The Falles (in Valencia) or Fallas (in Spanish) are a
Valencia tradition which celebrates Saint Joseph's Day (19
March) in Valencia, Spain. Each neighbourhood of the city
has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that
works all year long holding fundraising parties and
dinners, usually featuring the famous speciality paella,
and of course much music and laughter.
Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla
which is eventually burnt.
Formerly, much time would also be spent at the Casal
Faller preparing the ninots (Valencia for puppets or dolls).
During the week leading up to 19 March, each group takes
its ninot out for a grand parade, and then mounts it, each
on its own elaborate firecracker-filled cardboard and
papier-mâché artistic monument in a street of the given
neighbourhood. This whole assembly is a falla.
The ninots and their falles are developed according to an
agreed upon theme that was, and continues to be a
satirical jab at anything or anyone unlucky enough to draw
the attention of the critical eyes of the fallers — the
celebrants themselves. In modern times, the whole two week
long festival has spawned a huge local industry, to the
point that an entire suburban area has been designated the
City of Falles — Ciutat fallera.
Here, crews of artists and artisans, sculptors, painters,
and many others all spend months producing elaborate
constructions, richly absurd paper and wax, wood and
Styrofoam tableaux towering up to five stories, composed
of fanciful figures in outrageous poses arranged in
gravity-defying architecture, each produced at the
direction of the many individual neighbourhood Casals
faller who vie with each to attract the best artists, and
then to create the most outrageous monument to their
target. There are more than 500 different falles in
Valencia, including those of other towns in the Land of
During Falles, many people from their casal faller dress
in the regional costumes from different eras of Valencia's
history — the fife and drum are frequently heard, as most
of the different Casals fallers have their own traditional
The subject matter of constructions may surprise
outsiders. Although the Falles are a very traditional
event and many participants dress in mediaeval clothing,
the ninots for 2005 included such modern characters as
Shrek and George W. Bush.
The days and nights in Valencia are one running party
during the two weeks of Falles. There are processions
galore — historical processions, religious processions,
and hysterical processions. The restaurants spill out to
the streets. Explosions can be heard all day long and
sporadically through the night. Foreigners may be
surprised to see everyone from small children to elderly
gentlemen throwing fireworks and bangers in the streets,
which are littered with pyrotechnical debris.
If you come to Valencia during Fallas, don't expect to
sleep much. Your day will begin at 8am with la despertà ("the
wake-up call"). You'll be lying in bed trying to recover
from last night's partying when it starts. Brass bands
will appear from the Casals and begin to march down every
road playing lively music. Close behind them will be the
fallers throwing large firecrackers in the street as they
go (large enough to set off nearby car alarms, which will
add their sirens to the bedlam!). This continues for an
hour or so, until you decide you might as well get up and
face the day ahead.
Sometime around 2pm there is the mascletà (an explosive
display of the concussive effects of co-ordinated
firecracker and fireworks barrages) in each neighbourhood;
the main attraction is the municipal Mascleta in the Plaça
de l'Ajuntament where the great pyrotechnic masters
compete for the honour of providing the final Mascleta of
the fiestas (on March 19th). Huge crowds gather from all
corners of the city to see this event (go early!).
At 2pm the clock will chime and one of the lovely maidens
(dressed in her faller finery) will call from the balcony
of the City Hall, Senyor pyrotechnic, and pot començar la
mascleta! ("Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence the Mascleta!").
Suddenly the square rips with a pyrotechnic display of a
power rarely seen outside the battlefield. Louder is
better as far as Valencia’s are concerned, and the masters
don't disappoint them. For six or seven minutes hundreds
of kilograms of flash powder are gradually detonated.
The crowd rocks with each explosion and great billowing
clouds of smoke rise as it builds to the finale. The final
crescendo of noise will leave you stunned and senseless
for several seconds, at which point a huge cheer goes up
from the crowd and the people run forward to applaud the
pyrotechnic masters as they bow to their fans.
Mascleta is a very Valencia activity, hugely popular with
the Valencia people and found in very few other places in
the world. Smaller neighbourhoods often have their own
mascleta for saint days, for weddings and for other
celebrations as well. In Valencia, any reason is a good
reason for Mascleta!
On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March
19th, these falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is
known as the cremate or cremà, i.e. "the burning", and
this is of course the climax and point of the whole event,
and the reason why the constructions are called falles ("torches").
Many neighbourhoods have a falla infantile (a children's
falla, smaller and without satirical themes), which is a
few metres away from the main one. This is burnt first, at
10pm. The main neighbourhood falles are burnt closer to
midnight. The awesome falles in the city centre often take
longer. For example, in 2005, the fire brigade delayed the
burning of the Egyptian funeral falla in career Del
Convent de Jerusalem until 1.30am, when they were sure
they had all safety concerns covered.
Each falla is adorned with fireworks which are lit first.
The construction itself is lit either after or during
these fireworks. Falles burn quite quickly, and the heat
given off is felt by all around. The heat from the larger
ones often drives the crowd back a couple of metres, even
though they are already behind barriers that the fire
brigade has set several metres away from the construction.
In narrower streets, the heat scorches the surrounding
buildings, and the firemen douse the façades, window
blinds, street signs, etc. with their hoses in order to
stop them catching fire or melting, from the beginning of
the cremà until it cools down after several minutes.
Away from the falles, there are people going crazy through
the streets, with the city resembling an open-air
nightclub, except that instead of music there is the
occasionally deafening sound of people throwing fireworks
and bangers around randomly. There are stalls selling
products such as the typical fried snacks porras, churros
and buñuelos, as well as roast chestnuts or various
There are a few different theories regarding the origin of
the Falles festival. One theory suggests that the Falles
started in the Middle Ages, when artisans put out their
broken artefacts and pieces of wood that they sorted
during the winter then burnt them to celebrate the spring
equinox. Valencia carpenters used planks of wood to hang
their candles on.
These planks were known as parots. During the winter,
these were needed to provide light for the carpenters to
work by. With the coming of the spring, they were no
longer necessary, so they were burned. With time, and the
intervention of the Church, the date of the burning of
these parots was made to coincide with the celebration of
the festival of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the
This tradition continued to change. The parot was given
clothing so that it looked like a person. Features
identifiable with some well-known person from the
neighbourhood were added as well. To collect these
materials, children went from house to house asking for
Una estoreta velleta (An old rug) to add to the parot.
This became a popular song that the children sang to
gather all sorts of old flammable furniture and utensils
to burn in the bonfire with the parot. These parots were
the first ninots. With time, people of the neighbourhoods
organized the process of the creation of the Falles and
monuments including various figures were born.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Falles
were tall boxes with three or four wax dolls dressed in
cloth clothing. This changed when the creators began to
use cardboard. The creation of the Falle continues to
evolve in modern day, when largest monuments are made of
polyurethane and soft cork easily moulded with hot saws.
These techniques have allowed Falles to be created in
excess of 30 meters.
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