The Fallas

There are many reasons to visit Valencia, Spain during the Fallas, but we can summarize it as follows: enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

During the Fallas, you can see Fallas monuments and fireworks shows. We cannot forget the traditional costumes as they are really beautiful, detailed, made and worn with love.

A bit of context

The festival consists of the creation of sculptures made of papier-mâché, very colorful and with a lot of humor about current events.

Azucena Quiroga © Solkes

These festivities are also called “fiestas josefinas” or “fiestas de San José”. They are so called because they are held in honor of St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, which was a very widespread guild in the city when they began to be held in the late nineteenth century, and retained until today, given the importance of the furniture industry in the region.

On the eve of St. Joseph’s Day, bonfires were lit to announce the festivity, and this ritual practice was called “cremà”.

The popular version of the origin of the fallas according to the Marquis of Cruïlles, was initiated by the carpenters’ guild that burned on the eve of the day of their patron Saint Joseph. A purifying bonfire was carried out, and cleaning of the workshops was done before the beginning of spring.

In addition, they burned their “parrots” (structures from which they hung the candles that gave them light) since they were no longer needed at the end of winter.

The first reference to the Fallas dates back to 1774, but it is not until 74 years later, in 1848, that publications about the Josephine festival can be found.

Currently, this festivity has become a very important tourist attraction, since in addition to being listed as a festival of International Tourist Interest, in November 2016 Unesco inscribed them on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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On March 17 and 18 takes place one of the most exciting moments for Valencians and, by extension, for those who visit the city.

We are talking about the Floral Offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados, patron saint of Valencia. The offering has two routes, one along the street of San Vicente and the other along the street of La Paz, to fill with flowers the mantle of the Virgin in the emblematic Plaza de la Virgen.

Every day during the Fallas, at 2:00 pm, Valencia’s Plaza del Ayuntamiento hosts the traditional mascletà, its thunderous fireworks display.

Valencia’s gastronomy is indeed rich all year round, but among the reasons to go to Fallas is also to savor its delicious rice dishes and many other dishes and desserts.

I think it is important to note that the Fallas of Valencia have been suspended in their entirety on six occasions: 1886, 1896, 1937, 1938, 1939, and 2020.

In 1886 the falleros (individually) refused to pay the fee of 60 pesetas that had been charged as a canon since 1851 for planting the catafalques in the streets.

Martin Sanchez for Unsplah © Solkes

In 2004 the official acts were cancelled for three days as a consequence of the serious terrorist attacks in Madrid. It is necessary to make a parenthesis to relate that these acts were carried out on March 11 at the Atocha station, a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda that would kill 193 people.

In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebrations were postponed and then canceled. In 2021, the festivities were postponed and held, with the corresponding security measures, from September 1 to 5.

Components of the Festival

Las Fallas has several components. It is much more complex than people can imagine.

Let’s start with the Junta Central Fallera. It is the body that regulates and coordinates the Fallas festival in the city of Valencia, Burjasot, Mislata, Chirivella, and Cuart de Poblet with the commissions of each fallen, as well as with the District Boards.

It has its headquarters in the building attached to the Fallas Museum, in front of the City of Arts and Sciences, next to the church of Monteolivete. The Junta Central Fallera is in charge of several things. They must elect the Fallera Mayor of Valencia, choose the best fallas of all categories, as well as organize the central events of the festival, among many other things.

The fallers artist (called the faller artist) makes the falla, but some fallero artists make secondary works such as the elaboration of floats and decorations for premises, stores, and fairs. These artists belong to the Gremio Artesano de Artistas Falleros (Gremi artesà d’ Artistes fallers. Valencia).

The commissions have the objective of building the falla for the feast of St. Joseph, during the rest of the year in each casal there are festive, cultural, and social events of all kinds, which make the falleras commissions one of the main axes of the associative life and the social fabric of Valencia and the other municipalities where this festival is celebrated.

Almost in every street of the city, there is a “casual fallero”, a meeting place for each of the falleras commissions, which throughout the year seek sources of income to pay for the festival and their monument.

On the other hand, one of the main elements of the Fallas festivities is the pyrotechnic shows, since gunpowder and pyrotechnics arrived with the Muslims, these have always been linked to the festivities of the Valencian people.

We cannot forget the music. Music is intrinsically linked to the fallas since it is such an important element of the festival. The Fallas commissions hire more than 300 music bands to accompany them to any of the Fallas events.

Traditionally, the music that accompanies the festival is the traditional and popular pasodoble, such as “Paquito el chocolatero”, “Amparito Roca”, “Valencia” and “El fallero”, although more modern and current songs have also been introduced. In these celebrations not only bands are heard but there are also groups of traditional Valencian music, formed by dulzainas and tamboriles. In the evenings, music is also important, as there are the typical “verbenas” with orchestras and “discomóviles”, which are spread throughout all the neighborhoods of the city, and are open to anyone who wants to enjoy them until dawn.

The costumes

The traditional Valencian women’s costume has a long tradition in history. It appeared in the sixteenth century and began as a working costume for Valencian women farmers. With time it was transformed and became more and more elegant.

Azucena Quiroga © Solkes

In short, the costume worn by the falleras is the festive costume worn by the Valencian women centuries ago.

The costume has several variants.

The first is the 18th-century costume, with a more French style.

This particular costume is characterized by being based on antique engravings. The bodice falls on the outside and is adjusted to the body with rigid elements. It has narrow sleeves that reach to the elbow. It is worn with a bow and the ankles and shoes are shown.

There are also the costumes that emerged in the nineteenth century, which are called farolet because of their lantern-shaped sleeves.

They are characterized because the sleeves are made of silk become part of the bodice and are shorter. In addition, a set of dressings made with pearls in the shape of a cluster.

Another very important detail is the hair.

In the hair, the woman can wear a bun or three. A larger one is worn at the back of the head, while two smaller ones, the “rodetes”, are worn at the temples.

Azucena Quiroga © Solkes

The bows are picked up with needles and adorned with combs. They are beautiful and the craftsmanship is incredible.

The pinta for the back bun and the rascamonyos for the rodetes were inspired by the costumes of the Dama de Elche more than 2500 years ago.

The traditional male costume can be of several types.

One is the saragüell costume, which appears under the name sarawil in Muslim Andalusian texts from the 10th century.

This garment consists of wide breeches placed directly on the body and on which other garments may or may not be superimposed.

The fabric of this garment is a canvas for working days, and on holidays it is covered with a second wool or silk breeches, known as negrilla.

Another of the traditional male garments is the torrentí suit, which is characterized by having pants that are tighter to the leg and a chopetí, a kind of vest and/or jacket.

On the head, the man usually wears a mocador (handkerchief), a cap, or a skullcap, the latter made of crochet, which are complemented with different caps and hats, such as the Rodina, the cossiol, or the montera.

Important events

Many acts take place during this celebration. However, some should always be there, they can never fail.

La Crida is celebrated the last Sunday of February and is the act in which the Fallera mayor of the city, meets at the gates of the same, the Torres de Serranos, all the falleras commissions and makes a call, to the initiation of the festivities, to all Valencians and all visitors. In this act, the mayor or mayoress of Valencia gives the keys of the city to the fallera mayor and the fallas begin.

The exhibition of the Ninot: it is an act fallero with many years of roots. In 1973, the mayor of Valencia, Vicente López Rosat, accompanied by the fallera mayor, Encarnación Folgado, attended the Ninot Exhibition, which was then held in the Lonja.

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There are about 800 ninots (dolls, in Spanish) that are presented in this Fallas museum, open to the public for several days in the City of Arts and Sciences. In this museum the ninots are presented with the illusion of being pardoned and spared from burning, only the best one will be saved, and it will be called Ninot indultado, a tradition that dates back to 1934.3 The result of the verdict depends on a popular vote.

After exhibiting the most prized ninot of each fallera commission, the falleros themselves go to the Ninot Exhibition to pick it up (the children’s ninot on the afternoon of March 14 and the adults on the afternoon of March 15), after having undergone a testimony by the popular jury. Going to the same is usually in a group, with music and party in the street. Animating the city with multiple impetus and praising the major and child fallera of each fallen.

The return to the falla is done with the ninot on their backs or with a vehicle manufactured by them. The wealthier casales usually present a larger ninot and usually have facilities to bring it back.

La Cabalgata del Ninot: it takes place on a weekend close to the beginning of the Fallas week itself. In it, different falla commissions present, in their parade, a social, political, or sporting theme, usually of a local or regional nature. The comparsas, figures, and floats of each commission satirize or criticize their theme, as if it were an itinerant falla and with humanized ninots.

Azucena Quiroga © Solkes

The Cavalcade of the Kingdom (International Folkloric Cavalcade): it is a long parade in route and duration that will summarize all the folklore of the three Valencian provinces, Alicante, Castellón, and Valencia. One more act to bring even closer to the street is one of the festivals that are most closely lived.

The Mascletà: every day at 14:00 hours, from March 1 to 19. It is one of the most valued events by the Valencians.

La Plantà: it takes place on March 14 and 15. The act of erecting the fallas monuments, better known by the generic name of fallas.

La despertà (La petardà), the falleros wake up the rest of the neighbors by throwing firecrackers known as “tro de bac”, which explode when they hit the ground, or masclets (high impact firecrackers). The despertàs are criticized by the neighbors because in Valencia is only a holiday on March 19 and these firecrackers cause inconvenience to non-fallas neighbors.

The collection of prizes: all the falleras commissions go to the place where they have been summoned to receive the prize they have been awarded. They hang the awarded prize in the enclosure of their falla so that the rest of the people who are not falleros can see them.

The offering to the Virgin of the Desamparados, patron saint of the city of Valencia and the Valencian Community. The offering takes place throughout the afternoon and early evening of March 17 and 18.

A Fire theme

Two really remarkable events, in my opinion, are: the fireworks castles and the fire parade.

Let’s start by saying that during the Fallas festivities, from March 15 to 19, the City Council schedules a Fireworks Castle every night, which is set off, depending on the day, between 00:00 and 1:30 in the Alameda area next to the old Turia riverbed.

The most important and spectacular of the castles is the one known as Night of Fire which is fired the night of March 18 to 19, and for more than 20 minutes, thousands of kilograms of gunpowder (2450 kg, year 2015) illuminate the sky of Valencia, coming to congregate more than a million people to witness it.

That particular night has amazing fireworks. Many Valencians look forward to this moment to enjoy with family and friends a unique pyrotechnic show.

On the other hand, La Cabalgata del Fuego is a parade that announces the arrival of the fire that will burn the fallas.

Formerly it was the act in which, after removing the ninots from the falla, they were taken in a cavalcade to the Museo Fallero.

The cremà is the closing act of the festivities. It consists of the burning of the Falleros monuments planted in the streets of Valencia and in their localities on March 19.

Azucena Quiroga © Solkes

The event is preceded by a fireworks display, lit by the Fallera Mayor and the president of the Commission. First, at around 22:00, the children’s monument is burned, except for the falla that won first prize in the special section, which is burned at 22:30.

At 11:00 p.m. the municipal children’s monument is burned. Then at midnight the big monuments are burned and at 00:30 the first prize of the Special Section of this category is burned. Finally, at one o’clock in the morning, the Fallas monument of the Town Hall Square is burned, which is out of competition, since it is the official one of the Town Hall.

Beauty and satire

Throughout the city of Valencia, there are hundreds of Fallas, both adults and children. You will find them in squares and street crossings, and the center is the easiest place to see them. However, there are some Fallas that stand out and always get the applause of the public due to their impressive dimensions.

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The largest Fallas are those that compete in the Special Section.

The Town Hall also has its Falla (in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento). In this case does not enter the contest, but for many years it is also one of the most spectacular.

As I say, all over the city there are Fallas, some bigger and some smaller, but all with a message, a lot of work behind, and a bit of satire to take the current issues with a bit of humor.

Another important point during the fallas is satire. There are very big fallas with everyday scenes showing social and comic satire.

One of the best-known and at the same time scarcest characteristics of the fallas is satire. Nowadays satire is relatively few in comparison with other types of humor that can be found in the fallas.

Finished for now

The festival has been transformed over the years, but without losing its essence and all its traditions. Those bonfires arise when burning the fallas, monuments that are planted every March 15 in the streets of the city and the province of Valencia.

The city is filled with colors, the Fallas, the lights, and the dresses of the Falleras, which are a marvel. You can spend hours gawking at their costumes because they are all unique and different.

Translated By: Laura Viera Abadía

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