Las Fallas is a festival for pyromaniacs. Once you arrive in Valencia, you will be the subject of countless attacks of the loud, fiery variety – however, the assailants’ ages are rarely in the double digits.
To tell you the truth, I’ve never cared much for fireworks. Everyone gathers to ooh and aah every New Year’s Eve, but you’ll find me with my back turned, sipping a cocktail and texting away. But Las Fallas is different; you’re treated to the loudest firecrackers, the longest and most original fireworks, a full-blown fire parade and then, the piece de resistance, the Cremà (where they burn to the ground the various fallas around town).
By the end of the festival you will be shouting at one another, your eardrums shot, and regularly heading out after one in the morning for a nightly fireworks show. Here’s Las Fallas’ highlights in terms of fire and noise.
From the 1st until the 19th of March, the place to be at 2pm every day is Plaza Ayuntamiento, in the centre of Valencia. Over 100,000 people cram into the square (which is actually a triangle) and are treated to quite the irregularity; fireworks in broad daylight.
Day fireworks are different to their common night cousins; at night it’s all visual, whilst during the day it’s all aural. For each of the twenty days, different casal fallers (neighbourhood groups) script a ten-minute fireworks display, with the crackers set off to a noticeable beat.
It’s hard to explain the Mascletà. After the first few firecrackers you grow accustomed to the sound and even begin to enjoy it; you can physically feel it reverberate through you. I even found myself cheering through the crescendo like a member of a stage audience on an American sitcom. There is no other feeling like it, and for me – because crowds are split during the Cremà – is the highlight of the festival.
Fireworks and the Nit del Foc
Fireworks are pretty central to Las Fallas and you’ll see plenty that individuals set off constantly; the official ones are held each night however. Yep, these are Spanish fireworks – you’re going to have to enjoy them at the very Spanish time of 1am.
These aren’t your average fireworks – each night’s goes for about a half an hour, with people constantly cheering, thinking they’ve seen the final big bang. But no, it keeps going. My favourite fireworks were ones that seemed to descend forever and looked like little parachutists.
The best fireworks are saved for St Joseph’s Eve, 18th March, at 1.30am (so technically the morning of the 19th March). They’re called the Nit del Foc (the Night of Fire) and even the fireworks cynic in me was pretty damn impressed.
Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)
I’d hardly heard about the Fire Parade so I thought it would be pretty low-key. I was wrong.
Travelling along Calle de Colon between 7-8pm on the night of the 19th March, the Fire Parade is just what you’d expect. There were guys with fire jetpacks, others fire-twirling, and even a fire-breathing dragon. However, get there early. Near the Colon metro station it was about ten people deep, so short people like me were forced to watch the proceedings from taller people’s camera displays.
This is the big daddy of all Las Fallas’ fire and noise events; this is when they decide they’ve had enough of their beautiful falla creations and burn them to a crisp.
Wandering the streets of Valencia and admiring all of their (very expensive) creations, you find yourself thinking ‘surely, surely they won’t burn them’. But they do – even the winning falla.
All fallas are burnt at midnight except the one in Plaza Ayuntamiento (which goes up in flames an hour later), and as such our group voted on the falla we wanted to see burn. We chose the Trojan horse, the second-placed falla, and got a decent spot in the swelling crowd.
The falla is lit by fireworks, and in this case took almost half an hour to burn completely. This is what we saw.
The whole situation is crazy – you can see how close the nearby apartment buildings, the trees and even the crowd are, but you never hear of any incidents. Your whole face warms up while the black smoke rises, and you feel the cool night air when you turn away. Firefighters are on hand and constantly hose off nearby buildings and pushing the crowd back, like it’s any old day of the week.
We thought that was it, but when we were wandering through the streets only half an hour later we came across another falla not yet burnt. Instantly I was the subject of ‘Caitlyn, you said they were all burnt at midnight!’
I was dumbfounded. Everything I’d read, everything I’d been told, everything I’d seen, said that all were burnt at midnight bar the one in Plaza Ayuntamiento. Yet a few metres on we saw another falla still looking pretty. Granted, they were smaller ones, but still. Thanks Spain for sending the wrong memo around.
But we couldn’t really complain, because now we had the chance to see another one. Despite being smaller, it was perhaps more entertaining, quite possibly due to the fact that the structure itself was full of fireworks.
I took these three photos in rapid succession (on my iPhone as my DSLR had unfortunately died) – one minute we were all facing the falla, wondering how long it would take to burn, and the next we were fleeing backwards. I’d never seen Spaniards move so quickly; the falla exploded into flames and the fire was immediately at our faces. It was nothing short of exhilarating.
Photos and words hardly do Las Fallas justice. For God’s sake, it’s a fire festival. You just need to experience it firsthand.