las fallas valencia: fire, rain and earplugs

Monday, 21 March 2016 Valencia, Spain

Las Fallas 2016 Valencia

The 19th of March, without a doubt, has been my most surreal day of this year so far. Las Fallas is one of Spain's biggest festivals, attracting visitors in their hundreds of thousandths to Valencia every year. If you love loud and sudden noises, burning large satirical pieces of art and street food, this is the festival for you.

At a painful half 5 in the morning, I piled onto a coach leaving from Salamanca with a friend. It felt weird doing my makeup at 4 in the morning I must say! After a very long and restless 6 hours or so, we arrived in Valencia, to which we were welcomed to the third largest city in Spain with drizzling rain. Not the best start, but I remained positive. One of the first encounters we had with the spirit of the festival was a sudden and startling crackle, released by a petardo, (a small firework) thrown by a 5 year old. I'm not kidding. They hand out fireworks to the young locals!

Personal safety is not a key theme central to Las Fallas. The term "falla" is Catalan and refers to a torch, of Latin origin. Each neighbourhood in the city has their own (the one above is a smaller Falla), and so the city ends up with around 750 sculptures dotted around the districts. The celebration is linked to the spring Equinox and the festival of Saint Joseph. It's thought to have emerged in the middle ages, and the traditions have evolved over time. During the 20th century creations became more critical, often poking fun at politicians and celebrities.

Las Fallas 2016 Valencia
We spent a little time walking through the centre, until we suddenly became stuck in a huge, unmoving crowd. We then found out what was happening - La Mascleta. In the run up to the last day on the 19th, a series of deafening day fireworks are set off at 2pm every day near the main square (see above), la Plaza del Ayuntamiento. It was extremely bizarre for us, because we couldn't see the fireworks, and neither could anyone near us. Essentially, we were stuck in a crowd of people listening to a lot of noise. We could've been in any part of that city right at that moment!

After the pointlessness of this, it then took us about half an hour to get through the hordes of people to get to the next street. I must admit we spent a lot of the day looking for somewhere to sit down and eat, it was chaos. If it hadn't been miserable weather, it probably wouldn't have been such a monumentous challenge! If anything, the grey backdrop gave the sculptures a more sinister and imposing air, and I loved stopping for a little while and having a think about the message of the fallas. In each one a key idea was wrapped up in exuberant colour and intricate detail.

We spent a long time eating once we finally found a restaurant, partly because we wanted to enjoy the time sitting down and relaxing, partly because the restaurant service was slow and they kept forgetting our orders (seriously the woman asked me about 5 times each time which dish I was having). At about 7 in the evening we began to search for the best falla to watch for arguably the best part of the evening, la Crema. This is when all the sculptures are burnt down, and it was truly magical. We chose this one because it was elaborate, huge, and only a few minutes from the main plaza. We ended up very close to it, chilling by the barriers for a long time. We chose to stand there early, which turned out to be a wise decision as before we knew it it was impossible to move anywhere else!

The build up to the burning of the falla felt like forever, but it was extremely comforting to see so many bombers (firefighters in Catalan) well equipped and prepared to extinguish it. The moment when it finally happened was one of the strangest that's ever happened. Everyone had their phones out to take their pictures, and a huge wave of excitement and wonderment took place in the first ten seconds, huge clouds of black smoke and blazing orange. Then people started to panic, as they started to feel the prickling heat on their faces, and the fire felt scarily close. People began backing away, whilst stopping to stare at it. Watching a huge fire up close was so hypnotising.

The artists and communities work on each sculpture for just over a year, all to be burnt to a crisp in just over 5 minutes or so. The staff involved were dancing by it in glee, hugging and congratulating each other. You could see the pride in their faces after their work, it was a lovely moment to witness.

Las Fallas 2016 Valencia

The final moment of the night was a truly beautiful way to finish off the festival. Thousands of us crowded into the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, waiting for just under an hour for the fireworks display. They were some of the prettiest fireworks I'd ever seen, and everyone stood in awe. I was mildly annoyed by a man stood near me who filmed the whole display. I wanted to ask him if he was actually going to watch them at any point, and not through his lens. Phone obsessed people aside, I felt blissfully happy and amazed to then see the whole sky turn orange, as the largest falla began to burn, whilst the vibrant fireworks continued. The events of the evening more than made up for the annoyances of the day.

I really wish I'd had more time in Valencia before the festival really kicked off. I saw a very small part of the city, purely because it's quite spread out and public transport was sparse on the day. We were so unlucky with the weather meaning that everyone was desperately attempting to get inside rather than explore outside. Nevertheless the city is gorgeous and I can't wait for the next opportunity to come back! You may have also heard of the devastating news of the bus crash that took place near to Barcelona to Erasmus students coming back from Las Fallas, killing 14 people. It was heartbreaking to hear, and I can only hope the festival gave them the best possible last day of their lives.

Have you been to Valencia before? What would you recommend to see and do?

1 comment

  1. Hi Fiona! Just arrived to your blog from an RT at Twitter and found your series about your Erasmus year abroad :) I'm from Valencia, and about to leave for my last year to Italy with an Erasmus grant. I think it's a pity you only could stay in Valencia for the last day of fallas: you missed our traditional gowns and some of the most interesting and exciting sights! :( I have a couple of posts about this fiesta on my blog if you want to take a look at it <3

    I'll be following your tips for Erasmus preparations. Glad I've found them! :)
    See ya!



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