Fire, festivity and faith

TEXT: GERARD PLANA | PHOTOS: PATERNA

Paterna, a town in the outskirts of Valencia, celebrates the end of summer with fire and gunpowder. During its annual celebration – or, Fiestas de Paterna – its citizens ignite one of the biggest pyrotechnic shows in Spain: the legendary La Cordà.

Since ancient times, mankind has always had a special connection with fire. Its mystical attraction, far greater than magnetism, has always made us come together; gazing at the hypnotic, dancing flames. Once we learned how to control it, our relationship with it changed drastically, up to the point where it became a vital element of our daily lives and a welcome guest at many a festival.

Yet, few communities celebrate amongst the flames like they do in Paterna, a not-so-small village near Valencia. When August comes to an end, its locals get ready for the Fiestas de Paterna and the famous spectacle of La Cordà: a pyrotechnic parade through the Main Street during which tens of thousands of fireworks get lit in less than 30 minutes.

 
Smoke and sparkles

The tradition of La Cordà dates long back. Centuries ago, when Paterna was just a small town, it had a strong link with gunpowder and pyrotechnics. Like in many places in Valencia, groups of friends would gather on the streets every year to celebrate the town’s patron saints – Christo de la Fe and Saint Vincente Ferrer – with fireworks and smoke. The streets filled themselves with loud bangs and got illuminated by millions of colourful sparkles. Throughout the years, this impromptu tradition became well-known throughout the region and attracted many spectators every year. Therefore, Paterna’s government decided to celebrate it as an official festival, every year on the last Sunday of August. Today, La Cordà is one of the most visited events in all the region of Valencia. In 2017, the Spanish government even granted the parade with the title Festivity of National Tourist Interest.

During La Corda, the main credo is ‘safety first’. Since they light more than 70,000 fireworks in 30 minutes and use three times more gunpowder than an ordinary Valencian mascletà does, Paterna goes above and beyond to guarantee the safety of the fire parade’s participants, the city itself and the spectators. They can take shelter in the cohetòdrom, an elevated viewpoint from where they can watch the show safely.

Although fire is the protagonist at the Fiestas de Paterna, there is plenty more to discover, away from the cosy inferno. ‘Fire, Festivity and Faith’ is the slogan of the Fiestas de Paterna and those three elements are the main pillars on which the party is built. While La Cordà takes care of the fire, local people give colour to the festivity and the region’s religious cofradías (or, confraternities) add faith into the mix. Nonetheless, all three are interrelated and collide within the celebrations.

Fire, festivity and faith at La Cordà de Paterna Discover Southern Europe

Heaven and hell

When the mythical night arrives, the so-called tiradores (or, shooters) gather at the Calle Mayor, where La Cordà kicks off. All dressed in a traditional leather suit to protect them from burns, they patiently await the starting shot. Meanwhile, the streets fill up with locals and tourists galore. Nobody in Paterna wants to miss out on the mesmerising show which is about to pass the history-packed streets. Soon, they will be covered with dense smoke and the characteristic smell of gunpowder, a smell that every native of Paterna will directly associate with this magical night.

When the coheter major (the fireworks master) finally gives the starting shot, all the tiradores hurry to light their wicks. The party has officially started. The smoke rapidly makes a blur of the streets. You can only see the sparks of the thousands of fireworks being lit at the same time, you can hear them whistle, detonate and burn while your eyes tear up from the smoke. For 30 minutes, the Calle Mayor becomes a hell on earth. Although, for the many tiradores and the loyal spectators, it feels like heaven. Once they have lit their last fireworks, they can’t do anything but smile and start dreaming about next year’s festival. The summer is coming to an end, but for them, it couldn’t end better.

Fire, festivity and faith at La Cordà de Paterna, Discover Southern Europe magazine

A trip to Paterna

Home to the famous Spanish actor Antonio Ferrandis, Paterna is an appealing village near Valencia, full of beautiful spots, historical buildings and rich gastronomy. Don’t miss the Moorish Tower, the caves of Paterna or the Teatro Antonio Ferrandis. Enjoy its Mediterranean gastronomy and taste the catxaps, sweet pastries filled with a smooth custard. Film fans might want to hunt for famous filming locations as well, as Pain and Glory, Almodovar’s latest, was partially shot in this atmospheric town.

The Fiestas de Paterna run from 15 August until 25 August. La Cordà takes place on 25 August. For more info, visit www.paterna.es

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