The smell of smoke is in the air, there is a neverending
cacophony of masclets and mobile discos and a gaggle of Valencian children, with no sense of danger whatsoever, are using you as firework target practice…
Batten down the hatches – Fallas is upon us.
Prepare yourselves for what will probably be the loudest, most fun-filled, drunken and sleep depriven week of your lives. That’s right, between the 15th and 19th of March Valencia turns into party central in order to commemorate San José. So what are you likely to see/hear?
– Fallas – Hundreds of wooden and papier-mâché sculptures spring up on every other corner of the city. Often satirical in content matter, the fallas can measure over 20 feet tall and contain anything and everything. The town mayoress, Rita Barberà, and Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, are common fixtures in fallas and often share the stage with pop culture figures and celebrities such as Homer Simpson, King Kong and Michael Jackson. Sometimes, however, it’s not all fun and games – last year a dispute between falleros and the local Hindu community arose because of the use of Hindu god Ganesh in their local falla.
– Falleros – Locals dressed in typical historical get-up are often seen wandering the streets in the run up to Fallas, band and family members in tow, in order to raise money for their casal. The word fallero seems to come hand in hand with la despertà – something that you will get to know and love very quickly during Las Fallas. This cheeky tradition sees members of the local casal waking up their whole neighbourhood with fireworks during the early hours of the morning. And in true Valencia style, these fireworks are LOUD! Charanga bands and processions often follow. You should also probably get used to the dulcet sounds of the dolçaina.
– Mobile discos and verbenas – You’ve got your plaza, you’ve got your mates, you’ve got your alcoholic drink and you’ve got a DJ. Cue dancing and drinking until the early hours under the watchful eyes of a nearby Falla. Expect pachanga, reggaeton and pop, but don’t be alarmed if things turn a bit “Ruta del Bakalao” towards the end.
– People. Everywhere. – Tens of thousands of people visit Valencia during Las Fallas. Despite the cordoned off streets (don’t even THINK about taking the car into the centre), expect human traffic jams, queues for the sweet-smelling portable toilets and lots and lots of noise. Did you expect anything less?
- The crida – the opening ceremony of Las Fallas held at the Torres de Serranos on the final Sunday of February at 8pm. The previous year’s Fallera Mayor welcomes the festival with a heart warming speech, followed by music and a large fireworks display. Hundreds of people cram onto Puente de Serranos to witness the event and, usually, to try and catch a glimpse of Rita’s hamster face. We wonder if this year Joan Ribó will mention el caloret?
- The chest-rumbling mascletà fireworks every day during Fallas from the 1st of March at 2pm in Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
- Some of the biggest and best fallas in the city: The falla in Plaza del Ayuntamiento is often one of the largest and is commisioned by the ajuntament. Plaza del Pilar is home to an impressive falla which, often, stands perilously close to the surrounding buildings. One of Sepia’s personal favourites sits at the end of Calle Na Jordana and, much like that of Calle Sueca/Literato Azorín, often includes smaller statues littered around the main falla which you can walk through and explore, for a small fee.
- The Ruzafa lights. Head to Calle Cuba and Calle Sueca to see stunning light displays. Try to avoid peak times if you want to avoid being stuck in the middle of a herd of gawping families!
- The Corre Foc fire run. Get ready to duck and cover as hooded devils run towards you with giant sparklers and fireworks on Calle Colón!
- The huge, flower-filled statue of the Virgen de los Desamparados (Mary of the Forsaken) in Plaza de la Virgen. Yes, it’s hard to see the religious elements of the festival in present day Fallas, but if you dig far enough beyond all the booze and the parties, it’s still there. In fact, the tradition of burning the fallas sculptures comes from when carpenters supposedly threw out their unwanted pieces of wood to set alight on the day of Saint Joseph.
Before we send you off into the wilderness in a dramatic cloud of smoke, you may want to get to grips with the following Fallas vocab:
La plantà – The date in which all fallas must be placed in their allocated position – this year it’s Tuesday 15th of March.
Casal Faller – A group of people from each neighbourhood who design and build each falla. They host fundraising events throughout the year to fund their activities.
Mascletà – A very noisy and rhythmic set of fireworks set off each day at 2pm in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Keep your mouth open so your ears don’t pop!
Nit del Foc – “The night of fire” – celebrating the penultimate night of Las Fallas with a huge fireworks display in the Alameda/riverbed on the 18th of March.
La cremà – Literally meaning “the burning”. Check your Fallas guide (normally free with the Las Provincias newspaper) to see what time each falla will be set alight on the 19th!
Buñuelos – Delicious fried dough balls (similar to donuts) which can be bought from practically every street corner throughout the duration of the festival. Churros, hot chocolate and porras (NOT porros! Well, maybe…) are also typical, mmm!
La ofrenda – Don’t forget to watch the falleras offering flowers to the huge statue of the Virgen de los Desamparados in Plaza de la Virgen on the 17th, 18th and 19th of March.
Whether you’re a lover or a hater of Las Fallas, there is no escape. Well, technically that’s a lie – some miserable Valencians actually FLEE the city for the week – cowards!
Enjoy the festivities, get in the spirit i posa’t una cassalla, home!
Further reading: Fallas 2015 in photos.
Consult our map below to find most places mentioned in this article.
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