The Valencia coast as a name or term to describe a tourist area is not restricted to the fertile Mediterranean plain which to the visitor looks like an orchard of orange groves and rice fields. Nor is it on the whole the "rich, beautiful and flat land" as it is described by an anonymous minstrel in the romance of El Cid. The province has two areas which can be clearly distinguished as regards their scenery: the coast and the mountains. The former consists of soil from Quaternary flood sediments where the prosperous regions lie with their fabulous orchard lands, their irrigated crops which remain a green chequerboard all through the year, and where population density is high as well as the influx of tourist striving to reach the sea.
After passing through an area of gently sloping foothills where dry-farming and less intensively irrigated crops are the main feature, the other part is reached, the wild, almost unknown inland scenery, the semi-circle of the Valencia mountain ridges with their occasional precipices forming impressive river canyons, surrounded by open pine forests where caves and prehistoric shelters with many stone-age paintings lie hidden. It is an area full of rugged spurs with heights of over 1,500m, where the most important crops are obtained with dry-farming methods in vineyards, almond and olive groves. These lands are full of contrasts as regards their climate, their language, which is strongly coloured by Catalan or Castilian-Aragonese as a result of the resettlement after the Reconquest, and the remarkable differences between lati and minifundia, as well as in their customs and even in the art of cooking, while to some it will certainly come as a surprise that vines should be the most widely found crops in these parts.
With 10,763km, 263 towns and villages and 2,154,322 inhabitants, the Province of Valencia is the largest of the three which together with Castellon in the North and Alicante in the South used to belong to the former Kingdom of Valencia.
The weather conditions might well also be a reason for the easygoing way of life you will find here, as well as the friendliness of people. There is no such thing as stress and the most important thing is to enjoy life. New arrivals often find it hard to adapt to this Mediterranean attitude "maņana", however, pretty soon they inhale this Mediterranean style of life and going back home becomes very difficult, if not absurd.
The hard-working, cheerful and boisterous character of the Valencia people - "full of talent, subtle speech and keen inventiveness", as Father Tarifa described them in 1755 - is responsible for their well-earned reputation of people who love celebrate. The large number of celebrations - some religious and other historical - that take place everywhere in Valencia and its province during the year is yet another proof of its varied regions. These celebrations are eminently popular and take place in the open air, mostly with the help of fire, music and gun powder.
For the people of Valencia, the celebrations par excellence are Las Fallas. Every year, Las Fallas and spring seem to reach Valencia at the same time. The word "falla" is of Mozarabic origin, derived from the Latina "facula" ie, torch, and the celebration developed from burning everything useless accumulated in the workshops, a tradition established by the Carpenters Guild in the 13C. These festive bonfires may trace their remote origins back to the Roman saturnalia, but their figures burst with biting wit. The celebrations are officially classified as of interest to international tourism and turn Valencia into a pedestrian area during the week of Las Fallas, ie, 12th to 19th of March, because they must be savoured in the street. They range from "la desperta", to the traditional "crida", the Exhibition of "El Ninot", a procession of floats called "La Cabalgata del Reino", the flower offering to the Virgin and the spectacular fireworks, as well as that sounding-board which are the "casales falleros", where fritters are an obligatory presence as part of the festive art of cooking. After the "Nit del Foc", the Night of Fire, comes the grand finale on March 19th, the day of the "crema", the burning.
The other important Valencia celebration is undoubtedly the commemoration of the reconquest with mock fights between Moors and Christians, which are especially outstanding in the inland regions of the southern province. They always begin with a spectacular parade. The most important ones take place in Onteniente in the last week of August, in Bocairente in the first week of February and in Olleria in the second September week.
The deep-rooted love of fire, which is so common in these lands, becomes visible most clearly in the bonfires (Hogueras, les Fogueres) which are especially frequent around San Anton (Jan. 17th) in Cofrentes, Camporrobles, Cuadete, Casa Bajas, Manises..., though the largest of all is the Canals Pyre which reaches a height of 20m. Bonfires are also lit on the beaches around San Juan, ie, June 23rd and 24th, and in September, in which the one on the 3rd in Agullent deserves special mention as it represents "the miracle of San Vicente de Ferrer´s lamp".
Las Carnestoltes is a Valencia expression referring to the carnival season beginning in February. It is of pagan origin and as a noun it stands for the straw figure which hangs at varying height in some villages usually mocking the devil. It is burnt on Ash Wednesday. As a celebration for public entertainment with disguises, it was important in Valencia until the beginning of the century, but is today confined to fancy dress balls indoors. In some villages of La Ribera Alta, the celebration is taken into the open air again. In Xativa, the traditional almoxavenes - fried caked made with flour, egg and sugar - are made around this time.
In Holy Week, the processions of the Maritime District of Valencia are especially interesting, as are the ones in Benetuser, where Passion performances take place in the street and brotherhoods as well as the resident population participate: or those in Gandia because of their rich costumes and in Moncada, which are officially held to be of interest to tourists with scenes of the Passion taking place in natural surroundings. With the arrival of Easter Saturday in April, "les Pascues" or Pascua Florida begins, celebrating nature with picnics in the countryside to eat "la mona" (pastry incorporating a hard-boiled egg) and fly a kite (catxerulo in the vernacular). This is a splendid part of the festive calendar followed by the celebration in honour of San Vicente Ferrer with the performance of his miracles on altars raised by the brotherhoods in the street.
After the feasts of La Sant Cruz (Holy Cross), popular enthusiasm reaches its peak during the "traslado" or transfer of La Mare de Due dels Desamparats from the Basilica to the Cathedral (2nd Sunday of May). Also typical is the "fira de l´escuraeta" (popular Valencia Ceramics), a fair held on Zaragoza Square.
June sees the traditional Corpus Christi procession which has taken place since 1355 and includes many biblical figures preceded by "Las Rocas", carriages which are many centuries old. Especially outstanding in the popular July Fair (fira de Juliol) is the already 100 year old International Musical Bands Competition which ends with a flower show (Batalla de Flores).
In August and September there is an endless succession of festive occasions in the whole province, including Patron Saint celebration which would be incomplete without processions, "romerias", ie, festive-religious excursions, popular dances, driving young bulls through the streets (encierros de vaquillas) or "el toro embolado" (a bull whose horns are decorated with wooden balls). Since their attraction surpasses local boundaries, in August the following celebrations stand out: la enrama de la Murta in Almacera (2nd fortnight); les alfabegues (basil plants) feast in Betera, from 15th to 22nd; la carxofa and la dansa dels porrots in Silla, from 4th to 20th; el torico de la cuerda in Chiva, from 15th to 25th; and in the last week of August, La tomatina (tomato battle) in Buņol and la corda in Paterna, while the Grape Harvest Feast in Requena lasts into the first week of September. Especially outstanding in September are La Moixeranga and all the other dances performed in Algemesi, from 6th to 8th; les festes d l´arros in sueca, in the first fortnight; San Miguel Arcangel in Liria on September 29th, which has been celebrated since 1466; and the Patron Saint celebration in Gandia dedicated to Frances Borgia and first celebrated in 1673. On October 9th, the feast of San Dionis allows Valencia to commemorate the conquest of the city by Jaime I. This particular event has become a local celebration f the Valencia Community.
This is a crowded, but still incomplete summary of a lengthy calendar of celebrations and festivals which is brought to a close with La Fira de Nadal, the Christmas fair in Valencia, a fair especially designed for the entertainment of children.
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