Les falles (Valencian) — “the fires” — also known as Las Fallas (Spanish) started in the 16th century as a celebration of the Catholic feast day for St. Joseph (Sant Josep), the patron saint of carpenters, and evolved into the 2-week, multifaceted celebration it is today. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots (“dolls”), statues made of cardboard, wood, wax, paper-machè, plaster, and polystyrene foam. This whole assembly is a falla.
A satiric ninot (Menopause!)
A political ninot (detail)
The ninots — which range in size from small to several stories high — usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events — plus whimsical ninots created by and for children.
A ninot for children
A small ninot for children featuring traditional costume
The labor intensive ninots, are crafted by both neighborhood organizations (casals) and professional local craftsmen, take a entire year to construct. The festival has, in fact, created a local industry with an entire suburban area —Ciutat fallera (Fallas City) — devoted to the creation of ninots.
A large ninot in Plaza Pilar, 2014
Ninots, Ruzafa neighborhood, 2013
More than 350 ninots occupy a large percentage of the city’s intersections, plazas and alleys, and Valencia turns into a (very temporary) open air gallery. I always enjoy exploring the neighborhoods during Fallas — usually the crowds are smaller than city center and the creativity is amazing.
The Falla of Casal Na Jordana, 2015
The ninots remain in place until March 19th, the day known as La Cremá (“the burning”). Crowds gather, the streetlights are turned off, and all of the ninots are set on fire beginning at exactly 12 a.m. (midnight). Each year, one of the ninots is spared from destruction by popular vote. This ninot is called the ninot indultat (“the pardoned doll”) and is exhibited in the Fallas Museum along with the other ninots spared in years past (Fallas Museum, Plaza Monteolivete, 4, Valencia).
The burning of the “ninots” in my neighborhood, 2014. You can feel the heat!
A linguistic note: Les falles de València is celebrated in Valencià (Valencian), the official language of the community of Valencia — thus ninot, casal, etc. are all Valencian words.
All photos © La Gringa Ibérica