Woodworkers of Valencia burning lumber scraps during their annual spring cleaning has evolved into one of Spain’s noisiest and most colorful festivals. In honor of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters (and pyromaniacs), the Fallas Festival of Valencia culminates on his feast day of March 19th with a riot of fireworks and bonfires that would even inspire Burning Man to stand up and cheer.
Locals of all ages share this passion for fun, fire and hearing loss. All over town, even pre-school age children carry wooden boxes containing their personal stash of explosives. The youngest ones, under the tutelage of their parents, learn to use cigarette lighters, light fuses, and entertain themselves with gunpowder detonations.
As the festival draws near, hundreds of elaborate high-rise monuments (fallas) begin to appear in public squares and street intersections throughout the city. Combining tradition, satire, and art, neighborhood organizations and civic groups construct the fallas out of highly combustible wood, cardboard, sculpted Styrofoam, and papier-mâché.
On March 15th, the building of the fallas is finalized and the five-day festival officially begins. Visitors and locals crowd the streets to admire the completed fallas and street illuminations, and enjoy deep-fried street food, roving DJs, and a fair amount of excessive drinking.
For the next two days, the Valencian women, men, and children dress in lavish traditional outfits and parade through the streets to make their emotional floral offerings to Our Lady of the Forsaken, Valencia’s patroness. For nearly twenty hours, thousands of devotees strut their stuff in a continuous stream of sequined dresses and marching bands.
Each night during the festival, Valencia demonstrates its love of exploding projectiles with massive fireworks shows. At 1:30 am, in the opening hours of the festival’s final day, the city stays up late to celebrate Nit del Foc (Night of Fire), a truly amazing display of the pyrotechnical and noisemaking arts.
After a few hours of sleep, the final night of the festival arrived with fever pitch. Just past sunset, crowds lined both sides of the street for the scintillating Fire Parade. With street lights snuffed out, high-spirited characters dressed in hooded red robes dashed by with handheld pinwheels and sparklers raining embers upon the wide-eyed onlookers.
Following the Fire Parade, hundreds of children’s fallas were incinerated throughout the city with great fanfare. These smaller and cuter fallas are lit with a series of fireworks, one of which accidentally ignited the balcony of an adjacent apartment building. Once the children’s fallas and any other unintended fires were extinguished, the large fallas were set ablaze.
From our vantage point, within spitting distance of the massive monumental falla, the incendiary structure was instantly engulfed in flames. Thick black smoke billowed, and the heat grew so intense that we were forced to retreat, while firefighters on-scene sprayed the flames with their high-pressure water hoses.
On cue, a steady rain began to help douse the flames. The rain; however, was no match for the festival finale, and the burning of the largest falla in City Hall Square. To a standing ovation, the flames from the giant monument roared high into the misty night sky, imparted a fitting orange glow over the city, and marked the close of this year’s Fallas Festival of Valencia.
Blogger’s Note: Our eldest daughter Claire took some time off work to join us in Valencia to experience the Fallas festival. She is an adventurous traveler, and helped us stay awake well past our bedtimes to experience all the late-night activities. She will be leaving us soon, but plans to pay us another visit next month after we move on to Cadiz.
A few more photos and a short video: