Traveling in Spain with our kids–two teenage girls and a nine-year-old boy–is an unusual proposition. The girls tend to gravitate toward things with color, or things with shine, or things with a certain architectural integrity. And the boys tend to like things on which they can climb (castles), or from which they can leap (stairs, which abound in Europe), or whose destruction they can witness (fallas!).  What happens once a year in Valencia appeals to both crowds.

Each one created by a different organization roughly equivalent to a neighborhood guild, the falla–which refers both to the creators and the creation–is a giant tableau, the result of months of painstaking construction and artistry on the part of the falleros and their engineers and artists.

Characters stuck with needles_7676

Those Disney folks?  They’ve got nothing on the falleros.


Charioteer and nurse_7803

Same falla_7817

Close-up of man in tea cup_7591

Man in tea cup_7575

The fallas are meant to satirize. Each falla–and they’re scattered all over the city, though more of them are clustered downtown–is a satire, its tone as critical as its colors are vivid. Whatever events have taken place in the country over the past year–political, economic, social–those events become the falleros’ inspiration and raw material.

Close-up of one near our flat_7886

One around the block from our house_7869



Heads of state–the king, for example, or the country’s former president–become the targets of many of the fallas.


President of Spain_7815

Crowds of thousands gather to see the fallas each year, wandering the city with maps that indicate which ones are where. Puzzling out the theme of each one was tricky for us, as the signs were mostly in Catalan, but the tone of each was unmistakable–like that of a political cartoon, except that the ‘cartoon’ is rendered in 3D! Below, a few of the enormous ones, some reaching up to five stories.

Falla of girl holding sun and moon_0335

Girl holding sun and moon_0338

Marti gras characters_7700

The one by the Oscar Meyer wagon_7694

As the night wears on, the pyrotechnics wind up. Everything you’re hurrying to see will eventually go up in smoke. Pretty soon, you’re running so you can catch all the fallas before the ‘bomberos’ (fire fighters) arrive to preside over the fireworks and the explosions at each site.

Getting ready to burn_0451

Little one near our house_7893

Man holding bird by neck_7653

And then.

Mr. Incredible_7734

Mustache man_7742

The crowds begin to swell.  The lights captivate.  Foods of all kinds beckon to folks itching for a late-night snack.

View through city gate_7618

Tower of lights_0422

Snacks during fallas_0266

Airstream concessions_0491

And while we settle in to wait just outside the fence of our favorite falla, an enormous tableau featuring a cluster of giant babies . . .


Baby girl and boy_0532

Baby with telescope_0487

the fire crews start arriving to prep the sites, including ours.  For forty-five long minutes, we stand.  And wait.

Getting ready to burn_0587

And just like that, just after midnight, it all. Goes up. In smoke.

Fireworks in background_0702

Putting the fire out_0664

Babies burn_0621

All over the city, each elaborately beautiful falla combusts, one after another.

The fire starts_0439

Miss Zinnia, she doesn’t know what to think.

Millay reacts_0690

Everywhere, the fallas burn!

More burning_0671

Goose, he’s ready to watch fallas blow up until the sun rises.  The girls? Not so sure. Regardless, they’ve never seen anything like this.

Kids react_0669

And they may not, ever again. Which is exactly why we wanted to be part of it!

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Litte girl in maroon dress_6867

In their traditional costumes, hundreds of falleras and falleros of all ages make their way through the streets of the old city toward the cathedral, where they will make an offering of their carnations to the Virgin de los Desamparados (Virgin of the Forsaken) as part of the Fallas in Valencia, Spain.

Older couple marching_6984

The costumes are as authentic as they are extravagant. Every fallera’s dress belongs to her. I’m told that sometimes, as a girl grows, the falla costume of her younger years is taken apart and reworked into a new falla costume, so that pieces of the past adorn the ‘traje’ of the present. I love that!

Falleras and one gentleman_6864

I’ve never seen anything like these dresses!

Young couple_6924

And the children! . . .

Close-up of one little girl_6999

Trio of girls_6890

Little girls parading_7068

Four girls and a baby_6899

Dad holding baby girl_7131

Pushing babies_7011

Little girl in stroller_7017

Father and Son_6928

Girls lined up_6995

Older girls marching_7083

Two by a column_6915

Blond hair, brown eyes_6908

Adults 4_7147

Such vibrant color!

Adults marching 1_6951

Adults marching 7_7291

Adults marching 6_7228

Presenting their flowers_7478

Presenting flowers_7498

I do not own a traje de fallera; I’m not sure I’ve really lived. Somehow the idea of repurposing a great vintage gown has a certain appeal. But I’d need to belong to a falla! And parade through the streets of Valencia! And carry a bouquet of carnations! And have fabulous shoes made of the same fabric as my dress!

You think I could start my own falla? Anyone want to dress up with me? Or is it gonna be just the Eleven O’Clock Girls?

Tomorrow: spectacle and fire!

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Eleven O’Clock Road Trip: Valencia!

by Becky on March 22, 2013 · 4 comments

in Travel

Falla crowds_7322

Once a year, in Valencia, the Fallas happen.  We wanted to get a feel for the city before it all went up in smoke.  (For more on smoke and fire, tune in for next week’s posts!)

View toward cathedral_7389

Everything was in blossom, the scents so heavy we kept stopping like we did right here–just to breathe deep.

Citrus and water_6826

Batman bushes_6832


The Eleven O’Clock crew went a little nuts over the architecture:  the grand facades, the churches, the bull fighting ring, the bones of the old city.


Facade 1_6850

Stately building_6856

Valencia statue_6820

View of basilica_7410

Inside the smaller church_7424

Main cathedral_7473

Bell tower through palm tree_7438

Bell tower as seen through trees_7450

Bull fight posters_0296

Bull ring_0308

Valencia moon_7598

Electric with anticipation, the city grew louder and crazier as the day wore on. Next week, find out why!

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