Las Falles is... incredible! And impossible to "sum up," but I will give it a go. I shared a few posts on Instagram along the way (there's one linked later in this post), and the hashtag #falles2019 (or #fallas2019) are pretty great.
Las Falles is the biggest celebration in Valencia, held annually March 1-19 in commemoration of Saint Joseph... and/or spring. What it actually has to do with Saint Joseph and how/what this spectacle actually commemorates/relates is beyond me.
It's a party! Pure and simple. And it has many facets, not the least of which is noise and fire. It's a slow build, hitting a crescendo during the last five days/nights. That's when the falles appear.
Valencia is comprised of many communities, also known as falles, and each one constructs two sculptures every year of papier mache (or, as I've been told, more recently of polystyrene).
Guess which image was blocked on Instagram?
Each community has a large sculpture (sometimes enormous), often political or satirical in nature, and another smaller one for children (infantil). We had the chance to page through a publication about each community's design inspiration, designers, falleras, and cost -- there were something like 395 of them! Times 2. And some costing in the neighborhood of €300,000.
The detail is incredible.
The events during Falles, according to Wikipedia (which is a pretty good article) are such:
- La Despertà
- "The wake-up call" each morning at 8 am when bands play and firecrackers are set off. I heard bands, but never at 8 am... and the firecrackers were going off 24/7. I wouldn't have believed it if someone told me that fireworks & firecrackers would become "background noise," but it most definitely does.
Crowd gathering for the final mascletà, as seen (and heard) from our perch at the Plaza de Toros.
- La Mascletà
- This is an explosive, percussive, coordinated display of firecrackers and fireworks, almost choreographed, that occurs every afternoon in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This also seems to build each day, and pyrotechnics compete for the honor of providing the final mascletà. The crowds are huge, and I never saw this happen, but I certainly did hear it and see the smoke.
This was the major winner. It was in a distant community, so we took a bus to see it. Do you see Bo Peep?
- La Plantà
- All of the falles are to be finished by March 15th in order to be judged for the competition.
- L'Ofrena de flors
- All day long on March 17 & 18, falleros and falleras make their way to a large wooden frame in the shape of the Virgin Mary with an offering of flowers. These flowers are added to and arranged on the frame to fill in the "dress."
- Els Castells and La Nit del Foc
- We missed some of the earlier displays, but we definitely made our way to one of the bridges spanning Turia Park for La Nit del Foc ("The Night of Fire"), which began at 1:30 am. Wow. Seriously, Valencia during Las Falles is a pyrotechnics dream.
- Cavalcada del Foc
- I didn't see this, but that's okay...
Notice the flower bouquets for the Virgin Mary's dress.
- Traditional Dressing
- The traditional dress and costumes worn by the fallero and falleras is colorful and quite pretty. And they're all ages -- from infants (see the stroller, above, but I saw even younger) to their grandparents. I don't know the historical significance of it all, but there's a hierarchy to it all and almost nothing happens during Las Falles unless there's a fallera present to strike the match or give the signal to begin.
- La Cremà
- On this, the last night of the celebration, all of the falles are burned. The falla infantil are all burned first, at around 10 p.m. There are fireworks going off here and there. There's usually some sort of small mascletà and/or ground display around the falla, which are strung and stuffed with fireworks. A fallera lights the fuse and... stand back. We saw one infantil burn. The main ones begin to burn around midnight. In addition to each neighborhood's falles, there is a large "city" one in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This year it was a nearly 9-story tall, traditional wood & papier mache structure in the shape of a seated woman, decorated with graffiti. It was quite beautiful. This one was to burn around 1 am.
Instead of watching any of the larger neighborhood falla burn, we made our way to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento for the burning of the main "city" falla. Annie knew someone who knew someone, and for €25 each, we found ourselves on a 2nd story balcony with a fabulous view, unlimited snacks & beer & wine, and arguably one of the best spots in the city.
This is part of the crowd gathered for the event.
It was very dramatic, as all the lights went out (the illuminated building in the rear is the post office!).
Then the fireworks began... it was incredible. There are a few video clips in the embedded IG post, below.
Queue the dramatic music... I'm not sure what it was, possibly the Spanish national anthem, or maybe an important Valencian piece. It was dramatic with the flames, pieces falling off, everything...
We were probably 100' from the inferno -- and I mean inferno. We all had to vacate the balcony, and I thought my forehead was going to have blisters.
The clean-up crew was standing by. Katie & I were walking down there the next day and you would never have known that a 9-story tall lady statue burned there the night before.
Every neighborhood had a mess to clean up! And they did. It was just one more amazing part of this whole mind-blowing thing we witnessed.
I think that's as good as it's going to get. There might be one more quick post about Valencia... stay tuned!