Gunpowder runs through the veins of Valencians and it doesn’t take them long to find an excuse to set off an array of different pyrotechnics to celebrate religious festivals, weddings, baptisms, communions, heck, they even set them off if they win the football. It is during Fallas, however, when this obsession culminates and all hell breaks loose.
WHAT IS IT?
Fallas is a festival in honour of San José (Saint Joseph), patron of carpenters, and also coincides with Spanish Father’s Day. Fallas are organized and built by members (known as Falleros) of the over 350 Comisiónes Falleras (Fallas Commissions) but you needn’t be a member to partake in the festival because most of the party is on the streets of Valencia. Each Comisión Fallera has a Casal Fallero which sets up a marquee in the street next to their Falla monument; these are private parties but most of the action takes place on the street so you are free to join in (just don’t wander into one of their private marquees!). The Ayuntamiento de Valencia (Valencia Local Council) also builds a Falla in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento which is funded by taxpayers.
The Fallas themselves are impressive monuments made from wood, paper mâché and other materials which are erected in the middle of streets throughout the whole city and its towns and villages. These monuments, which often tower high above buildings, are satirical representations of things that have happened in the year. Each Comisión Fallera (Falla Commision) builds two fallas: a Falla Infantil (Children’s Falla) and the main Falla which is much larger. On the final night they are all set ablaze and Valencia turns into an inferno. Tourists often lament the burning of these monuments because they just can’t get their head around the destruction of these beautiful (and costly) works of art but they miss the point of Las Fallas: the fire acts as a purification of the bad things that have happened. It’s kind of an out with the old and in with the new attitude; that doesn’t stop, however, that many people cry with emotion when the fire rages through the structures.
In 2017, Las Fallas was finally declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
WHEN IS IT?
The cycle of Las Fallas is never ending; once the Fallas monuments have been burnt down, preparations for next year start almost immediately.
Officially, Fallas is inaugurated on the last sunday of February in an event known as La Cridà and ends on the night of 19th March (and into the early hours of 20th). However, the main party days don’t happen until the 15th March when the Fallas monuments must be all erected on the streets of Valencia.
BEFORE THE MAYHEM:
If you are in Valencia before Fallas you can come to this museum to learn more about Fallas. The main attraction is the collection of ninots indultats dating from 1934. A ninot is a small structure which is part of a larger falla and every year 2 ninots (1 from the main Falla and 1 from the Children’s Falla) are chosen by a jury and the public to be saved from the flames and housed in this museum.
Opening times: Monday – Saturday: 9.30am – 7.00pm/ Sundays and Bank Holidays: 9.30am – 3.00pm
Entrance fee: 2€ except for on Sundays and Bank Holidays when it is free.
Location: Plaza Monteolivete, 4.
Take a virtual tour of the museum here
Exposición del Ninot
This is where all the ninots of the year are exhibited so that people can marvel at the Fallas that will be erected on the 15th March. You can also see the sketches and small-scale models of the Fallas. Alternatively, view them online here On the 15th March, the Jury announces the ninot indultat at 5.30pm and afterwards all the Comisiones Falleras come to collect their ninots so that they can be placed in their respective Fallas.
Dates: 4th February – 15th March
Opening times: Monday – Thursday: 10.00am – 8.00pm/ Friday – Sunday: 10.00am – 9.00pm
Where: Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe (Prince Felipe Science Museum at the City of Arts and Sciences)
Entrance fee: 3€ for the general public and 1,50€ for children aged 4-12.
Cridà (Opening Ceremony)
This is the official opening ceremony for Las Fallas and it takes place at the Torres de Serrano (Serrano Towers). The Falleras (members of Fallas) invite the world to come and take part in their most important festival of the year and a little show is put on complete with a light show, music and fireworks.
Mascletàs are similar to firework displays but they are done during the day and the protagonist is not light and colour but sound. Mascletàs are made up of masclets (a heavy duty type of firecracker) which are tied on to strings and consist of four stages:
Start: This is the warm up and is very tame; sometimes it includes some coloured fireworks.
Main body: Crescendo of exploding firecrackers creating a type of loud rhythm.
Terremoto (earthquake): This is my favourite part and it’s when hundreds of masclets go off at once. The name says it all really.
Air Show: Final masclets explode in the air and the plaza is completely engulfed in smoke.
Mascletàs happen EVERY DAY at 2.00pm (on the dot) at Plaza del Ayuntamiento from 28th February – 19th March.
I LOVE mascletàs and after seeing so many you become quite critical; in my eyes, if my ears are not on the verge of bleeding, the mascletà was a let down. During the mascletà the ground shakes and it really does sound like you are in a warzone! Glass from the surrounding bus stops have to be removed because otherwise they could shatter.
If you want to get a good place you need to come at least 1 hour before as the plaza gets full quickly. To kill time, you can buy a can of beer (or soft drink) from one of the men that squeeze through the crowds with a backpack or portable fridge. Alternatively, you can book a place to watch the mascletà from one of the balconies surrounding the Plaza. Click here for available balconies
Tip: if you can’t bear the sound, DO NOT cover your ears (it makes it worse) but open your mouth a little (don’t understand the science behind it, but it helps).
From the 16th – 19th there are many more mascletàs set off at all hours during the day in practically every part of the city! The noise of masclets and firecrackers is almost neverending!
If you want to hear what it sounds like:
Watch out for the live concerts that take place in the Jardines de Viveros. Check online nearer to the time.
This is the day when the Fallas are erected using cranes. It is often overlooked but it is really interesting to see lorries with pieces of the fallas going through the city and watching them piece it all together while the artists give their final touches of paint. All Fallas must be completed on this day otherwise they are disqualified from entering the official competition.
The most impressive and most famous street lights are those in a neighbourhood called Ruzafa located behind the main train station. They are switched on in a grand ceremony on the 11th March including music and a light show but if you can’t make it you can still see the lights throughout all of Fallas.
But these are not the only lights in the city; every falla will illuminate their street. I particularly like the lights at Falla Convento Jerusalen and the simple old-school lights dotted around the city.
Falla monuments are true works of art that represent satirical and critical events inspired by the year. Most Fallas are entered into a competition whereby different prizes are given depending on what section they belong to. The Sección Especial (Special Section) include the most famous and also the most expensive Fallas (before the crisis, the Falla de Nou Campanar cost a mind-blowing 900,000€!)
Most people admire the main Fallas and don’t take much notice of the Falla Infantil but sometimes the smaller Falla is more beautiful and much more intricate than their main falla counterpart.
A word of warning to those who may be a bit sensitive: many Falla monuments include full-frontal nudity and erect penises…
Don’t limit yourself to just the Fallas of the Special Section (map below); the best bit of Fallas is to wander aimlessly through the streets and discover different worlds. Some Fallas however are very underwhelming, mainly because the Falla Commission they belong to has spent most of their budget on alcohol and music.
La Ofrenda (Flower Offering to the Virgin)
In the Plaza de la Virgen, a huge wooden platform is erected with the head of the patroness of Valencia on top. Members of all the Falla Commission parade the streets of Valencia and come to offer bunches of flowers to the Virgen. These flowers are then interwoven on the wooden platform to create a different flower pattern every year. This is the only monument that isn’t burnt to a crisp.
Cavalcada del Foc (Fire Parade)
While the Flower Offering is a religious parade, you could say that la Cavalcada del Foc is more of a Pagan affair where men in devil masks run up and down the street throwing firecrackers and sparks fly into the crowd. It begins on Calle Colón at 7.00pm before the burning of the Fallas (Cremà) and culminates at La Porta de la Mar where there is a firework display.
Castillos (Firework Displays) & Nit del Foc (The Night of Fire)
From the 15th there are Firework Displays every night in the old river bed between Puente de las Flores and Puente de la Exposición. The best place to watch is inside the river bed just before the Puente de la Exposición, however, I’d recommend against it because unfortunately there are lots of immature people who throw borrachos (a type of firecracker that follows you and then explodes). If you prefer to be safe, watch the fireworks from one of the bridges or prepare to go well in advance and get a spot right next to where the action happens. The Nit del Foc is a special firework display and tends to be the most impressive as it is also the last firework display (at least in the river). Go to go out with a proper bang!
L’Alba de les Falles (Dawn of Fallas)
This is an old tradition that was revived whereby different Fallas around Valencia set of a fireworks battery to mark the Plantà and the official start of the main days of Fallas. This year there will be a special fireworks display that will signal the rest of the Fallas Commissions who decide to take part in this revived tradition. Fireworks will light up the dawn.
Cremà (The Burning)
This is culmination of Fallas when every single Falla is burnt down and many Falleros cry with emotion. I admit it, I’ve even cried and I am not even a Fallero!
If you know any Falleros you may be lucky to be invited to one of the many street paellas; if not you can still marvel at them and lick your lips. For those who have no Fallero friends there are still plenty options.
The quintessential Fallas food is Buñuelos de Calabaza (Pumpkin Fritters) with thick hot chocolate. It is sold everywhere on the streets but I always prefer going to Mari Toñi (Calle Alboraya, 23) as they serve the best ones. It is open all day and night. You also need to try Figues Albardaes (buñuelos with a dried fig inside) which are sold near Plaza de la Virgen.
Food Trucks are also becoming quite popular in Valencia (it took them a while to catch up) and there will be many dotted around the city. There are also street markets that serve food.
If you’d rather sit down and eat you can go to one of the many bars and restaurants Valencia has to offer. The downside is that most don’t bother to serve their usual fare and offer Fallas Menus which tend to be lower quality and more expensive than usual. If I’m out and about I normally end up going to one of the authentic (and cheap as chips) Chinese restaurants such as Min Dou (Calle Pelayo, 31) or Don Pepe (Calle del Matematico Marzal, 25). It’s not very Spanish and probably not the best idea for tourists who want to eat Spanish food but I live here all year around so…
Fallas wouldn’t be the same without music! You’ll hear lots of traditional music especially from the Dolçaina i Tabalet (Traditional reed instrument and drum) and Music Bands. At night there are also many Verbenas (street parties) dotted around the city.
Secretly, I love this traditional Fallas song; it’s so corny but it I am currently listening to it with a big grin on my face and it is bringing back so many memories.
Firecrackers might not technically be music but they are the constant sound of Fallas. Join in the fun and buy some yourself. You might be surprised to see toddlers and young children throwing firecrackers but for a Valencian local this is totally normal. There are however a few unspoken rules: DO NOT throw firecrackers into large crowds of people and DO NOT buy or throw Masclets or Borrachos.
VENTURE AWAY FROM THE CENTRE:
If you want to experience a more intimate falla experience, I’d recommend going to one of the Fallas outside the city centre where there are less people. The grandiosity of the Fallas are not as espectacular but you get to experience it all without the overwhelming crowds of tourists and you can be closer to the mascletàs and cremàs.
“Burn, baby, burn; Valencia infernoooo”