La Cremà – Valencia in Flames
Beginning at midnight on March 19th, the festival of Fallas reaches its fiery, conclusive end with the Cremà, when all of the giant monuments go up in flames. It’s a darkly beautiful, and emotionally-charged event, which leaves the city in a state of semi-shock.
It’s hard to overstate exactly how insane la Cremà is. In one single night, hundreds of monuments are purposely set on fire. These are exquisitely-crafted pieces, which can cost hundreds of thousands of euros, and which teams of artists have been working on for an entire year. And they’ve only been displayed to the public for a few days! Even the most die-hard Fallas fan can’t possibly hope to see them all before they’re destroyed.
Besides the sheer wantonness of essentially setting fire to piles of money, there’s the danger. The largest monuments reach up to five stories in height. They’re the size of buildings… and they’re right next to other buildings! And there are thousands of spectators crowded around. Valencia itself doesn’t have nearly enough firefighters to handle this madness, so they have to call in backup from around Spain and even internationally.
“Well, the cremà does sound wild, but come on, it can’t be all that bad.” Hah! That’s only ever been said by someone who’s never actually seen the crema. We’ve been to a few, and each time, there’s been a moment of panic — when the flames threaten to spread out of control, when the black smoke of burning styrofoam swirls into a tornado, when I’m sure the crowd is going to stampede or the house next to me is about to explode. But each time, we’ve emerged unscarred.
Unscarred, but utterly wrecked. Watching these massive monuments burn is entrancing… seeing the flames spread from the base, and suddenly engulf the heads, watching pieces fall onto the ground and disappear, feeling the fire hot against your skin and the smoke thick in your lungs. It’s scary and weird and overwhelming.
The festival of Fallas, punctuated by the Cremà, is about as cathartic as events come. Valencians create these monuments which are absolute works of art; unique, funny, thoughtful tributes to the year that was. Then, they destroy them. If Fallas is a festival meant to celebrate the past, the Cremà is meant to definitively close the door on it. “Time to move on,” Valencia says. “Spring has arrived!”