A festival like no other – Les Falles in Valencia
As the city of Valencia has finally calmed down after a crazy week of festivities, I have finally had the time to reflect on my experience at the incredible festival of Les Falles (in Valencian, or Las Fallas in Spanish). The main festivities took place from the 15th to the 19th of March; however the build-up to the main events started as early as the end of February. The tradition is a celebration and commemoration of Saint Joseph, and while it started as a feast day with small-scale structures being burnt, it has now evolved into an extravagant festival filled with huge papier-mâché sculptures, traditional Valencian dress, breathtaking firework displays, and, of course, a great deal of fire.
The celebrations were like nothing I had ever seen before. The city was packed with people, the population more than doubling! In the mornings daily processions took place, with brass bands, live music and people in the most beautiful traditional Valencian dress. Each day la mascletà display took place in the main plaza, which is essentially a display of gunpowder explosions (similar to fireworks you would see at night). All of the explosions were perfectly timed, making unique loud bangs accompanied with intensely pigmented coloured smoke. Each night there were amazing firework displays. They filled the sky with vibrant colours and lights while the whole city watched in awe, churros and buñuelos (fried dough) in hand. There were also magnificent light shows timed to music, which honestly put any Christmas lights I have ever seen to shame! The partying went on until the early hours of the morning. Each night you would turn down a different street and find a new crowd of people dancing and enjoying the music and atmosphere.
Walking through the city during the week I felt like I was in a real-life cartoon, as down the streets of different neighbourhoods you would find huge sculptures of figures known as ninots (and when fully constructed known as Falles). Each part of the city has its own group of people known as the Casal faller who raise money during the year to create the specific sculpture for that neighbourhood. Looking at the different ninots you could see how much time and effort had been put into every detail. They really were works of art! They all surrounded different themes, the ones made by children being more fun and light-hearted, while the bigger ones were more comedic, many with satirical and political themes.
Everyone from young children to older people could be seen letting off explosives, from small firecrackers to huge loud fireworks. This definitely took some getting used to, as every day the noise of firecrackers and fireworks would fill the streets. In the beginning I found myself flinching at every small sound. However, by the end it became completely normal and when the festival had finished the silent streets felt oddly unfamiliar.
To mark the end of the festival it was La Cremá (The Burning), which meant that all the Falles (bar the winners) were set alight and burnt to the ground. This was extremely surreal to watch. At first it seemed like such a shame to see all of these amazing works of art being burnt to ashes. However, at the same time it was strangely satisfying watching each part of the structure crumble and fall. Overall, Les Falles was the most unique and energetic festival I have ever experienced and I definitely hope to return again in the future!