lot to these people. The cheapest dress you will see on the street will cost around 1500 euros. But it is all worth it for the sake of tradition.
So the dressed up people you see around during the Las Fallas festival are not rushing somewhere special. They are just taking a walk, proudly stating: “I am from Valencia and I am a member of Such-and-Such falla”. You will see the costumes randomly on the streets, and in numerous pasacalles (parade of a falla through its neighbourhood). But the biggest two spectacles are the Awards to Ninots Infantiles and, especially, the Offering of the Flowers.
It is a truly memorable experience and like no other festival in the world. Las Fallas festival is a real attack on all the senses and is truly embraced by the people of Valencia.
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