The main reason for our visit to Valencia was Las Fallas, The Fires, a festival which traces its roots to the Middle Ages when carpenters and craftsmen burnt all their scrap wood in a massive spring cleaning exercise to celebrate the Spring Equinox. Then the Church pointed out that for all those years they had in fact been celebrating the festival of St Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. Good Lord, what a coincidence!!!
The original bonfires were similar to our Guy Fawkes ones, with kids going around collecting rags to dress the wooden statues they made to sit atop the bonfires, these evolved into the amazing ‘Ninots’ of today. With the invention of cardboard, polystyrene, balsa wood and hot knives the current forms of statues arose. These are works of art and very satirical in nature and absolutely no one is immune. This year one female politician appeared as a Ninot on a large number of fires; who she is and what she’s done we have no idea but she’s obviously very ‘popular’. The Queen and Charles even made an appearance on the one outside the Central Market!
Then having spent a year planning, fund raising (some fires can cost in the region of 500,000 Euros apparently) and building these structures they spend a couple of hours on the 19th of March burning them! Oh, if you have qualifications in Health and Safety, or work for a local council Environmental Health organisation, look away now.
Each village, suburb or area of town has its own organising committee, the Casal Faller, to prepare their fire and raise the funds in the community to pay for it. The Fires, and some fantastic lighting displays are judged and awards are given. The Fires, or rather the Casal Fallers, are ranked into various Divisions and although winners of various categories are announced I don’t know if you can be promoted or relegated as with Football. The Ninots have their own individual competition and each Casal Faller will submit one to a public exhibition. Visitors to the exhibition vote for their favourite and the winning Ninots, Adult and Childrens, go to the Fires Museum.
The size and complexity of these structures is what is truly amazing. That they are built so close to buildings right in the heart of town is staggering, hence the H&S warning above – this would simply not be considered in the UK. Once these fires are lit the fire brigade start wetting them down. The final fire to be burnt is the one in the Ayuntamento and it is enormous, not necessarily the largest or most complex but still impressive. And after this Nicht de Foch, Night of the Fires, the following day you would not even know it had happened, no debris, no barriers piled up on street corners, nothing. And that applies city wide, not just in the centre.
But this is not just a day time festival, many of the fires are best seen at night when flood lit and some are the centre pieces of amazing illumination displays. One of the most impressive is Falla Cuba, which wins awards every year.
Fireworks are the big attraction. There are four days of competitive displays leading up to the final Nicht de Foch on the 19th, and unlike many religious festivals the date doesn’t change, at all. There are day time fireworks at 2pm every day in the Ayuntamiento called La Mascleta, these start at the beginning of March. And they attract enormous crowds, the Ayuntamento is rammed full and over flowing on most days, if you arrive late you don’t get in.
Not that there much to see but it is all about the noise and sometimes coloured smoke – it is akin toan artillery barrage, you feel the explosions rather than see the fireworks, although if you are outside the square you miss the effect. After a few minutes the smoke rolls across the square and you can’t see much of anything, and after a few more minutes you can’t hear much either! Quite amazing.
At about 1 am on the last 4 days of the festival the main firework displays are held; they are run as a competition and are impressive, really impressive. Hundreds of tonnes of fireworks set off in 20 minute displays above the city and once you have seen these displays, every other display you see is simply ‘some fireworks’. Again, the crowds are unbelievable. You need to be in place maybe an hour in advance and once zero hour arrives there is little room to move, every area of the city within sight of the display appears to be full of people.
The best place to see the displays is from the western end of the Puente de la Mar, the fireworks are launched from just north of there in the Jardin de Turia.
I used the GoPro to record a couple of the Masclettas and the night time displays but the footage simply doesn’t do the spectacle justice. You have to go and see for yourself.