For four days in March, Valencia is on fire. Fallas—a festival of street sculptures, fireworks, electric light displays, and neighborhood paella parties, running March 16 to 19—transforms the city into a pulsating carnival of day parades and nightlong revelry that marks the end of the winter and arrival of spring. Marching bands featuring traditional Valencian instruments play the popular riffs of ‘Paquito el Chocolatero.’ Parades of falleras, the female protagonists of the festivities dressed in flowing, traditional silk dresses, carry flowers in homage to the Virgin Mary.
The streets smell of fried dough from food stands selling local pastries. Late night crowds gape at elaborate, sometimes mammoth falla art monuments—the sculptures and centerpieces of the festival, over 700 of them spread across 350 different neighborhoods throughout the city, each with their own party. Each night features a fireworks show after midnight over the Valencia riverbed park: First, la nit del foc—the night of fire—the biggest fireworks display, followed by la nit de la cremà—the night of the burning—when across the city’s many neighborhoods the falla monuments go up in flames.
For the million visitors who double the city’s population that week, Fallas is a dazzling celebration whose intensity is difficult to process. For the people who prepare the festival, the neighborhood falleros who organize it, and the artists and specialists who comprise it, Fallas is the culmination of a year-long collaboration and effort.