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Fallas fiesta in Valencia

In a country famed the world over for its crazy and chaotic fiestas, the city of Valencia wins hands down when it comes to Burning Figures in Fallasomes and throwing the hottest street party of them all.

For non military people, the annual Fallas fiesta is the closest they'll ever get to something resembling a war zone and dates back to the late 15th century. More than 350 bonfires turn the city into a giant inferno, the sound of explosions and firecrackers is enough to split your ear drums and every year casualties are hauled over the heads of the impenetrable crowds and delivered into the care of waiting Red Cross teams.

It's exhilarating, alarming, horrendously noisy and one of the most unforgettable experiences that any foreigner is ever likely to come across in Spain.

Origins of the Fallas festival

The word fallas means 'fires' in the local Valenciano language and it refers to both the week long fiesta as well as to the magnificent statues which are burnt to a cinder all over the city on the night of March 19th. This and the figures known as Ninots in Fallas make it one of the weirdest and most wonderful Spanish fiestas which.

The fallas fiesta coincides with the feast of St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters and its origins are believed to believed to be pagan in which fire invariably figured very prominently. Some theorists suggest that during the St Joseph celebration, local carpenters would burn the wooden poles on which they had hung their lanterns during the long winter nights. The festival merged with ancient pagan celebrations heralded the arrival of spring and revellers would use the fires to dispose of debris gathered during the winter months.

 

Rivalry between the local carpenters' workshops may explain how the tradition of burning effigies in these spring fires first came about.

Whilst historians might nit pick over the exact origins of the Fallas Fiesta, few people would dispute that it is one of the world's most spectacular festivals of the 21st century, attracting more than three million visitors a year.

The 'Ninots'

The stars of the fiesta are the giant caricatures known as 'ninots' which can take up to a year to create. The biggest and best cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce and are true artistic masterpieces – vast Disney-style cartoon creations meticulously fashioned from papier mache and wood by master craftsmen.

Each of these ninots is made up of several beautifully painted characters from the realms of fact and fantasy. Spanish children and visiting foreigners gaze in awe at their magnificence whilst generally missing the biting satire which they represent. The fantastic figurines poke fun at politicians, highlight important issues of the day and lampooning hapless celebrities with their over-inflated egos.

The crowds whoop with delight when these spectacular statues are packed with explosives and used to set the city alight. But there's many a tear shed among those who lavished so much hard work on them in the preceding 12 months only to see them burn.

Those who abhor the idea of all that skilled work going up in flames will be relieved to hear one of the best ninots is spared from the bonfire each year and housed in Valencia's fascinating Fallas Museum.

La Cremá (the burning of the ninots) is the highlight of the Mascleta, but there are many other memorable moments in the build-up to it, including the daily mascleta when a gut wrenching series of firecrackers and smoke bombs explode in the city's main square.

One of the most beautiful (and much more sedate) elements of Las Fallas is a ceremony called The Offering of Flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken. Thousands of local women, young girls, toddlers and babies in beautifully traditional costumes, orm a procession and head towards the Basilica Square, delivering more than 30 tons of multi-coloured carnations to the foot of a huge scaffolding. Over several hours, male festeros (fiesta organisers) insert the bouquets into the scaffolding until it emerges as a giant flower statue of the Virgin Mary.