If you were lucky enough to visit Valencia during the past month of March, you’ll no doubt have been amazed to feel the foundations of the city shake and rumble at precisely the same time each afternoon. The thunderous vibrations and the deafening volleys of sound would have been impossible to miss and maybe a little nerve-wracking if they caught you by surprise!
The cause of this tremendous commotion was of course, the legendary gunpowder symphony of the Mascletà – a daily display of fireworks, rockets and explosions quite unlike any other.
Feeling The City Walls Shake
No city elevates pyromania to an art form quite like Valencia. Tourists visiting the city in the first few weeks of March find themselves in town for one of the biggest street parties in Europe – Las Fallas – an ancient springtime celebration of rebirth and renewal; a time when the new is ushered in and the old is banished spectacularly in flames. You’ll experience few other events which are this lively, joyous, and spectacular in Spain or anywhere else in the world.
And of all the many fascinating traditions that make up Las Fallas, the Mascletà is undoubtedly one of the most memorable. On any day between March 1st and March 19th head to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the centre of the city and at precisely 1400 you’ll witness the unforgettable sight and sound of up to 120 kg of gunpowder set off in less than eight minutes!
The entire city shakes and rumbles as the explosives are discharged, starting out gradually and then building in intensity as different types of firework and rocket are set off. The most remarkable of the explosions can send deep, pervasive booming sounds throughout the city which shake the ground like an earthquake. This symphony of gunfire is artfully orchestrated to achieve the most impressive effect.
To get an idea of what to expect, check out this video of the very last Mascletà of 2012.
From Ancient Traditions to Modern Street Party
Las Fallas translates to “the fires” or “the torches,” and coincides with the festival of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. The festival’s roots go back further however, probably to the Middle Ages when artisans burned their scrap materials from the previous year in the springtime in order to clear out their workshops for the next year.
As such, the festival is associated with clearing out debris—literal and metaphorical—in order to bring in the new year when new events can take place. Similar bonfire festivals are held all around the world around springtime, but few can hold a candle to the spectacular festival in Valencia.
Along with the Mascletà, you’ll also be able to witness the burning of the ninots—giant sculptures made out of paper- mâché, Styrofoam, wax, wood or cardboard. These sculptures represent figures and events from the past year, and on the final night of the festival, known as La Cremà (“The Burning”), they are set on fire one by one, This bonfire is the Valencians’ way of releasing the hold the past has on them so that they can enter the new year refreshed and renewed.
Take a look at some of the best ninots from this year’s festival:
While the fireworks and the ninots are the main attractions of the festivities, the general air of exuberance is one not to be missed. You will enjoy mingling with the crowds and partaking of delicious roasted chestnuts and other tasty snacks around the city and buying memorabilia from street vendors. The light of the fires isn’t the only glow to burn in Valencia during Las Fallas either; the streets are decorated with colorful strings of lights which transform the city into one of glittering splendor. You’ll pass through shimmering archways and stroll down incandescent avenues.
Every year you can find a full program of events for Las Fallas and the Mascletá online on the city’s website. Many of the best pyrotechnics are saved for the final days of the festival, and this is also when the ninots are set on fire, so you probably want to plan your visit to coincide with the final days of the festival. The program of events will tell you where the important events will be held so that you can get right in on the action and enjoy all the light and sound and fiery wonder!
The author David Lancaster is a freelance blogger, web developer and long time resident of Valencia. When he’s not enjoying the local festivals you can find him getting the word out about some of his favourite local companies, such emocionday who offer a range of gift experiences (regalar experiencias) all over Spain