One upon a time I fancied myself a papier mache artist. In fact, I still have some pre-made forms in my basement so I can build again when the creative mood strikes. I am thoroughly humbled by the amazing artists of Valencia’s annual Falles (torch) Festival. Their papier mache creations are larger than life, incredibly ornate and exquisitely painted.
For five days each March Valencians party through the Fallas Festival with street dances, parades, fireworks and bonfires. It sounds crazy! These spring bonfire celebrations date back to pagan times, when winter refuse was torched to mark the return of the Sun. However, like so many rituals, the Christians later “adopted” the annual bonfires to burn word shavings and waste wood in honour of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
Then, over time the consumable elements became both more elaborate and more satirical.
These days, neighbourhood across the city - as many as 800 - participate in the Falles Festival by creating two papier mache mascots, one small and one large, these are called ninots (puppets/dolls). Artists, sculptors, painters, and other craftsmen spend months producing elaborate constructions of paper and wax, wood and, in more recent times, foam.
For four days the ninots are like centrepieces for the various events in their community. On the fifth and final day, March 19, the ninots are mounted on to a base that can be as high as a five-story building. This base is stuffed full of fireworks and the whole creation goes up in flaming glory. The little ones, for children are lit at 10 pm and the monstrous masterpieces after midnight.
Imagine 700+ Burning Man structures lighting up at the same time!
In the early 1900s, with intent of upgrading the quality of the sculptures, it was decided to pardon one ninot from the fire. I am not sure how they are judged, but clearly the winner has to be able to fit inside a building. Thus, we had an opportunity to get an up-close look at some ninots, pictured here. I’ve also included a few online photos to show the festival scale.
We found the Faller Museuo with no trouble, and were sorely disappointed to find the gates and doors locked. The Spanish signs were undecipherable despite my translation app.
Just as we were turning away to get on with our other plans, a kind couple stepped up to explain that the signs indicated the main entry had been moved to another side of the building.
From now on I will check every door before giving up on a venue. We would have missed a real treasure if it were not for the locals speaking up.