THE FALLAS DE VALENCIA 50 YEARS AGO: All Fire and Fiery, Like Now !


Reprinted from Guidepost, 12 March 1964


Like most things in life – and in Spain – Valencia´s Fallas of San José must be seen, heard and participated in to be believed.

One of the most difficult things to comprehend for anybody but a Valencian is why anybody should want to spend a year creating a work of art which has as its unavoidable fate destruction by fire.

And this was the question posed, as it is each year, to the Mayor of Valencia, don Adolfo Rincón de Arellano, by a crowd of foreign newsmen when he made his traditional trip to Madrid last Thursday to announce this year´s program for the Valencia Fallas de San José which began on Wednesday.

“Valencia is a land of artists,” he said, “and the Fallas stimulate art. If it were not for the Fallas, Valencia would not be able to support so many artists.”

“But afterwards they could be kept in a museum,” insisted newsmen.

“That would limit the artistic inspiration and destroy the spontaneity of the fiesta,” replied the Alcalde. And a voice from the back of the room spoke up to second him in broad Valencian dialect.Fallas article march 1964 - copia

“If it they didn’t burn ém, the Fallas would end.”

There have been theories to try and explain the Valencia´s Fallas which, more than the City´s Cathedral, rice crop or paella, have put Valencia in the same category of international fame as Seville is in her Feria, Pamplona for her San Fermin. The fire, noise, fireworks and gigantic works of art going up in smoke amid crowds of cheering, wine drinking, music-making valecianos have all been described as a fiesta of art, of music, of fire, of religion, of satire and ridicule with social, educative and humane significance. And though all these theories may approach the truth of this strange festival, for most, the emphasis is on the word fiesta, a time to rejoice and have a good theme and that is what you can expect if you are in Valencia for the festival which begins March 11 and ends the 19th.

The history of the Fallas (the word means fire, bonfire, warning signal or fiesta) begun somewhere around the 1560´s and was based on the legend that the carpenter of the Valencia’s barrios would celebrate their patron, St. Joseph the Carpenter´s feast day on March 19 by making crude figures and animals out of the shavings and scraps from their workshops and burn them at midnight with great hilarity and noise. From the 16th century, this fiesta developed, expanded, ceased and was revived, but it was not until 1946 that the Spanish Ministry of Education declared the Fallas de Valencia an official  “art fiesta” and incited by this encouragement and the subsequent Government subsidy the Valencianos stopped at nothing. Everyone from children upwards gives his full co-operation in time, money, effort and, of course, participation, to make their fiesta one of the most brilliant festivals in Spain.

Preparations for the next fiesta begin the Sunday following the last day of the year´s Fallas when la Comision, a special committee usually comprising of neighbors in the same barrio, the barman, the grocer, the shoemaker, the barber and the baker, meet traditionally in a bar to praise, criticize and comment on the past week of fiestas. New ideas and themes for the next year are put forward and these suggestions go to the Junta Central Fallera, the highest authorities committee which meets in the City´s ayuntamiento.

As soon as decisions are made a dinner is held for the clan of artistas who then start work again for the next burning of the ninots. Without these ninots, huge colorful mannequins –  usually caricatures of familiar, famous people or places – the Fallas would have no meaning. But each year when the ninots are put on view to the public a week before the fiesta begins, where they are praised, criticized and the best one placed for presentation in a special museum, the religious overtone of the fiesta is remembered: all fires represent mortal life and no matter how great and brilliant that life is it must die as do the fires of the fallas.

Fallera mayor

Fallera mayor

Once the week has begun, all Valencia bursts hilariously into a ceaseless week of music, dancing, feasting, light and color. Some of the most important characterics of the Fallas during this time are the llibret, a pamphlet written as a serious piece of literature in Valencian dialect(English copies are available) explaining the themes of the Fallas of the year; the castillos, castle-shaped structure on top of which huge bonfires burn, symbolizing the warning fires of pirate times; the despertá, a group of men who go from barrio to barrio to wake and animate people and spread the fever of light-heartedness and happiness. But it is the cabalgata which leads up to the final, burning climax, the last parade in which the members of the commissions, the artists, musicians and dancers and practically all Valencia join in. The procession is presided over by the Fallera Mayor of the Fallas, the Queen of the Festival in traditional costume, a much coveted honor for which there is a lot of competition each year among the señoritas. She is surrounded by her court of honor comprising of thousands of young girls and children armed with flowers to place before the Virgen de los Desamparados, the Patroness of the city and, naturally, the Fallas. This year 8,500 bunches of spring flowers and 30 baskets will be mounted around the famous statue.

And the long-awaited climax on March 19, the cremá-nit diel foc (night of fire, when the work of a year explodes into fire to dazzle the night jeweled by the outburst of thousands of fireworks.

Each year the Fallas promises to outdo itself and this year a record number of fallas, 172 of every sort of variety, are prepared and total costs for the week will amount to some 39,921,000 pesetas . But remember: “If they didn´t burn ém, the fallas would end.”

Like most things in life – and in Spain – Valencia´s Fallas of San José must be seen, heard and participated in to be believed.


Fallas cover march 1964

Fallas article march 1964








Ed’s note: Our thanks to Deke Mills for making it possible for us to reprint this Fallas article.