With the first stirrings of spring, the inhabitants of Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, embark on a serious celebration of the changing seasons.
The party atmosphere builds from the 1st March, with strings of deafening firecrackers being let off every afternoon outside the city hall in a ceremony presided over by the Fallera Mayor. Then for 5 days from the 15th, the atmosphere builds, with music, parades and more fireworks until a fiery finale on the feast day of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
The origins of the Fallas festival date from medieval times, when the city’s carpenters burnt the waste bits of wood they’d used to hold their candles during the dark winter months. Over the years, the bits of wood were decorated and became ornamental wooden figures, called ninots, which have become larger and ever more elaborate. These are mounted on decorative bases and the whole construction is called a falla. Each neighbourhood competes to produce the biggest, best and most extravagant falla.
On the night of 15th March the fallas are set up in the streets and midnight firework display takes place, repeated every night until the end of the festival. Over the next couple of evenings the huge fallas, around 750 in all, are paraded through the streets to the Plaza de la Virgin, where flowers are offered to the patron saint of the city.
The festival culminates with La Crema (The Burning) on the night of 19th when the towering fallas are spectacularly set alight. The burning goes on until the early hours and finishes in the city’s main square in a riot of noise and ear-splitting explosions.
Not all of the figures are lost to the flames. A public vote determines which 2 ninots are to be saved from the fires and to join the archive on display at the Fallero Museum, where the chosen figures have been displayed since 1934.