What is Las Fallas?
In 2016, during my year abroad in Valencia, I had the pleasure of seeing the Las FallasFestival for the first time. I was amazed by the scale of the festival as it was not just in one small place, but it covered the entire city.
The festival of Las Fallas originated in Valencia in the 18thCentury and is held between the 14thand 19thof March every year. It symbolises the coming of spring and is held in commemoration of St Joseph, the patron saint of carpentry. The falla itself is a huge monument that is made up of ninots (smaller caricature sculptures) created and designed by local artists and craftsmen. The commissions are usually a representation of social or political issues happening and usually follow a satirical theme. Prior to the festival, each year, thousands of people flock to the streets to watch the illuminations that take place in each neighbourhood. These thousands of people, whether they are local or from elsewhere or simply tourists, fill the city during the week of the illuminations and the festival. The buzz from the festival creates an amazing atmosphere with street parties, food stalls (try the buñuelos- tasty sweet deep fried doughnuts with chocolate), performances and markets across the city.
There are Fallas commissions in each neighbourhood which are constructed and displayed in the streets for all to see (some being around 30ft high), transforming the city into an immersive public art museum within its streets, free of charge. From the 1stto 19thMarch thousands of people gather in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament (main square), at 2pm to watch the Mascletà, a stunning pyrotechnic show with gunpowder explosions which can be heard throughout the city. Towards the end of the festival there are flower offerings to the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) found in the main square and spectacular fireworks displays in the Turia Gardens(the best spot is on the Las Flores bridge). At the end of the festival each falla is judged and one is crowned the winner, however, all commissions on display, after months of hard work, are then set alight and burned on the last evening of the festival as a symbol of purification and cleansing for the coming of Spring.
How does the festival preserve Valencian culture and heritage?
The use of the Valencian language during the regime of Franco was prohibited in public, however the festival has helped preserve the language through the use of literary forms such as literature, poems, oratories, theatre and narratives, all performed and displayed during the festival, in Valencian vernacular.
The festival demonstrates collective community creativity and spirit through the amount of people who assist in the production and organisation of the festival. From local painters, designers, craftsmen and women, sculptors, carpenters and performers, there is a plethora of people involved. These professionals pass down their skills and knowledge on the production and building of the falla to the younger generations, from master to apprentice. Additionally, the city has implemented educational programmes dedicated to the crafts, skills and training required for the festival and traditional building skills such as construction, decoration and the erecting of the falla.
The knowledge associated to the design and use of traditional Fallera costumes, garments, jewellery and hairstyling accessories is inherited from past generations, which promotes the importance of traditions and guarantees the intergenerational transmission of Valencian skills and values of culture and heritage. From a young age, children are taught that in an ever evolving society, it is important to preserve and conserve the traditions and values of Valencian life and culture.
Due to the cultural significance, the transmission of rituals and norms passed down through generations and the incorporation of festival skills into education, the festival of Las Fallas was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity by UNESCO on 30thNovember 2016.
Fallespatrimonicomu.info. (2018). [online] Available at: http://fallespatrimonicomu.info/pdfs/unesco_en.pdf [Accessed 7 Oct. 2018].
Love Valencia. 2018. Las Mejores Fallas 2016 en Fotografías. [online] Available at: https://www.lovevalencia.com/las-mejores-fallas-2016-en-fotografias.html. [Accessed 7 October 2018].