Valencia’s Las Fallas festival lands UNESCO world heritage status

United Nations agency highlights artistic merit and inclusiveness of massively popular cultural event

Valencia’s world-famous festival of art, fire, food and music is now officially part of UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The news, announced in Ethiopia on Tuesday, was greeted with jubilation at Valencia City Hall where city mayor Joan Ribó and the “Fallas Queen” for 2017 Raquel Alario were among those who had gathered.

One of the fallas, or effigies, created for the 2016 event.
One of the fallas, or effigies, created for the 2016 event.MÒNICA TORRES

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The colorful Las Fallas festival – which features enormous effigies known as fallas that are displayed on the streets before being burnt in a symbolic cleansing rite marking the arrival of spring – is already a huge tourist attraction. It has been designated an event of international tourism interest by the Spanish government and some 1.5 million people attended the 2016 edition.

The inclusion on the UNESCO cultural heritage list of the festival, which dates back to the 18th century, comes at the end of an intense two-year campaign backed by authorities in Valencia and involving the participation of thousands of people including falleros, as the people taking part in the festival as known, as well as the artists and craftspeople working on creating the fallas, and pyrotechnics experts – fireworks and firecrackers are an essential part of the festivities.

UNESCO praised the high level of participation by women in the event

Since Friday November 25, Valencia’s City Hall Square has been the site of a giant sign reading #FallesUNESCO with the plan being that people would take photographs of the hashtag and post them online in support of the campaign to win recognition. The City Hall also designed a logo promoting the plan.

Last October, the UN culture agency announced that Las Fallas fulfilled all the conditions to be nominated for its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, including compatibility with human rights and the openness of the event to people of any age, profession and social class.

The organization also gave Las Fallas a pat on the back for the “ever-increasing representation and participation of women in the planning and carrying out” of the event.

That report highlighted the creativity of the Valencian festival and noted the inclusion of sarcastic poetry and other forms of literature in the event could be seen as “an important source of inspiration in making cultural heritage relevant in the modern world.”

UNESCO also made mention of the puppets or dolls known as ninots, which often reference social problems.

The final seal of approval came on Wednesday and now Valencia’s Las Fallas festival joins other Spanish events on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list including flamenco, the Mystery Play of Elche and the Castells (human towers) of Catalonia, among others.

English version by George Mills.

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