WHAT IS FALLAS? by Michel Gijtenbeek

WHAT IS FALLAS? by Michel Gijtenbeek

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Valencia is Spain’s third largest city, well known for its Oranges, Paella and for a few years now it’s F1 Grand Prix. Its location next to the Mediterranean Sea means that sun is almost always abundant and for such a large city, it is has a very relaxed atmosphere.  Except that is for a few weeks in March each year when all the passion and ‘fire’ the people have in them, comes out, quite literally! A wonderful festival occurs, which ends with the whole city being set ‘on fire’. This is the amazing festival called ‘Las Fallas.’

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Describing the ‘Las Fallas’, or ‘Fallas’ festival in brief, to someone who has never been, is hard, very hard indeed. Fallas is a complete experience, it is not just about witnessing things. Everything you experience in such a short period really tickle your senses, making ‘Fallas’ a festival that produces in you a lot of emotions and feelings. Although ‘Fallas’ actually starts at the beginning of March and the official opening ceremony always occurs on the last Sunday of February, the most intense days of the festival are the last 5 days, from the 15 th till the 19th of March.

I normally arrive in Valencia around the 13th of March, I always have a sense of coming home. I’ve been to ‘Fallas’ on five consecutive years now and the city feels really familiar to me. Funnily enough that familiar feeling happened in the first year, which for me was kind of weird, since when I am in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, I am not usually very comfortable there. Valencia was quite the opposite of that, the moment I set foot in the city I felt instantly welcome and at home. The city has such an ‘easy going’ atmosphere, that you always feel totally relaxed. This great ‘vibe’ in the city, really helps to give ‘Fallas’ that ‘do-whatever-you-like-and-don’t-bother’ feeling!

After arriving on the airport and making the trip to the city by Metro (which I can really recommend, since Valencia has a great Metro system with reasonable prices), I go straight to my hotel/apartment and drop-off my bags. Normally this involves nothing more than checking in, throwing my suitcase into the room, and leaving the hotel as fast as I can. It is not that the hotels are terrible, but you want to get back to the feeling of being ‘back in the streets’ as soon as possible, there is no sitting in a hotel room during ‘Fallas.’ From early January the ‘Fallas-fever’ hits me hard and the desire to get back to Valencia really builds over the next few months. So being in Valencia again, it’s important to go straight back into the streets and ‘smell’ the atmosphere!

The first few days are always the most relaxed, perfect for seeing the city again, doing some souvenir shopping or visiting the ‘Exposicion del Ninot,’ a temporary exposition with typical ‘Fallas’ figures and statues. Those few days are also perfect for walks around the neighborhood, seeing all the big ‘Fallas’ monuments the ‘Ninot’s,’ these are large statues made of wood, Styrofoam and other materials, sometimes over 20 meters in height and

often costing upwards to 200.000 Euros. It is interesting seeing them being completed in the last few days of ‘Fallas’ and truly magical to see them lit up, especially amongst beautiful light displays that adorn the streets mainly around the ‘Ruzafa’ neighborhood of Valencia. I always try to do most of these things on the first few days, since there are fewer people around and you still ‘have the time for it’ knowing full well that in the days following the 15th it will all become much more intense!

A ritual for me and many others is attending the large ‘Mascletà’ fired on the Plaza del Ayuntamiento as soon as I can. The urge to see a ‘Mascletà’ is always huge, it is almost like a form of addiction, well it certainly is for me. It is hard to explain, but I think a lot of people feel the same, ‘Mascletas’ are addictive! After you have seen one, you want to see more and more. Nothing else compares to it, it is a full body experience and quite mind blowing. The Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the ‘City hall square’) is the perfect place for this ‘experience.’ Every day at 2.00pm from the 1st to the 19th of March the biggest ‘Mascletas’ are held in that square, making it heaven for ‘pyromaniacs.’ During ‘Fallas,’ especially towards the later stages, there are also hundreds of ‘street-Mascletas’ fired in the city. These are often in really narrow streets and can be amazingly loud and intense!

Since this is an article for a fireworks magazine, most of the will probably have heard about or seen ‘Mascletas’ on the internet (or maybe even in real life), so an introduction is not that necessary. However, for the people who have no idea what I’m talking about I will give you a short description.

The ‘Mascletà’ is a fireworks show, typical of region of Valencia. It is mostly fired during the daytime and the emphasis is about the sound rather than the visual elements as in a regular fireworks display, although there still mush to be seen during a display. The ’Mascletà’ is a carefully composed symphony of loud explosions of differing size and volume. The crackers used are called a ‘trueno’ and in addition there are many candles, batteries (cakes) and mines that are also used to produce all kinds of whistling, bangs and ‘hummer’ effects. A traditional ‘Mascletà’ also needs to have plenty of ‘salute’ shells.

Pyro_ProdThe ‘Mascletà’ carefully builds with an ever increasing volume and rhythm, leading up to an amazingly fast and loud finale. A regular Mascletà normally lasts around 4 to 5 minutes. When watching a ‘Mascletà’ in real live, all your senses get tickled. You get totally sucked into the overwhelming rhythms and incredible loud noises, it is not just about sound and vision it is about feel, you will ‘live’ a ‘Mascletà!’ One thing is a 100% sure, during a ‘Mascletà’ your adrenaline level will rise very high!

The whole intense experience of a ‘Mascletà,’ can only be comprehended fully if you experienced one in real life, so it is a perfect additional reason for visiting Fallas!

As I have already mentioned as the days go by the whole experience becomes more intense, but not in a bad way. The whole city starts to buzz more and more, streets get more crowded, providing more and more of a ‘Fiesta’ atmosphere. All the neighborhood

committees (called a ‘Falla’ or ‘Casal Faller’) have their parties in the streets. Bear in mind there are around 350/400 of those committees all having their own big statue/monument in the middle of the streets it seems every street is having a massive party it is very crowded. So you can understand how that helps create the amazing party atmosphere the city has during ‘Fallas.’ The centre of the city is largely closed for traffic, making strolling around the city really relaxing and gives you the opportunity to really ‘soak up’ all these new experiences.

But before I lose your ‘pyro’ attention, back to the fireworks. Valencia has more to offer than the ‘Mascletas!’ Each ‘Fallas’ there are also 4 large night time fireworks displays, called a ‘Castillo’. The former riverbed of the river ‘Turia,’ which ran straight through the city and which is now beautifully landscaped, is the location of these night time spectaculars. Four big displays are fired by four different local companies, they tend to get bigger each night, ending on the 18th of March when the biggest display of all takes place, called the ‘Nit del Foc,’ which means ‘Night of Fire.’ The location of the displays is fairly central in the city, and standing reasonably close to the fireworks, helps to make these very special and again very intense experiences, and whilst beautiful, they always end with a mass of ‘Salutes’ being fired!

The day after the ‘Nit del Foc’ I always have mixed feelings since I know the last day of ‘Fallas’ has begun. For me, the ‘Nit del Foc’ is the definite wakeup call that tells me ‘Fallas’ is coming to an end. On the 19th of March, the city is shakes and thunderous sounds emanate from everywhere due to the large number of street ‘Mascleta’s’ being fired on this final day. It is also a day when one of the biggest ‘Mascletas’ takes place on the city square. In the back of my mind I am always thinking about what is to come in that evening the ‘La Crema.’ That evening towards midnight throughout the whole city, all the big and small (children’s monuments, called ‘Falla infantil’) ‘Ninot’s’ will be burned to ashes. This is called ‘la Crema’ and truly marks the end of ‘Fallas.’ When seeing this for the first time, it is a kind of surreal experience. To see such big monuments, on small road crossings, close to the buildings, being set on fire with flames reaching up to the rooftops and above the buildings next to it, is bizarre and wondrous. When you experience it for the first time your first thoughts are that is a shame that such nice structures with so much time, effort and money having gone into them, are being burnt. However, when you look a bit closer into the ideas behind it all and since most monuments have an ‘critical’ view on society and/or political issues behind them, it makes sense that with the burning of the monuments, it is not also a closure for the festival of ‘Las Fallas’, it is also a way to forget and ‘get rid of’ the sorrows and irritations of the past year and make a fresh new start. It is a night when the city burns.

And the most important thing to remember as you stand there with a sad feeling (and I am sure all the locals feel the same), is that ‘there will always be another ‘Fallas’ and it will be even better than the last one!’