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Erected in the town square, the falla is set alight at the end of the festivity to symbolize the coming of spring, purification and a rejuvenation of community social activity


By Jack Wright

UNESCO inscribes the Fallas

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) thinks the Fallas de Valencia is worth preserving for future generations. By preserving it – and all the other “intangibles on the list” – the UNESCO aims to safeguard the cultural diversity of humanity against the onslaught of globalization. In 2016 it inscribed the Fallas Festivity on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (ICH).

What the Fallas is in relation to ICH:

“The main feature of the Fallas Festivity, a tradition of communities in Valencia and its diaspora celebrating the coming of spring, is the giant falla. The falla is a monument made up of ninots (caricature pieces) created by local artists and craftspeople that provides a commentary on current social issues. Erected in the town square, the falla is set alight at the end of the festivity to symbolize the coming of spring, purification and a rejuvenation of community social activity.”

UNESCO notes that the marching bands, the parades, the outdoor meals and the fireworks are integral to the festivity. So are the Fallas Queen elected to promote the festivity throughout the year among the locals and visitors, and the transmission of the techniques of the construction of the ninots by different guilds.

“The Fallas Festivity provides an opportunity for collective creativity and the safeguarding of traditional arts and crafts,” says UNESCO. It is a “contributor to cultural identity and enhances social cohesion. In the past, the festivity was also a way of preserving the Valencian language when it was prohibited.”

According to UNESCO, it’s not actually the cultural manifestation of a practice that’s important. What counts is “the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.”

So there you are, the Fallas as an ICH.


The legend of the legendary doll

One of the most plausible versions of the origins of the Fallas de Valencia states that back in the Middle Ages pieces of wood leftover from the winter, especially by carpenters, were burnt to celebrate the spring equinox.

Falla of the Prince of Asturias, heir apparent to the throne of Spain, his commoner bride Doña Letizia and, in the back, Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de La Mancha. In the book, Don Quixote fantasizes about a beautiful woman, Dulcinea, with whose idea the knight errant falls in love. The falla was arguably the most popular in that year (2005)

Out of this tradition – which, on the other hand, is universal and not exclusive to Valencia – the Fallas evolved. Somehow the old rags thrown into the bonfire along with the wood morphed into clothing for the pieces of wood. So now there were dolls burning at stake!

The Valencians’ innate sense of humor ensured that these dolls, some several stories high now and quite elaborate, become satirical ninots (Valencian for dolls)  caricaturing momentous events and personages, real or fiction.

The ninots are therefore a critical commentary on what’s going on in the world,  and on personages, some of whom are politicians currently grabbing the headlines.

Spain’s marked Catholicism – the formation of the Spanish nation began with the Reconquista from Islam in the 15th century – saw to it that instead of the huge Valencian bonfire (the Fallas) being a celebration of the spring equinox, the festivity honors St. Joseph, the patron saint of the carpenters, whose feast day is on the 19th of March.

UNESCO inscription of the Fallas (Fair use)

What? You’re still not in Valencia with the 2 million tourists who are there now? If you’re within riding distance to the city, you can still catch the Great Night of Fire this Sunday.

Enjoy! This year’s Fallas is extra special. It’s the first to be celebrated after the festivity was inscribed as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.




18 March, Saturday

8:00 a.m. around the city
La despertà (“Wake-up call”)
Brass bands and firecrackers

9:00 a.m., City Hall grandstand
Awarding of the prizes obtained by the different fallas and the announcement of the Ninot Indultat (Falla Pardon, much like the Turkey Pardon at Thanksgiving in the States. All must burn except the pardoned one).

The Mascletà: the fireworks form Valencia’s red, yellow and blue flag, the senyera

2:00 p.m., City Hall plaza
Masclèta: coordinated barrage of firecrackers and fireworks display. Main event is at the City Hall plaza (Plaça de l’Ayuntament) where the pyrotechnicians compete for the honor of providing the final Masclèta on 19 March.

3:30 p.m., Plaza de la Virgen
Massive floral offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken), patron saint of Valencia. Could last till dawn.

1:00 a.m., Paseo de Alameda
Fireworks display (The display grows more and more spectacular as the Fallas Festivity draws closer to the finale on 19 March)


19 March, Sunday
Late morning and noon
Various civic homages

2:00 p.m., City Hall plaza

3:30 p.m., Plaza de la Virgen
Floral offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados

7:00 p.m., Colom Street and the plaza at Porta de la Mar
Cavalcada del Foc (Fire Parade)
Spectacular celebration of fire, the festivity’s spirit; colorful, ear-splitting rockets and other sounds;  featuring rites that involve fire; floats, giants, street performances, music. People in traditional costumes.

From around midnight to around 1:30 a.m.
GRAN NIT DEL FOC (Night of Fire) City Hall plaza
The Grand Finale of the entire festivity which lasts two weeks though the main events are held from the 15th to the 19th of March.

This absolutely stunning climax is called La Cremà, i.e. the burning of the fallas. Many people come hours earlier  for a front-row view. The crowd around the City Hall is HUGE though the Cremà is also held, in coordination with that of the City Hall, on smaller streets.


Featured image by Carquinyol, CC BY-SA 2.0
Prince of Asturias and Doña Letizia by Fran Ontanaya, CC BY-SA2.0
Mascletà by Mr Carlos 11, CC BY-SA4.0