11 Las Fallas Facts to Know About Valencia’s Fire Festival
If you’d like to know some interesting Las Fallas facts, you’ve come to the right place. This amazing fire festival is celebrated in Valencia every spring and can be tons of fun.
But Las Fallas is also a very complex festival and if this is the first time you’re taking part in the festivities, it might be a lot to take in. These fun facts about Las Fallas are aimed to shed some light on this remarkable festival.
Quick Las Fallas facts
What is Las Fallas: Las Fallas is an annual festival celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the carpenters. Las Fallas is listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2016. The two main attractions of the festival are the fallas monuments – large, satirical artworks that are burned on the last night of the festival – and the mascletà – daily firecracker shows.
Where: Valencia, Spain, and the nearby villages
When: Every year, from the 1st to the 19th of March. The main events take place from the 15th to the 19th of March.
Interesting facts about Las Fallas
Las Fallas has been celebrated for hundreds of years
Las Fallas festival has a long-standing tradition in Valencia. In fact, this festival has been celebrated since the mid-18th century when the people of Valencia started erecting ephemeral wooden frameworks depicting scenes of a satirical nature.
These early fallas were then burned on the evening of St Joseph’s Day, the patron saint of the carpenters (also Father’s Day in Spain).
Las Fallas has deeply religious roots that are still preserved today in the flower offering processions organized on the last couple of days of the festival. The flowers are then used to dress a gigantic framework of the Virgin Mary in a mantle made out of white, red, and pink carnations.
Also read: Where to stay in Valencia during Las Fallas
Las Fallas has several possible origins
An interesting fact about Las Fallas is related to its origins. It’s not clear if this festival started as a spring cleaning ritual, it derived from an ancient celebration related to the welcoming of spring, it sprung from the need of Valencian people to vent, or all of the above.
According to one theory, however, it seems that back in the day it was customary for the Valencian people to pile up and burn the garbage and leftover wood in front of their houses each spring. You have to think that back then Valencia was a completely walled city, so the fact that they were building bonfires in the middle of the city was crazy, to say the least.
Bit by bit, these random piles of junk started taking shape and became humoristic and satirical in nature, criticizing events and public figures. They received the name of fallas (which means “torch” in the medieval Valencian language) and each had a theme or title.
Today, each falla is made of various figures, called ninots. When assembled into a falla, the ninots are like the characters of a story, each contributing to the main plot.
The fallas evolved over time
In the beginning, the fallas were wood and wax figures and the clothes were made of fabric. They were built by the people living in each neighborhood with the help of carpenters and painters.
In the first half of the 20th century, cardboard became quite common and replaced wax as a main material for the fallas.
From the 1970s onward, expanded polystyrene started being used for the outer shell of the ninots. The garments stopped being made out of fabric and started to be painted on polystyrene instead.
Las Fallas led to the emergence of a unique profession in Valencia
As the ninots became more artistic and detailed and the fallas gained complexity, the profession of artista fallero (falla artist) emerged in Valencia.
Artistas falleros had their own workshops and as they invented new techniques for building the fallas, they also developed unique, easily recognizable styles.
An interesting fact about Las Fallas de Valencia is that these days, most workshops are concentrated in the northeast of Valencia, in a neighborhood called Ciutat Fallera, part of the Benicalap district.
The Museo del Gremio Artesano de Artistas Falleros (Museum of the Artisan Guild of Fallas Artists) is also located here and can be visited year-round.
Over 700 fallas take over the streets of Valencia each year
As the festival gained traction and tourists started pouring in, the number of comisiones falleras (group of people who support and sponsor the creation of a falla) increased. A friendly competition started being organized, with the winning fallas bringing great pride to the comision fallera that built it.
The first top of the best fallas was created in 1885. By 1901, the City Hall started to hand out prizes to the best monuments.
These days, there are over 350 comisiones falleras in Valencia. Each comisione fallera builds a falla principal (the main falla that often criticizes the state of the world) and a falla infantil (a smaller falla with a family-friendly theme).
The two are placed next to each other and burned the same night, first the falla infantil, then the falla principal. The winning falla and the falla build in front of the City Hall are the last ones to burn.
The two City Hall fallas are called fallas municipales. They are apolitical and don’t compete for any awards, but rather shed some light on traditions or pressing matters such as climate change.
Building a fallas can be super expensive. The most impressive fallas are part of sección especial and they cost well over €100,000 each. The most expensive falla ever build was in 2009 and cost 1 million euros, give or take.
Las Fallas is not only a feast for the eyes but also for the stomach
While a very visual and acoustic festival, a fun fact about Las Fallas is that it revolves just as much around food.
During the 19 days of the festival, hundreds of churros and buñuelos stands are installed all over the city. These fried dough treats eaten are two of the most typical Las Fallas foods, but other traditional Valencian foods are devoured in large quantities as well.
On the one hand, there’s the paella, the world-famous rice dish that was invented in the nearby villages – villages that can be visited on an easy day trip from Valencia.
During Las Fallas, the falleros organize paella cooking contests and cook giant paellas in the street that are then sold by the plate for just a few euros. See more fun facts about paella.
However, if you’d rather enjoy a paella in a sit down restaurant, I wrote a whole post with suggestions about where you can have the best paella in Valencia.
Another thing you cannot miss is the horchata, a typical Valencian drink made with tigernuts, a tubercule that pretty much only grows in the fields of Alboraya, north of Valencia.
Two ninots are being pardoned from fire each year
The tradition of pardoning ninots from the fire started in the 1920s.
In 1934, the first Ninot Exhibition was organized so that the people of Valencia could choose by popular vote which ninot to pardon from fire each year. This ninot receives the name of ninot indultat.
These days, the Ninot Exhibition (Exposición del Ninot) is organized inside the City of Arts and Sciences, one of the top attractions in Valencia. Anyone can vote, even visitors.
Each year, two ninots (one infantil and one mayor) are pardoned and they become part of the permanent collection of the Fallas Museum (Museo Fallero) located just across the street from the City of Arts and Sciences.
Las Fallas was suspended on 6 occasions
Throughout its long history, Las Fallas festival was suspended on 6 occasions. In 1886 when the falleros refused to pay the 60 pesetas fee imposed by the local government unhappy with the fact that the fallas were openly criticizing them and their political decision.
In 1898 during the Cuban War of Independence as the conflict escalated and became the Spanish – American War. In 1937, 1938, and 1939 during the Spanish Civil War.
And in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 Las Fallas was celebrated in September instead of March.
The queen of the festival is called Fallera Mayor
The first Fallera Mayor (queen of the festival) was elected in 1931.
Today, a Fallera Mayor (a girl over 15 years of age) and a Fallera Mayor Infantil (a girl under 14 years of age) are being chosen by the representatives of each comision fallera based on several criteria – empathy, responsibility, speaking and communication skills, as well as proven knowledge of the Valencian culture.
The selection process is a long and complex one but receiving the title of Fallera Mayor de Valencia is a great honor. It also comes with many responsibilities.
The final stage of the contest sees 13 candidates competing for the Fallera Mayor title and 13 candidates competing for the Fallera Mayor Infantil title. The 12 candidates from each category that are not chosen, become part of Cortes de Honor, the suite of the Fallera Mayor and Fallera Mayor Infantil, and accompany them to official acts.
The daily firecracker shows are not for the faint of heart
Besides the impressive fallas monuments, this festival has several other attractions, such as gorgeous light displays and mascletas.
A masceltà is a super popular pyrotechnic show organized every day from the 1st to the 19th of March at 2 p.m. in the City Hall square.
It’s a firecracker concert that lasts approximately 5 minutes and can reach up to 120 dB. That’s similar to the noise made by an airplane engine and very close to what is considered to be the threshold of pain.
Each mascletà is organized by a different pyrotechnic company and uses some 12 kg of gunpowder with a cost of some €8,000 per mascletà.
Thousands of people gather to see and hear the mascletà every day, some arriving as early as noon. Mascletas are less visual and more of an acoustic show and if you don’t want to experience uncomfortable noise levels, it’s best to arrive just a few minutes early and stay a bit further away.
Alternatively, smaller, less impressive mascletas are organized throughout Valencia in various neighborhoods, but their schedule isn’t published anywhere, so it’s more a matter of luck or having inside knowledge.
The falleros and falleras clothes are super expensive
One of the craziest facts about Las Fallas is that being a fallero doesn’t come cheap.
Apart from the fact that the falleros that form each commissión fallera contribute to the building of their falla principal and infantil one way or another (usually financially), they also have to spend a lot of money on clothes.
In order to participate in any of the events or processions, falleros need to put on gorgeous traditional costumes made of silk.
A fallera dress can cost anything from €1,000 to €12,000 and even more. The most expensive dresses are hand-sewn and are made from espolin (hand-woven silk), which can reach a whopping €1,500 per meter.
The fallera dresses are traditionally made to order, but renting is an increasingly popular option these days.
Men’s clothes are usually much cheaper with the most expensive items being the printed vest, the socks, and the leggings.
Kids’ clothes are often hand-downs from older siblings or cousins.
Being Fallera Mayor de Valencia means changing many such dresses during the course of a year. Luckily for them, Junta Central Fallera (the organism that regulates and coordinates the festival of Las Fallas) allocates them a budget, especially for this purpose.
If you want to see and touch this traditional Valencian silk fabric any time of the year, you can visit one of the many shops specializing in espolín fabrics in the center of Valencia. Who knows, you might even find some unique typical Valencian souvenirs to take home with you.
And just in case visiting espolín shops puts you in a shopping mood, see where else you can go shopping in Valencia.