Valencia, where I live, is a quiet city compared to its noisy sisters Barcelona and Madrid. That changes during the first few weeks of March, as the peace is shattered and Spring ushered in with a barrage of massive explosions, street parties, marching bands, cheering crowds and millions of euros worth of fireworks.

During the Falles festival (Falles is an old valencian word for ‘torches’), firecrackers and fireworks are briefly legalised for anyone to let off in the street. The streets of Valencia – narrow, lined with tall apartment buildings – become like war zones as groups of kids absent-mindedly light roman candles, catherine wheels and what back home I would call ‘bangers’. Crowds of revellers carefully skirt the explosion zones and every street has a churros van on it, selling the deep-fried donuts and cups of molten chocolate popular all over Spain.

Every neighbourhood has its own Falles committee, which organises the local street parties – holding free paella lunches during the day and organising DJ sets and live music for the night.

At something like 4am every morning, the street parties wind down for a few hours and everyone gets a short rest. During this time, the city’s cleaning operation kicks into gear. Street sweepers whirr and suck up the debris – firework packaging blasted to pieces, bits of food, broken glass… Police and local government workers work overtime, at crazy hours, to keep the festival on track. For an anarchic festival of destruction and fire, Falles is meticulously organised.

The final Mascletà of 2019

Each day at 2pm what seems like thunder rolls across the city. But it’s a clear and sunny day. How can there be thunder? It’s the daily mascletà. In the city’s central square, local pyrotechnicians take turns to construct a daytime firework show. The mascletà is named after extremely loud firecrackers – masclets – which form the main part of the show.

The Fallera Mayor and Fallera Infantil – a woman and a young girl elected in stages by Valencians to represent the city at events during Fallas – announce in Valencian ‘Senyor pirotecnic, pot començar la mascletà!’ (Mr Pyrotechnician, you may commence the mascletà). The display starts slowly, but soon builds.

By the end of its cycle the windows of chain shops, restaurants and government buildings which surround the square are vibrating to the sound of the explosions, the ground is shaking, your insides are convulsing at the sonic waves given off by the masclets. You must keep your mouth open and fight the urge to block your ears – to do anything else is dangerous for your hearing. The square fills with smoke, the crowd cheers in ecstasy.

During the final five days the festival intensifies. People flood from across Spain and Europe to witness firework displays of the like they’ve never seen before. During these days, the city council spends €250,000 a day on fireworks. And then there are the countless private displays. Unsurprisingly, Valencia is one of the main manufacturers of fireworks in Spain – so this money can be counted as local investment. The city begins to feel like a cross between a music festival and a riot.

In a tradition that goes back to the middle ages, Valencia’s 750 cassals fallers (the neighbourhood associations who organise local celebrations) each construct falles and ninots in the streets. These are satirical models which reference political issues and mock their protagonists. They range from the beautiful to the vulgar.

The main issues of the past year in Spain have been the feminist movement and the exhumation and reburial of Franco, Spain’s old dictator. Hence, the streets were filled with models of domineering women and satirical plays on Franco and the prime minister who wants to exhume him – Pedro Sanchez. In one, Franco is the Sleeping Beauty to Pedro Sanchez’s prince.

In a tradition that goes back to the middle ages, Valencia’s 750 cassals fallers (the neighbourhood associations who organise local celebrations) each construct falles and ninots in the streets. These are satirical models which reference political issues and mock their protagonists. They range from the beautiful to the vulgar.

The main issues of the past year in Spain have been the feminist movement and the exhumation and reburial of Franco, Spain’s old dictator. Hence, the streets were filled with models of domineering women and satirical plays on Franco and the prime minister who wants to exhume him – Pedro Sanchez. In one, Franco is the Sleeping Beauty to Pedro Sanchez’s prince.

The tradition has gradually since the middle ages when local craftspeople used to burn a year’s accumulation of broken stuff and junk in the street to celebrate the coming of Spring and the warm weather. One year, someone decided to form their refuse into a figure; sparking competition. Hundreds of years later we see these extravagant, ornately carved paper models all over Valencia, beautifying the streets, impressing passers-by, inspiring pride in every local who had a hand in designing them and building them. Until they set alight and burnt.

On the night of La Cremà, Valencia must bus in firefighters from around the region to work all night, touring the streets and making sure the billowing flames emitted from the models don’t cause the surrounding apartments to go up in the same way. The local Fallers and Falleras watch their year’s work dramatically burn to the ground. Some cheers, others can’t help but tear up.

Eventually, everyone crawls into bed, knowing the extravaganza is over for another year. Firecrackers become strictly controlled by law once more. The following day, the charred embers have magically disappeared from every street.

What other city could achieve this kind of organised chaos, I wonder. Let anyone happy to indulge in the old stereotype of Spanish people being feckless and lazy come and see how clean Valencia’s streets are mere hours after 750 simultaneous fires have burnt and crackled across the city. Valencia’s people are refreshed. Something deeply primal has been emphatically released. Quiet returns.

A standard walk home during Falles