Exclusive report from Valencia
Las Fallas is an annual nineteen day traditional festivity celebrated in Valencia, Spain. The festivity is said to have its origins in the eighteenth century, when carpenters burned the leftovers of a hard winters work in honour of their patron Saint Josef. Over the years, the piles of leftovers transformed into huge statues of wood and paper, known as la falla, humorously criticizing society.
Today, the actual statues are often made by professional artists (known as artistas fallero) that put in a year’s work to build the most expensive, spectacular falla. For three days, from March 16th-19th, these fallas decorate every street corner and square, some as high as a 6 storey building.
The process of constructing a falla is time consuming, complicated and costly. A falla can take up to a year to build and costs can reach 600,000 euros. The artist first produces a 3D drawing and then a scale model. The model helps the artist adjust or approve the design. Then, the separate dolls are made in clay and covered with a plaster cast, which will serve as a mould. The artist fills the mould with papier maché, which is left to dry. The two dried halves of the doll are put together, sanded and painted. The artists now also use modern materials like glass fibre and polyester as well as the traditional papier maché,.
Once all the dolls are all finished they are put on a wooden support structure. The falla is assembled on the street with help of a crane, often a process of several days. After decorating the streets for three days it is time for la cremá: the ritual burning of all the fallas.
A total of 370 constructions (worth a total of around 10 million euros) go up in flames. It marks both the end of the festivities and the beginning of the next cycle of work. As the last flames die out, the artista fallero is already thinking of next year’s design. However, Valencia’s artistas fallero do not only dedicate their time to constructing fallas. Some of them are now working internationally in Japan, Canada and the United States to help with the decoration of theme parks, carnival parades and other events.