Spain is renowned for its great parties and fiestas, but there’s one festival which surpasses all others. Las Fallas is a five-day-long riot of noise, smoke, fire, satire and revelry. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted; and pregnant women are forbidden to attend. Some say to be in Valencia at the time of Las Fallas is like being in a war zone.
The city swells from one million to three million people in mid-March each year, when Valencia welcomes the spring, seeing off the cold winter nights and days in style. Las Fallas is a celebration of renewal and regeneration.
Politicians under the spotlight
The festival begins with the appearance of giant ‘ninots’ in prominent positions throughout the city. Each of these huge painted figures is a satirical representation of a local celebrity, politician or toreador, poking fun at personalities and current events. Artists have been designing and planning these figures for months before, creating them from wood, cardboard, and papier maché, so that around 800 ninots, some up to 20 metres high, can be erected overnight, ready to be on view by dawn.
The burning of the figures is the grand finalé, but meanwhile, each of the five days of festivities begins at 8am with a loud wake-up call: loud noises, bangs and marching bands ensure that nobody in the city lingers in bed. Each day continues with parades, bullfights, live bands, fireworks, and much drinking of Sangria. The floral parade takes hours to complete: numerous ladies in traditional costume bring bunches of different coloured flowers as an offering to the Virgin Mary, placing the blooms onto a 15-metre high wooden framework, and gradually transforming it into a gigantic floral tapestry of Mary and the baby Jesus.
An old tradition
The tradition first began when the city’s carpenters celebrated the end of the dark days of working by lamplight by burning their wooden lamps or ‘parots’ in bonfires outside their workshops. At first they dressed the parots in rags and old clothes to make them look human, then in the mid-19th century, they started to make them into bigger, more realistic figures, decorating them with more and more attention to detail.
Noise, smoke and fireworks
This year’s festival concluded last night, 19th March, on the last night of Las Fallas. Thousands gathered for the ritual burning of the ninots. Each one has pockets and cavities stuffed with fireworks so that the burning is accompanied by an incredible mayhem of loud explosions and bursts of colour lighting up the sky. Bomberos are on hand to damp down buildings and extinguish any trees which catch fire. Onlookers say the noise is so loud that it makes the ground and buildings shake.
Each year just one ninot survives. By public vote, one is chosen to be ‘pardoned’ and will take its place in the Fallero Museum where it stands on view all year round, along with other pardoned ninots from earlier years.