LAS FALLAS

Valencia,  overflows with gaiety, energy and fireworks during the celebration of its Major Festival: the Fallas From 13 to 19 March, this regional capital on the river Turia celebrates in tremendous style, one of the best known and emblematic festivals of Spain, as well-known as the San Fermin festival in Pamplona.

The Fallas are creations of papier-mâché, wood and wax, which the townsfolk of Valencia build in the streets and burn on the night of the feast of St. Joseph. These figures, called "ninots" by the Valencians, allude to events and personalities of the day. The ninots, half satirical, half symbolical, are created in a style somewhere between comic strips and Walt Disney cartoons.

The figures, which represents a whole year's work for hundreds of people, are burnt on the night of 19 March in towering flames, and each bonfire is a temple devoted to this colossal festival of fire.

For one week the Valencians and their visitors are both spectators and participants in a spectacle which goes beyond the walls of the great theatre which this city becomes. The tourist influx and the international projection of the Fallas grows every year.

The Fallas are divided into seven important stages. Public enthusiasm ensures that Valencia is adorned in festival garb and everybody takes to the streets. The ceremonies which make up the whole week of the festival are: the nomination and proclamation of the Queens of the Fallas for the year, the Exaltation, the Crida, the Cavalcade of the Ninot the Offering of Flowers, the Planta and the Crema.

The Exaltation is, with the Offering of Flowers, one of the most colourful moments of the Fallas. In this ceremony, the Valencian townsfolk and the various institutions pay homage to the Falla Queens who receive their sashes and jewels of office in the Palau de la Musica. As the Attendant Courts of the Falla Queen and the Falla Princess go up to the stage, the place begins to be filled with baskets of flowers donated by Valencian and a few Spanish collectives. One of the most important figures at the Exaltation is the chairman, who represents the world of culture and makes a speech to all those present which can be of a justificatory or political nature or poetic.

The Offering of Flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken in the ceremony for which Valencia is entirely dressed in its best and renders homage at the feet of her patron saint, offering thousands of bouquets of flowers, baskets of posies and floral shrine arrangements. During the twenty-four hours which the Offering lasts, the Virgin, fondly referred to by the Valencians as "Geperudeta", receives her tribute. On this day, the sobriquet of Valencia, city of flowers becomes reality, and the Basilica square is turned into a beautiful and colorful garden, with more than thirty tons of flowers decorating just one of the principal squares of the city.

The "Planta" is the ceremony which everyone awaits with impatience. On 15 March the papier mache effigies are assembled, not without a considerable struggle, in the squares and streets of Valencia. Hundreds of these Fallas invade the city, as many as there are are houses to make them. On this day the creations of the "fallero artists" are displayed, the work of hundreds of specialists: carpenters, painters, sculptors, designers, etc. The effigies and ninots are admired by both the Valencians and the tourists. The Fallas show off their lively colors and enormous size, and make clear which personalities have been the focus of public opinion and attention. There are few Spanish politicians who escape from the satire of the "fallero" masters.

The Crema is the culmination of the Fallas. For some it is the saddest moment, while for others it is the high point of the festival. On the night of the feast of St. Joseph, 19 March, the Fallas are lit. The last effigies to be devoured by the flames are those Fallas that have been awarded prizes by the General Fallas Committee and those in the City Hall square. Only one "ninot" is saved each year, from the flames by popular vote, and exhibited in the Museum of the Ninot together with those from various years which won the same privilege. Kilos and kilos of fireworks surround the monuments. At about midnight Valencia goes up in flames. The spectacle of the fire and noise, produced by more than three hundred fires spread throughout the city, is quite something to see.

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