Third place in any competition does not get the recognition that it should. Sports teams that finish third are not afforded the opportunity or attention of the first and second place teams. No one ever talks about the runner-up to the runner-up.

Among the cities of Spain Valencia is third place. Everyone knows about Madrid and Barcelona but most folks have little knowledge of the third largest city in the county. Located about 200 miles from both of the two largest cities in the country, Valencia is home to about one million people and has a rich history dated back to the Roman Empire. During it’s long history it has been ruled by the Romans and the Moors. It was a part of the Byzantine Empire for many years and has Ben an important Christian stronghold for centuries.

The city was established on the banks of the Turia River which frequently flooded causing much damage to life and property. After the Great Flood of October 14, 1957 a plan was devised to divide the river into two branches that flowed around the city until it emptied into the Mediterranean.  The project was completed in 1969 and the old river bed was converted into a 9 mile green space through the heart of the city. The Valencia Biopark is at the western end of Turia Park and the modern City of Arts and Science is located at the eastern end. The park provides many cultural and recreation opportunities as well as allow people to travel through the city without use of city streets or roads.

Spain is known for many extravagant festivals and events. Valencia has one of the most unusual, yet little known.

The Running of the Bulls in the small city of Pamplona in northern Spain attract around one million visitors every July. This event was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” For eight consecutive mornings, people come to race with bulls along a 930-yard street course to the city’s bullring, where the animals are killed during the traditional corridas.

Yesterday La Tomatina was held in the small town (population 9,000) of Bunol, Spain. Thousands come from all over the world for the ‘World’s Biggest Food Fight.” On the last Wednesday in August every year 20,000 people who are lucky enough to have secured one of the limited number of tickets gather in the center of town and throw more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes at each other.

While the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina are well known around the world, Valencia’s unique festival of Las Fallas (The Fires) is not nearly so well known. Every spring more than two million people come for a week-long event unlike anything I have ever seen.

About 750 neighborhood groups with over 200,000 members- one-quarter of the city’s population- take a full year to construct beautiful and elaborate structures of paper and wax, wood and polystyrene foam, some towering up to five stories. These creations are displayed throughout the city during the week of the festival that culminates on March 19, the birth date of their patron saint, St. Joseph.

The Mascletà, an explosive barrage of coordinated firecracker and fireworks displays, takes place at 2:00 pm every day of the festival but sporadic outbursts of fireworks are heard periodically throughout each day.

On the final night of Falles beautiful and elaborate structures such as the one above are burned as huge bonfires at approximately the same time all over the city. After all the fallas dotted around the streets are burned, the main one is saved until last so that everyone can watch it burn. This climax of the whole event, La Crema, is set outside the Ajuntament -the town hall- where thousands of people have been gathering for hours to get a view of this spectacle.

The next time you plan a visit, be sure to include Valencia. It may be “third place” among the cities of Spain but you will not regret your visit anytime but it will an added bonus if you can be there during the festival of Las Fallas, March 15-19, annually.

Jamie Jenkins