This week the celebrations of the Fallas in Valencia reach their zenith and on the 19th March nearly 9 million euros worth of sculpted art will be consigned to flames in one of the greatest acts of symbolic cleansing to take part in the whole of the Iberian peninsula.
Fire is a cleanser and there are many, many festivals which include an element of fire as a symbolic cleansing agent, clearing away the old, the past, the bad and beginning with a clean slate and a fresh start.
But what sets Valencia apart is the sheer scale of the celebrations and the incredible complexity of the Fallas, fantastical sculptures which are burnt on the night of the 19th March, the day of San José. There are hundreds of fallas in different districts of the city, although the main ones are spread around the centre
In the days leading up to the burning there are firework displays, firecrackers, processions and a vast floral offering, making Valencia a noisy and stimulating place to be both on the 19th and the run-up to the big day.
The tourist office in Valencia will be happy to help with hotels etc and there are also special guided tours ( in English as well as other languages) at 15 euros which can be booked to take visitors inside the world of the fallas and make sure visitors enjoy their visit to the city.
Tourist Info Office – Plaza de la Reina, 19
Click for map : Plaza de la Reina, 19
Tel. +34 963 153 931
Fax. +34 963 153 920
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9am to 7pm, Sundays and Festival days 10am to 2pm
A bit of terminology to help those visiting the fallas, explaining what the various elements of the fiestas are:
In order to understand what the Fallas are all about, one of the quickest ways is to understand some of the terminology used to refer to them.
Firstly, what is a “Falla”? Although many consider believe it to be a larger than life statue of a person, in fact it consists of rather more. The figures featuring on the tableaux created for Fallas week are actually called “Ninots” (“dolls” in Valencian), and are normally made out of papier mâché, wood, styrofoam and cardboard. The Ninots are then mounted on a base filled with firecrackers to form a scene telling a story or showing a humorous situation, and when the whole thing is set up it is decorated with lights and even information boards explaining the tableau. This assembly is the Falla.
Although the destiny of these Fallas is to be burnt, some are spared by popular verdict, thanks to votes cast by members of the public visiting a special exhibition. These spared figures are called “Ninots Indultats”.
Many fallas depict politicians and other famous people of topical interest, normally in a satirical way, and in order to explain the satire some of the Casals Fallers (the groups who create the structures) prepare printed Llibrets de Falla which narrate their creation in verse. The targets for this satire come from all walks of life: don’t be surprised to find footballers alongside world leaders and cartoon characters!
The art of creating Fallas has become a major industry in Valencia and a part of the city’s cultural identity, and thanks to the use of plastics, wax and foam some of the structures can now reach up to 30 metres high. As many as five hundred of these tableaux are built every year.
Among the daily events which constitute the Fallas fiestas is the Despertà, which consists of a brass band marching through the streets to wake people up at 8.00 every morning. Like everything during Fallas Week, they are accompanied by firecrackers.
The Mascletà is a huge setting off of firecrackers which takes place every day at 14.00 at various locations, the main one being held in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
The Plantà takes place on the day of 15th March, and in theory marks the finishing touches being put to the Fallas as they are displayed in the street.
L’Ofrena de flors is the floral offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados, the patron of the city of Valencia and the old Kingdom of Valencia. This is now a major event in itself, as well as part of the Fallas celebrations.
La Nit del Foc is a celebration of fire on the last night of the Fallas, when the tableaux are ceremoniously burnt to mark the feast day of San José and the start of spring.
La Cremà is the ceremonious burning of the Fallas, and perhaps the best known element of the week’s festivities.
Programme for 2014
Friday 14th March
14.00: The daily Mascletà ( massive firecracker) in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Elite Fuegos Artificiales fireworks company from Chelva (Valencia)
18.00: The reading of the popular verdict and the announcement of the Ninot Indultat Infantil, along with the other leading Ninots in this section of competition. This effectively decides which of these figures are held back from the flames on the night of the 19th.
Saturday 15th March: La Plantà
This is traditionally the night on which the locals put the finishing touches to their creations, normally the top part of the structure. As the structures have become bigger over the years this has become a complex operation in many cases, with cranes, scaffolding and teams of people, and is watched by large crowds. In some cases it may take days to complete the structure, rather than hours!
By extension, the term “Plantà” is now used to refer to the celebrations which coincide with the Fallas being completely finished and ready for competition, with not only the basic structure but also all of the accoutrements fully assembled and in working order.
8.00: The Plantà for the Children’s Fallas
14.00: The daily Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Hermanos Caballer de Almenara fireworks company from Castellón.
01.00am: Grand firework display in the Paseo de la Alameda (between the Puente de Las Flores and the Puente de la Exposición), organized by the Europlà de Bèlgida fireworks company from Valencia.
Sunday 16th March
8.00: Plantà of all the Fallas. The work continues with building the fallas.
22.30: The Folklore Federation of the Comunitat Valenciana organizes music, singing and dancing in front of the Town Hall.
14.00: The daily Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Europlà de Bèlgida fireworks company from Valencia.
16.30: The prizes for the different sections of Children’s Fallas are given out, and the Ninot parade takes place. The Llibretes de Falla are distributed in the stand in front of the Town Hall.
01.00am: Grand firework display in the Paseo de la Alameda (between the Puente de Las Flores and the Puente de la Exposición), organized by the Pirofantasía Carlos Caballer de Bétera fireworks company from Valencia.
Monday 17th March: Floral Offering
This is the most religious of all the events in the Fallas, and is a grand display of elegance in the middle of all the noise and colour.
On 17th March the devotees of the Virgen de los Desamparados, the patron of the old Kingdom of Valencia, bring flowers to lay at the feet of an enormous figure representing the Virgin in the centre of the square which bears her name, and where the church dedicated to her is located.
So great are the numbers of people wishing to take part in this event nowadays that it extends over two days, the 17th and 18th March, and has become one of the main elements of the week-long Fallas.
9.30: Prize-giving for the various competition sections and distribution of Llibrets de Falla in the stand in front of the Town Hall.
14.00: The daily Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Pirofantasía Carlos Caballer de Bétera fireworks company from Valencia.
15.30: The start of the floral offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados,
01.00am: Grand firework display in the Paseo de la Alameda (between the Puente de Las Flores and the Puente de la Exposición), organized by the Pirotecnia Valenciana de Llanera de Ranes fireworks company from Valencia.
Tuesday 18th March
14.00: The daily Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Pirotecnia Valenciana de Llanera de Ranes fireworks company from Valencia.
15.30: Floral offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados,
1.30: Nit del Foc grand firework display in the Paseo de la Alameda (between the Puente de Las Flores and the Puente de la Exposición), organized by the Cabeller S.A. fireworks company from Godella.
Wednesday 19th March
The Cremà ( burning)
This is something akin to the closing ceremony of the Fallas, and is perhaps the best known of all the spectacular elements of the week: this is when the Fallas are ceremonially burnt which give the city an almost apocalyptic but at the same time festive atmosphere every year on the night of 19th March.
The Cremà ties in with an old pagan ritual in which the arrival of spring was marked by the lighting of a huge bonfire onto which all the winter’s accumulated rubbish was thrown, something like the concept of spring cleaning but on a rather more spectacular scale!
Nowadays the purpose is far less symbolic: the idea is to make the Cremà as spectacular and as noisy as possible, always with the objective of making this year’s event better than last year’s, and next year’s better still!
12.00: Holy Mass in honour of San José in Valencia Cathedral.
14.00: The daily Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is today organized by the Caballer S.A. fireworks company from Godella.
19.00: “Cabalgata del Fuego” parade, itinerary Calle Ruzafa – Calle Colón – Porta de la Mar. This is a parade to worship the power of fire, and nowadays features a wide range of rituals and spectacular displays from all over the world. This procession on its own is worth the trip to Valencia, rivaling even the most spectacular of Carnival parades.
Despite this, though, it’s little more than a warm-up for the evening’s main event…
22.00: Cremà of the Children’s Fallas.
22.30: Cremà of the special prize-winning Children’s Falla.
23.00: Cremà of the Falla Infantil in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, with fireworks provided by Caballer S.A. from Godella.
0.00: Cremà of the main Fallas.
0.30: Cremà of the first prize-winning Falla in the special competition section.
1.00: Cremà of the municipal Falla accompanied by fireworks in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
At this point, in theory, the Falleros trudge off home for another year.
But in practice, the night is young and the partying goes on until dawn…
Images: Various sources including Turismo Valencia
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