VALENCIA'S famous Fallas festival has officially kicked off with the cridà, or call to the city to open the fiestas filling the streets with tens of thousands of locals and visitors.
The festival, which marks St Joseph's Day, or San José (March 19), which is also Father's Day in Spain, exploded into life last night (Sunday) with the first mascletà, or gunpowder banger display in the city hall square.
Monuments the height of blocks of flats made from colourfully-painted papier mâché feature caricatures, often of famous people including Royalty, celebrities and politicians, and are designed to send up current affairs.
On the night of March 19, they are set fire to one by one, starting with the monument or falla placed last and finishing with the winner, from which the fallera mayor, or fiesta queen will have rescued her favourite figurine, or ninot, to save from the flames.
Each falla has a children's version beside it, smaller and themed on cartoons or fairy tales rather than politics and the news, and each 'adult' and children's falla has its own fiesta queen.
The fallas each have a marquée, known as a casal, where fiesta group subscribers eat, drink and party around the clock, barely catching four or five hours sleep during the entire festival.
As well as the falleras mayores, numerous other girls and women in traditional, colourful Valencian regional costume join the parades and parties, and are known as the Corte de Honor, or the fiesta queens' entourage.
This year's fallera mayor, Alicia Moreno and the children's fallera mayor Sofía Soler were presented from the top of the Serrano twin towers along with mayor Joan Ribó (Compromís), who gave the opening speech.
The two falleras mayores gave their own speeches, stating what a great honour it was to be fiesta queens in the city of Valencia – the main focus of the Fallas, although it is celebrated in towns and villages throughout the province and even in the north of that of Alicante.
Alicia Moreno greeted the public in several languages, given that the Fallas attracts tourists from all over the world in the same way as the famous Feria de Abril ('April Fair') and Semana Santa Easter parades in Sevilla are known internationally.
Ribó concluded his speech with the symbolic act of presenting the keys to the city to the two falleras mayores.
The fiesta will not get properly under way until Tuesday, March 1, when the falla monuments are unveiled and the casales open.
After this, mascletaes will take place in the city hall square daily at 14.00hrs, presided over by Alicia, Sofía and the mayor.