Las Fallas: a guide to Spain's firework and sculpture festival

Las Fallas. Festival. Valencia. Spain.
'DSC_0639' by joe calhounCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

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This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

Location: Valencia, Spain. The fireworks displays are in Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Dates: 12–19 March

Level of Participation: 4 – endless festivities over the last four days, and you can happily throw fireworks with the rest of the Valencians

Exuberant and anarchic, Las Fallas is Europe’s wildest spring party, which is a pretty big deal for what is essentially a glorified puppet show. It’s a time when the city is all but taken over by the fallas, which are huge sculptures of papiermâché on wood, built by teams of local artists. Each neighbourhood sponsors its own falla, and when the town wakes after the plantà (overnight placement of the fallas) on the morning of 16 March, more than 350 have been erected. Reaching up to 15m in height, with the most expensive costing more than €350,000 to build, these grotesque, colourful effigies satirise celebrities, current affairs and local customs.

Though the festival begins on 12 March, it doesn’t really get going until after the plantà. The fallas are placed at various locations around the city and you have four days to wander about checking out the displays as well as revelling in the around-the-clock festivities, which include street parties, paella-cooking competitions, parades, open-air concerts and bullfights. What Las Fallas truly prides itself on is fireworks, with afternoon shows that also reach their peak on 16 March. Valencia considers itself the pyrotechnic capital of the world and each day at 2pm a mascletà (more than five minutes of deafening thumps and explosions) literally shakes the city, so much so that pregnant women are banned from attending a mascletà…this could be one of the loudest events you’ve witnessed.

Unsurprisingly, Las Fallas’ grand finale involves fireworks when, at midnight on the final day, each falla goes up in flames in another fiery explosion, with months of work turning to ash in seconds. Thirty minutes after midnight, it’s the turn of the falla judged the festival’s best to be burned. It’s hardly the spoils of victory. Las Fallas is held in honour of St Joseph’s Day (19 March), though it’s said to trace its origins to a pagan celebration of the spring equinox. The first records of the festival are from the late 15th century. Banned in the mid-19th century, and then taxed almost out of existence, the fallas were revived in the 1880s. Today, the festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Essentials: Come prepared for a manic few days. Maps are available to guide you between the fallas displays – pick one up at the regional tourist office at Calle Paz 48.

Local Attractions: Visit the aesthetically stunning Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences), which is mostly the work of local architect Santiago Calatrava, designer of the new World Trade Center site in New York. Inside, you can go marine at the Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium.

More Info: Valencia Tourism & Convention Bureau (www.turisvalencia.es)

See more festivals in March here.