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Falleres in their dresses
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Traditional Xaraguell costume for the men...

The Falles (in Catalan/Valencian) or Fallas (in Spanish) are a Valencian 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 regional speciality paella, and of course much music and laughter.

Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla which is eventually burnt.

The name of the festival is thus the plural of falla. The word's derivation is as follows:
fallaVulgar Latin *faclaLatin facula (diminutive) ← Latin fax, "torch".


Falles & ninots

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A Falla for 2005

Formerly, much time would also be spent at the Casal Faller preparing the ninots (Valencian 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 storeys, 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 Valencia.

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 bands.

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.

Mascletà, cremà & other celebrations

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La despertà: a brass band marches through a small street in the early morning.
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Falleres in their dresses march with the band.

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 débris.

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.

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The crowd gathers....
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For Mascleta!!

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 pyrotecnic masters compete for the honor 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 fallera finery) will call from the balcony of the City Hall, Senyor pirotècnic, pots 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 Valencians are concerned, and the masters don't disappoint them. For six or seven minutes hundreds of kilos of black powder is 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 pyrotecnic masters as they bow to their fans.

Mascleta is a very Valencian activity, hugely popular with the Valencian people and found in very few other places in the world. Smaller neighbourhoods often have 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!

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La cremà, 2002

On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March 19th, these falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as the cremada 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 infantil (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 carrer 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 trinkets.

Flower offerings - Ofrenda de Flores

In the midst of all the noise and fire, there is a more spiritual side to Fallas. On the 17th and 18th of March a procession will set out from each Falla to carry flowers through the streets to the Cathedral. There, in La Plaza de La Virgen, a huge statue of the Virgin Mary is constructed from the hundreds of thousands of bouquets which are brought by the people.


It is thought that the Falles started in the Middle Ages, when artisans put out their broken artifacts and pieces of wood that they sorted during the winter then burnt them to celebrate the spring equinox.

Falles 2005 gallery


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