We’re going back to Las Fallas!
*UPDATE* We’ve returned from Las Fallas. All of my pics can be found in these posts!
Of all the places in the world Cynthia and I have traveled to, no place has captured our imagination in quite the same way as Valencia, Spain. And this is due to the annual Las Fallas celebration held there each year. The festival kicks off in late February, but the most important portion takes place from March 15th to the 19th. This is the period where the Fallas-Sculptures are setup all over the city. Hundreds of them. And the the Fallas-Sculptures are what this festival is really all about.
Way back in the olden days (the middle ages), the Fallas-Sculptures were just piles old junk that were being moved out of the workshops after the winter and burned. Over the years people began dressing the junk in old clothes, painting faces on it and creating something satirical out of the piles of debris.
What they have evolved into is something quite spectacular
Each neighborhood of the city has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that works all year long holding fundraising parties and dinners, usually featuring the famous speciality paella. A casal faller is also known as a comissió fallera.
These sculptures are magnificent and they are everywhere around the city of Valencia. Some of them reach as high as 6 or more stories in height and can be quite expensive to build. The larger Fallas can cost upwards of 600.000€ (over 3/4 of a million dollars), all paid by the members of the Falla-Community, donations only.
During the course of the festival the Fallas are just on display, but at the end of the festival they are ceremonially burned to the ground.
If you can imagine it, millions of people roaming the streets and hundreds of Fallas burning. The whole city is covered in smoke and fire. It is unbelievable.
And that is not all there is to Las Fallas, either. The festival itself is a Valencian traditional celebration in praise of Saint Joseph. So that means there’s religious overtones to the entire event.
During 2 days of the festival there is what is called the Ofrenda de Flores a la Virgen de los Desamparados (flower offering to our Lady of the Forsaken) where thousands of women dressed in traditional garb parade into the city on 4 major parade routes and carrying carnations which they then hand off to men who use them to build the dress of a large statue of the Virgin Mary.
And to answer the question I always get asked, NO, she is not burned.
The last major component of Las Fallas is the fireworks. All day long from dawn to the wee hours of the morning there are explosions. Incidental fireworks going off all day long. You can buy them at the local store and detonate them at will…just about anywhere you want.
There are two primary fireworks displays that occur each day.
The first is a mid-day event known as the Mascleta (sound fireworks). This is a mid-day detonation that takes place at 2 pm each day and is designed not so much to be seen, but to be heard. 10′s of thousands of people crowd the main square to get as close as they can to the detonation site and for 20 minutes fireworks are detonated. Cynthia and I got in close once and during the event you cannot hear your own voice even if you scream at the top of you lungs.
The second is an evening display. Well, I say evening. It starts about 1:00 am and is the most spectacular display i have ever seen. It lasts for about 30 minutes and then it’s over for the night. Everyone heads back to find food or get some sleep before things kick off again around 8:00 am
All in all, this is a very unique festival. And we enjoyed it so much in 2009 that we decided to go back this year. We’re also taking a side trip to Barcelona, another of our favorite destinations. Look for updates and pictures here. If you want to see photos and travelog of the last trip to Las Fallas, you can find it here. Several pages of pics and commentary over the course of our experience.