Fallas: The Enduring Valencian Tradition

Karen Cheng is a student at University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Valencia, Spain.

Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, people besides fútbol players are wearing shorts – Fallas is in the air. While some cities’ histories are contained in coliseums, castles, or cannons of old, Valencia’s history is best embodied through Fallas. Recently added to UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” in 2016, Fallas is much more than a festival that takes place the week of March 19. Fallas is very much a tangible piece of history; it’s the heart of Valencia.

First night of fireworks over the Río

Compared to its larger, more urban neighbors, Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is, for the most part, a very relaxed city. The pace of life is slow. That all changes the last weekend of February. That weekend, it was as if Valencia had been taking a siesta up until that point and suddenly woke up ready to party. The population of Valencia usually comes in at less than 800,000 people but when Fallas comes around, it’s estimated that the city’s population grows to 3,000,000 people. And it’s not hard to see why.

The falla saved from the fire in 1958 on display at the Museo Fallero

The whole festival is centered around the creation of fallas, large monuments composed of caricature figures called ninots, and, more importantly, the destruction of the fallas via fire. That’s right. Each falla is painstakingly designed, created, and fundraised for by communities throughout the city called casals fallers, and each falla, save one, turns into nothing but smoke and ashes by the end of the night on March 19. While the origins of fallas date back to the 18th century, when carpenters would burn wooden candlestick holders they used during the long winter nights, the tradition of the construction and destruction of elaborate fallas can be traced back to 1934. In the fallero museum, they have on display the one falla saved from the fire every year since 1934, as chosen by the people.

The sky is filled with smoke from the mascletà

However, Fallas today has evolved into a multifaceted event. The month of March is essentially one huge and continuous pyrotechnics show. Starting the first week of March, they put on mascletàs at 2:00 pm every single day up to and through Fallas. The mascletà takes place in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where City Hall is located and consists of roughly a five-minute series of extremely loud firecracker explosions, fireworks, and colors. The plaza fills with people every day coming in from every direction to see the spectacle, and with every day it gets more and more extravagant.

A more extravagant mascletà with colors. You can also see the construction of the city hall falla

Another important part of Fallas, one of my personal favorites, is the sudden appearance of churro and buñuelo stands in the streets on every block. Buñuelos are fried pumpkin rings that usually appear only during Fallas. They’re eaten the same way churros are eaten – dipped in delicious hot chocolate.

Churros, buñuelos, and chocolate; or as I like to call it, heaven

The stands are usually open all day and night since there are plenty of attractions that keep people in the streets at night. For example, the extravagant light displays that are set up in various neighborhoods. This one can be found in Ruzafa, a neighborhood known for consistently having the best light displays.

First night of the light display in the neighborhood of Ruzafa

As I write this, the day before the festival officially starts, the city is humming with a palpable sense of excitement. The fallas are set up all around the city around every turn, tourists crowd the streets with accents from all around the world, the loud pop of firecrackers can be heard every five seconds, and I’m patting myself on the back for choosing to study abroad in Valencia this semester. Let la fiesta de las Fallas begin.

Falla in the Plaza de Lope de Vega

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