Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia and Fallas in a nutshell
Everything you need to get the most out of Valencia's famed Fallas festival: important dates and events, vocabulary of ubiquitous Fallas terminology, and a list of must-see-and-do activities.
"Yo que soy valenciano nativo pero criado fuera [...] y reenganchado en mi ciudad hace 27 años, siempre se la presento a los demás comparándola con Barcelona. Para mi Barcelona es como una Top-Model: espectacular, deslumbrante. Valencia sin embargo es como tu pareja: no llama tanto la atención pero está llena de belleza doméstica, de rincones entrañables, de sitios para sentirte a gusto." – Perroflauteando.
Before I start on things to do while you're in Valencia, let me summarise my four entries on Fallas that were published on The Spain Scoop. You will find below a glossary of terms that will help you navigate each tradition of Fallas, and a schedule of important dates and events. (In the interim, I also discovered this wonderful webpage on the language and local vocab of Fallas.)
Fallas dictionary of terms:
• Falla: The festival Fallas is named for the large paper-mâché art statues called a falla, a Valencian word whose latin roots link back to fire. These art displays originated as piles of old furniture that were set out on the streets and burned as part of spring cleaning. They have evolved a lot since those modest 19th-century roots.
• Ninot: This is the Valencian word for the small-sized paper-mâché puppets or figurines. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on 19 March except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.
• Fallero/fallera (mayor, infantil): These are the people who make it all happen. You will see them in tents nearby the fallas during Fallas, celebrating with their families and neighbourhood friends, and parading through the streets in traditional attire on their way to the Virgin with their flower ofrenda (offering). There are two females, falleras, chosen each year to be the main representatives for each casal faller; a young one about eight years old is the fallera infantil, and another around 20 to 30 years old is the fallera mayor. There is also a fallera mayor chosen to represent the city (considered the Queen of Las Fallas), who supposedly has more power than the mayor during the festival – it is a huge honour to be chosen.
• Casal faller: This the local neighbourhood committee of falleros who spend the entire year preparing their street's falla. There are hundreds of these casals, each with their own independent falla and neighborhood festivities. The amount of casals sits around 350 to 400 organisations (each with a falla!).
• Mascletà: This is what I've taken to explaining as a "sound fireworks show", since it is more about the noise and rhythm it makes than lighting up the sky. (Indeed, they are usually done during the day.) The city will do an official mascletà once a day at 2.00pm during the festivities, but each casal faller will also have a neighbourhood one at least once during the week of Fallas.
• Petardo: This is the Spanish word for hand-fireworks, and you will be hearing a tonne of them throughout the week of Fallas. It is not uncommon to see groups of kids in plazas setting them off (although laws are now in place to stop and protect very young children from setting off fireworks in public). Masclets are the very, very loud ones, which resemble (in sound) a bomb going off and can set off car alarms and wake the whole neighbourhood.
• Traca: This is the word for those strings of fireworks where you set off one and it triggers a series of small snapping fireworks. On la nit de la cremà, the burning of most fallas will be initiated by a traca string of fireworks.
• Castillo: Though it literally means "castle" in Spanish, this is also the word for a fireworks show in the sky. There is at least one official castillo each night during the final days of Fallas, normally around or just after midnight over the riverbed. Again, each casal will have its own castillo in the neighborhood, usually the last night.
February 26th (last Sunday of Feb.): La despertà ('The awakening' – a collective hand-fireworks event with all the city's falleros) at 7:30am on Calle de la Paz; plus La Cridà (which means 'the call' – the opening ceremonies with all the falleras mayores, followed by a fireworks show) at Torres de Serranos early evening. These two events formally open the Fallas season.
1 to 19 March: A public mascletà is held each day at 2.00pm in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento.
15 March: La plantà, when each neighborhood mounts its falla, officially inaugurating the public viewing and street festivities.
16 & 17 March: La ofrenda, falleros from different neighborhoods, at different times and places throughout the afternoon, parade to the Plaza de la Virgen to place their "offering" to the Virgin Mary.
16, 17, 18 March: Castillos, a.k.a. fireworks shows, held around midnight. The show on the 18th is the big one, called La nit del foc, the night of fire.
19 March: La nit de la cremà, the night of the burning, when all the falleros across town burn their falla.
A list of casals that produce some of the must-see fallas:
- Nou-Campanar – Out of the way, north of the River Turia, but it usually has the biggest budget of all the fallas in the city.
- Sueca – In the Russafa neighborhood.
- Convento-Jerusalén – In the neighbourhood just to the west of the North Train Station.
- Ayuntamiento – At the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
- Na Jordana – At the edges of El Carmen next to the River Turia park.
- La Mercé – A few blocks away from Valencia's Mercat Central. 7) El Pilar – In the neighborhood to the northwest of the North Train Station, not far from the Mercat Central.
Must-see light displays*:
- Cuba Literato-Azorín
A typical Fallas day itinerary (15 – 18 March):
• Early morning: Sleep in, if you can. On some days you might hear la despertà early in the morning, which is when the casals, in full prank mode, parade around their neighborhood at 8.00am or so playing music and throwing masclets, hand-fireworks which sound like massive bombs when they go off.
• 6.00pm–8.00pm (17 & 18 March): Check out the ofrenda processions in or on their way to the Plaza de la Virgen. Each attendee offers flowers to the Virgin in exchange for a blessing. The hundreds of flowers are then used to make up the 'dress' of the Virgin's wooden structure. Listen to the music the bands play, since it's a classic fallas soundtrack.
cooking meals together such as the Valencian staple, paella valenciana
I encourage you to review my four-part series on Valencia, to look for non-Fallas things to do here while you visit:
1) & 2) In the first two entries I provide you a walking tour of the City Center and the usual (and a few less usual) sights to see there. (When you walk by the Mercat Central, look up and you'll see the Market's Parrot, subject of many fanciful local tales.) I wrap it up with a pass through Valencia's most famous neighborhood, El Carmen, and leave you "a la luna de Valencia" just outside one of Valencia's two city gates.
3) I suspect a lot of visitors to Valencia miss seeing its many hidden gems and off-the-beaten path beauty, because their guidebooks only "take a glance" at the city or focus on the usual suspects and leave out its many distinctive and colourful neighborhoods. So if you like to see something more local, you might review my entry on Valencia's neighbourhoods, port, and playas. To make your walk through El Carmen even more of a hunt, I recommend you read up on Valencia's vibrant street-art scene.
4) The jewel of Valencia is its Turia Riverbed Park and all the many (dare I say "iconic"?) spectacles. This feature of Valencia is by far and away my all-time favorites.
For some dining recommendations, you can read this guest post I wrote for The Spain Scoop on 5 great restaurants here. Valencia is also a nice place to fill your shopping bags and empty your wallets. So if you like to shop, review these past posts on good places to boutique shop or typical Valencian things to buy.
- Window shopping in Valencia as described by local taste-expert Chic Soufflé
- Ceramics and Socarrats - this is _the_ Valencian (esp. Manisses and Paterna) specialty gift to buy.
Hopefully you will be able to enjoy Valencia for its local foods and culture, but if you happen to be missing home, you can check out this two part entry on "hechar de menos" spots in the city for Anglo-expats: part 1 and part 2.
If you come here in a car, then there are a lot of towns within a two-hour drive from Valencia that are worth a visit. While there are many, many more, I can specifically recommend the following day trips:
... and many others some of which I will be sure to write about soon, such as... Xátiva, Sagunt, Morella, Chulilla, Albarracín...
So this page is my homage to the city, to its most famous festival, and to its regional splendor. My hope is that, with time, it will help convert its readers to my belief that this is an incredible place, well worth visiting for all tourists who come to Spain!
Originally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and has been living in Valencia for the last few years. He is a historian by training and is married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights on Spain at Not Hemingway's Spain.
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