Fireworks and Lights – and more Fireworks: Fallas in Valencia

The Fallas is a Valencian spring celebration held every year (if possible) in March. Coming to Valencia, I had of course already heard about the celebration and was hoping it would take place, as it had been cancelled the two years before due to the pandemic. 

I first received some first-hand information about the Fallas (or Falles in Valencian) from a local during an organized tour around the city centre from my Spanish school: Apparently the tradition started in the Middle Ages, with carpenters burning their spare wood in spring.

This tradition evolved, and people started putting cloths on the pieces of wood to make them look like people. Nowadays, the pieces of wood are giant statues (up to 30m high), painted in different colours and often depict caricatures of popular things. On almost every crossroad in the city there is a Falla (combination of statues), resulting in around 400 beautifully decorated crossroads. Additionally, the population hangs up colourful lights in the small streets, creating an amazing atmosphere at night. 

Another thing that is very important are the Mascletas, which take place every day of the celebration (so more than 20 times) at exactly 14:00 on the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. On the weekends, already hours before you can see people sitting there with camping chairs to secure the best spots. The Mascletas are a sort of firecrackers, louder than any other firecracker I’ve ever heard in my life. The displays last 5-10 minutes, during which the Plaza is always bursting with people and can be heard easily at the beach, which is 5km away from the city centre. If this is not enough to give you permanent hearing damage, surely the kids throwing the same firecrackers randomly in the streets the whole day – sometimes mere meters away from you – will do the rest. 

While the Mascletas are mainly about the noise, there are four night-time fireworks at the end of the Fallas. In a city so obsessed with lights, colours and fireworks you obviously have high expectations about the fireworks, thinking that they must put every other firework you’ve ever seen – be it 1st of August, 31st of December or whatever – to shame. And you are absolutely right. Lasting between 10 and 20 minutes and consisting of all the colours and shapes and forms of firework you can imagine they are a true spectacle to observe.

One thing that does not make any noise but is just as beautiful as the fireworks is the Ofrena de flors (“flower offering”), taking place on the Plaza de la Virgen. There all the people taking part in the Fallas bring flowers to a big statue while wearing their traditional clothes. In the beginning the statue is just a wooden framework, but over time it evolves to a beautiful, colourful statue consisting of thousands of flower bouquets.  

After almost a month of celebration it all comes to an end. While the Fallas started with planks of wood that over the years evolved to beautiful, massive statues that take months to be constructed, it still ends the same: Everything gets burned. Some 400 statues getting burned all at almost the same time (except for the Fallas in narrow streets surrounded by buildings, as firemen need to be present to hose down the façades to prevent them from suffering damage from the enormous heat the burning Fallas give off) results in a spectacular, almost apocalyptic atmosphere. Walking around the streets of Valencia you can almost feel the sadness of the people that the Fallas – almost a month of daily celebrations, lit up streets and adventures – have ended. Another year has passed and now it’s time for a new one. But there is one thing to cheer the people up: The next day the preparations for the next Fallas begin.

Micha Röthlisberger

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