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Las Fallas - Huge City Centre Fires in Valencia

fallapremioImagine vast crowds of amiable locals and tourists, old and young, filling the streets as they focus in on a central plaza. Bars with tables spilling out on to the street and tempting smells wafting from tapas and churros stands nearby. The sky fills with a hanging smog from earlier fireworks displays, the smolding remains of charred figures, and fire crackers and bangers exploding on every corner.  Not for the faint hearted or nervous dogs, Las Fallas throws caution and uptight health and safety rules aside. This is Spain and its fiesta time again!

A giant structure of cartoon-like figures looms over the plaza and looks out at the expectant crowd. Girls dressed in elaborate gowns with hair plaited and twisted and held with tall combs, are joined by others in traditional blouses, neck-scarfs and colourful woven shawls. They dance around the structure as the firemen prepare their hoses. Fireworks paint the sky overhead. Anticipation is building...

At last the fuse is lit and an explotion of light and flame quickly takes hold of the falla. As the fire envelops it the firemen spray the crowd, which cower from the extreme heat, and the buildings that surround it. Ash falls in giant flakes and the people break off from their cheers to guard their eyes. As the bonfire reaches its peak those at the front are absorbed into the masses behind, unable to hold their ground any longer. A prize falla has been burnt and the crowd slowly disperses in search of the next.

Our first experience of Las Fallas was in Valencia soon after we came to Spain. We took a train from Gandia that brought us to the centre of the city which was already crammed with people. After a few drinks over tapas we were in the spirit of things. It was just a matter of positioning ourselves at a good vantage point and waiting. The atmosphere was great, everyone relaxed and friendly. We had come without the children as a similar event in the UK would have been totally unsuitable for them. Here some patience and stamina were required so we were still glad to have left them at home.

Even though we were way back from the falla, there was no missing the enormous flames that reached high and warmed us. The fireworks, the jubilent crowd, the fierce bonfire (in such an reckless location) marked a spectacular welcome to fiesta-ing in Spain. Once it was over we reluctantly took the train home. The city certainly wouldn't sleep with partying going on until dawn, but we had to. Our carriage was full of people of all ages singing joyously together as we snoozed with smiles on our faces.


This year, with the children older, we decided we would all venture into Gandia for a smaller scale, but still extensive, re-enactment of events. My son was only really interested in bumping into school friends and eating churros with chocolate, but we distracted him long enough to get a good position in the Plaza Major. We were at the front and when the falla eventually burned we were forced back, lucky to retain our eyebrows, and got a good dosing with the fireman's hose. As structures are spread around the town there were a lot of people milling between them, and it felt a little confusing as to where the action would be next. We decided one burning was enough, bearing in mind it was already 1 am, and so we shot home to bed. We still don't have the Spanish stamina for staying up half the night!

There are smaller scale figures burnt at 9-10pm for children if this all sounds too hardcore. Go to the local tourist information for the schedules. Denia is another good spot to see Las Fallas.













Las Fallas are held on the 19 March in the Valencia region - the day of Sant Joseph, the saint of the carpenters. The area has been known since the middle of ages for producing furniture and the event began with wood chips and left overs being burnt as Spring arrived. Over the years the fires have been created from ever more sophisticated structures - public figures were mocked and satirical stories told through them. No longer made of wood, polystyrene and soft cork are now used. The money is raised by organised groups, Casal faller, during events throughout the year.

Las Fallas have told the history of the Valencia region through the eyes of the ordinary people - 'los falleros' - who have created the event over time. If you are interested in seeing this story unfold there is a museum in the city in which one figure is kept from each year's celebration. A guide can bring the history to life - without one there is little information and most of that is in Valenciano. Click for more details - Fallero Museum.