One of Spain’s most iconic, flamboyant and internationally renowned festivals has just got underway in València. The main Fallas festivities are held in the capital city but some other provincial areas of the València region – including Alicante – host their own smaller-scale yet equally vibrant celebrations.
The Hogueras de Alicante bonfires, for example, are the city’s official fiestas, coinciding with San Juan celebrations from 20 to 24 June.
For international visitors flying into Alicante-Elche Miguel Hernández Airport, and staying on the Costa Blanca, València city is a convenient two-hour drive along the coast.
Known as the “Falles” in Valencian, the festival is in commemoration of St. Joseph (patron saint of carpenters) and is included on UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” list”. Its origins date to the tradition of improvising bonfires with old furniture to celebrate the arrival of spring, and its modern-day version combines tradition, culture, satire and art, showcasing the locals’ ongoing passion for fire and fun.
Fireworks displays (“mascletàs”) are organised every day until the festival’s culmination on 19 March. During the final five days of celebrations, grand parades are held to mount the “fallas” – artistic monuments that are created and constructed by different neighbourhood groups (“casals fallers”) using inflammable materials such as firecracker-filled cardboard, paper-mâché and wood, and which can be as high as five storeys.
Mounted as the centrepieces of these monuments are “ninots” (dolls or puppets), which traditionally are satirical caricatures of people targeted in the news. The more outrageous, the better. There are hundreds of “casals” involving a quarter of València city’s 800,000 population.
In addition to creating and viewing the pyrotechnic displays, many people don historical regional “casal faller” costumes, dating from mediaeval times. The neighbourhood groups also have their own traditional bands – adding further to the festival’s air of flamboyance.
A Ninot Exhibition that is on show at the Sciences Museum showcases hundreds of the figures that make up the festival monuments. Two of them (receiving the most votes up to 15 March) will be granted a reprieve from the fire.
All the pardoned “ninots”, since 1934, have been kept and can be viewed in the Fallas Museum, which also includes posters and photographs of the festival, as well as information about its symbolism.
The traditional “mascletà” – a concert of gunpowder explosions – takes place daily at 2 pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and later revellers gather in the city’s bar and restaurant terraces savouring typical aperitifs and classic Valencian cuisine including paella.
The spectacular Nit del Foc (Night of Fire) is held on 18 March, while the colourful Flower Offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) takes place on 17 and 18 March.
Then, on the night of 19 March between 8 pm and 11 pm, all the falla monuments are burnt during the final act – the “cremà”.
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