Now that Fallas 2021 will go ahead in September, one does well to remember that every city, town, village, hamlet or neighbourhood celebrates some kind of fiesta. Most fiestas involve some kind of saint, local cooking and a lot of booze but, for some, a little more imagination is required, for better or for worse, says Chris Cooper. Here are five of the easiest-to-miss fiestas in the Valencia…
5. La Cordà – Paterna, Valencia
Not content with 17 different fallas, on the final Sunday or August the Valencian town of Paterna celebrates La Cordà, (the cord).
Towards the end of the 19th century, a group of friends met for dinner and drinks. One friend brought along a few fireworks, specifically rockets. At the end of the night, the least intelligent among them decided that rather than firing the rockets into the sky, it would be more fun to fire them at each other. With this, the “Battle of the rockets” was born.
Nowadays protective clothing is worn for La Cordà and around 15 of the bravest – or most foolish – rocketeers enter a cordoned off area and shoot over 55,000 rockets at each other in 25 minutes. It is extremely dangerous, but the participants are generally too drunk to aim very well or to remember much the following day.
4. Els Enfarinats – Ibi, Alicante
One of the highlights of the winter fiestas in Ibi, Alicante. Els Enfarinats takes place on the morning of the Day of the Innocents, 28 December.
Els Enfarinats roughly translates as “the floured ones” from Valenciano. Although it only restarted in 1981, the festival dates back to the middle ages.
At 8am the Enfarinats, dressed in elaborately coloured fake military clothes, stage a mock coup d’état.
At 9 am the Race for Mayor takes place and the mayor of Els Enfarinats is the winner.
Then at midday, the Enfarinats parade through the streets of the old town to the Sant Joaquin Sanctuary. It is here where they exact brutal revenge on the recently overthrown ruling class in a crazed flour-bomb, egg and firework pelting spree.
Should you ever be intrigued enough to check out this bizarre event, please be aware that the victims are somewhat indiscriminately chosen so the recently overthrown rulers, the general public and the Enfarinats themselves are all fair game.
3. Noche de la Zurra – Requena, Valencia
Appealing if you can keep your gullet open. La Guerra del Vino or the “Wine War” in the village of Haro in La Rioja is a nationally famous fiesta.
As a wine-producing region, Requena has a smaller, equally wet wine and water fiesta, Noche de la Zurra.
Participants take along as many containers as possible. Then rather than simple spraying (there is a truck that hoses people with wine), they fill the receptacles with the free red wine on offer and pour it down their throats.
Marching bands parade and the townsfolk throw water at the drunken mob.
The wine and water festival has been held on the night of the last Tuesday in August since 1948 and is the perfect warm up for La Tomatina in nearby Buñol, the following morning.
2. La Tomatina – Buñol, Valencia
In 1945, during a local celebration involving model giants parading through Buñol, a group of boisterous youths joined in with the merry-making and danced among the giants. Causing one of the heads to fall off. The owner of the giant was not happy and began throwing tomatoes from a nearby stall at the youngsters. An enormous tomato fight ensued. The local police quickly brought a halt to proceedings. The following year the same thing happened, and La Tomatina began.
Banned in the early 1950s, it was finally recognised as an official festival after a protest in 1957. In 2002, La Tomatina was made a festival of international tourist interest and continued to attract more visitors year-on-year, until the organisers made it a paid ticketed event for reasons of safety and profit.
Over 100,000 tonnes of ripe tomatoes are available for a free-for-all lasting a staggering one hour.
After the fight, the tomato-soaked participants are hosed down by fire trucks. Although many report finding tomato seeds in the strangest of places, months later. This is one of the most famous fiestas in Valencia
La Batalla de las Ratas – El Puig, Valencia
In 1588, the splendid monastery of Santa Maria was built in the peaceful town of Puig. The monastery makes for a great day out and is easy to reach by car, train, bus and bicycle.
Once a year, on the final Sunday of January – at least until 2018 – the town of El Puig celebrates the strangest, most appalling fiesta on this list, La Batalla de las Ratas.
The battle of the rats is a pretty simple concept. Pick up a rat, recently killed for the event, and wang it at a fellow townsperson. To make matters worse (or better?), eye-witness accounts frequently state that the rats aren’t quite dead.
Animal rights group PACMA has campaigned against the event since 2012 and recently, locals have reluctantly taken to using peroles, a type of sticky cake, as substitutes for half-dead or fully dead rats. It is unlikely to return, but should you wish to attend La Batalla de las Ratas, please call a psychologist.
Fiestas in Valencia are likely to return to their official dates in 2022, so expect a lot of celebrations. A few drinks, some local food with friends and a nod to a saint may just about suffice…
By Chris Cooper