Our visit to Valencia was an afterthought so the timing was not particularly well-planned. Little did we know that we had arrived in this beautiful city just as it was beginning its biggest celebration of the year - Les Falles, a commemoration of St. Joseph and the coming of spring - one continuous street party filled with traditional costumes, marching bands, elaborate street lights, amazing sculptures, and, most of all, pyrotechnics. It's a festival like no other in the world and it's no surprise it is on UNESCO's "intangible cultural heritage of humanity" list. It is technically a 5-day affair from March 15 to March 19, but in reality it completely consumes the city starting two weeks earlier.
Our new friends in Valencia, Hop & Douglas, invited us to join them the evening of February 29 for the first of the many fireworks displays that would be part of Les Falles. This was "just a prelude" - the festival would not officially open until the following night. We trekked down to the waterfront and enjoyed a fabulous show with thousands of locals.
After the fireworks we took a long walk and ended up at a new Mexican restaurant they had been wanting to try - Restaurante Ameyal. The table-side guacamole was a highlight.
The next night we were invited to Hop & Douglas' friends Tom & Richard's apartment for a cocktail party where we met a lively group of ex-pats (not all American) who had adopted Valencia as their long-term home. From there we walked to the Torres de Serranos for "La Cridà" - the "official" opening ceremonies of Les Falles. After much merriment (competing neighborhood bands making lots of noise) and speech making, there was - of course - another fireworks show.
Our AirBnB apartment was on the edge of the Ruzafa district, the area that has the most heated competition for the best neighborhood street lighting during the festival. Every night the crowds gathered in the larger intersections to watch the gradual assembly of the "Falla" - a gargantuan sculpture that can be as much as two-stories high and fill an entire city square. A Falla is an elaborate collection of individual "ninots" constructed according to an agreed-upon theme that has traditionally been a satirical jab at whatever draws the attention of the sponsoring "Casal Faller" - a committee that puts in a full year's planning and fund-raising to bring honor to their neighborhood. The erecting of lights and the sculptures would be repeated hundreds of times in neighborhood squares across the city (there are over 750 "Casals Fallers"). The sound-track to all of this was the constant din of firecrackers, lovingly carted around in small wooden cigar boxes by pre-pubescent children (as young as 2) who were carefully supervised by parents and grandparents who had done the same for generations. Pop-up stands were everywhere peddling mainly "bunyols" (a Valencian invention known in other parts of Spain as "buñuelos"). They claim to be made with pumpkin, but we have to admit they tasted like any other fried dough we've ever had.
The traditions of Les Falles can be traced back to the Middle Ages, so it's not surprising that traditional costumes are part of the festival. A "Fallera Mayor" is chosen by each neighborhood committee, and one of them is selected as the overall queen of the festival who announces the start of each major event. We had a chance to see their exquisite dresses and hair styles up close at the Plaća de l'Ajuntament before one of the daily "Mesclatás". You see plenty of other children across the city similarly dressed for the many neighborhood events.
The word "Falla" is derived from the Latin word for "Torch". It's baffling that every one of these beautiful and elaborate sculptures are simultaneously torched at the final ceremony on March 19 - the "Cremà", as in "cremation". Each committee submits a "Ninot" to be displayed at a hall next to the Museum of Science where all visitors vote on which Ninot is to be spared from the final conflagration. The winners are placed in the "Museu Faller" where you can see examples as far back as the 1930's. We had a chance to visit both exhibitions and to vote on our favorites.
Just as our arrival in Valencia was timed by accident to catch part of Les Falles, our planned departure on March 10 had us missing the really main events planned for the 15-19th of the month. But, sadly, the day after we left, we heard the news that the Valencian authorities had postponed the festival to July in light of the COVID-19 outbreak that had begun to grip Spain. We were really happy that we got even the smallest taste of this unique festival and we know we'll be back some day to catch its full glory.
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Nancy McCabe &