When we started planning for a ten day trip to Andalusia at the end of last year, Valencia seemed like a nice add-on to create some kind of super city trip: Sevilla, Ronda, Granada, Cordoba, Valencia. When we saw that the Las Fallas festival was being held during our intended travel period a few days in Valencia just had to become part of our itinerary.
We knew little about Las Fallas. We vaguely remembered seeing something about it in a travel show. We thought it was some kind of local festival. When we started to look for accommodation in December for our trip in March it soon became obvious this was not just some local event. Booking sites showed very few options and the ones available started at around 100 euros per night (these were hostels by the way).
What was going on here? After some googling we discovered that Las Fallas is in fact one of the bigger happenings in Spain, that it got awarded Unesco World Heritage status last year and that it attracts between one and two million people each year. Alright. Big crowds of people is not exactly our cup of tea, but in the end we were glad we put our misgivings aside. It was simply amazing.
What are fallas
Fallas are huge scenes of papier mâché on wood that can be found all over the city during the last five days of the two week festival that’s held in mid-March. Each falla consists of several dolls, called ninots, often satirizing local, national and international media and political celebrities. Ridiculing Donald Trump was popular this year….
Each neighborhood sponsors its own falla and this year there were about 380 of them. Some of these fantastic creations take many months to build, the most expensive costing up to 200.000 euros.
The most expensive and extravagant falla ever built, however, cost almost one million euro. This was in 2008, just before the onslaught of the worldwide economic crisis. Since then expenditure on the fallas has dwindled each year. Still they are a sight to behold. The biggest fallas are up to 30 meters tall.
Roots of Las Fallas
The roots of Las Fallas go back to the middle ages as a pagan celebration of the spring equinox. The origins of how Las Fallas is celebrated today go back to 1497 when simple artisans and craftsman started to burn the lanterns attached to wooden sticks – so-called parots – that they used to be able work in the dark winter months. When the parots were not needed anymore as the days started to lengthen in spring they were discarded and set on fire.
Over the years they started decorating the wooden structures with human forms. In the eighteenth century the first groups of characters emerged similar to the scenes you can see today.
Where to see fallas
It’s best to see them both during the daytime and at night when they are illuminated and even more impressive. Although fallas can be found all over Valencia, the most gorgeous ones tend to be somewhere in the city center and around.
Especially hip and creative Rufaza, a neighborhood just south of the center, is a real fallas hub. Here you’ll find some of the most fantastic scenes and from 8 at night big light shows are held here in two different streets. Be prepared to be blown away by a wall of noise. And to be crushed by huge masses of people….
Fireworks and flower offering
Apart from admiring the fallas the festival is all about music, eating, drinking and fireworks. Valencia considers itself to be the pyrotechnic capital of the world and when you visit during Las Fallas you know why. The day starts with local bands waking up people by marching through the streets and lighting firecrackers. Big firework shows are held each day at 2 PM and 1 AM on the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the city center.
One of the other traditions is that on March 18th and 19th Valencian women and girls (and some men as well) pass through the city donning traditional regional costumes and carrying flowers. These flowers are offered to a large statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken, Valencia’s patron saint, behind the cathedral. Over the days the statue gets completely covered in flowers. We noticed this was an emotional moment for many women.
Setting the fallas on fire
Las Fallas ends after midnight of the night of March 19th when all fallas are burned during the so-called crema. Only the most beautiful ninot of the year is spared and gets displayed at the Museo Falla. We didn’t stick around for the crema, hating to see such beautiful works of art go up in flames. Besides, we had a plane home to catch….