For one month a year, the weirdly barren and flat concrete plaza in front of the City Hall is transformed into the nucleus of Valencia’s most cherished obsession: the mascletá. A large metal cage is erected, which locals refer to as the Cathedral of Gunpowder (catedral de la pólvora). And every day at 2pm sharp, unbelievable numbers of worshippers turn out to attend the holy Mass. I can promise you, that you’ll never hear a more bombastic sermon!
I’m not sure whether the cage is erected to protect people from the exploding fireworks… or whether it’s to protect the fireworks from the legions of crazed Valencians. Probably both. But it does feel like a sacred space. Entrance is strictly forbidden, and you’ll find people just staring at the cage with devotion, admiring the firecrackers strung up like relics in complicated patterns that seem as though they might reveal some profound truth if properly understood. Every day at 2pm, the secrets held by the cage explode into the air, enrapturing the Disciples of Noise who have gathered around it. Enduring a mascletá really can feel like a religious experience — it’s hard to concentrate on anything else than the smoke and explosions, and that feeling which creeps into your heart as the ground shakes during the finale comes close to spiritual ecstasy.
On March 9th, we had the chance to enter the Cathedral. This was the first time we were able to see firsthand how a mascletà is constructed, and we were super-excited the moment we entered the cage. There were about ten workers inside, unpacking boxes, arranging the patterns, and carefully tying the firecrackers onto the strings. I was surprised to learn that they do all this work on the ground, and then only raise up the entire construction once it’s finished — though of course, seeing how high off the ground the firecrackers are, it makes sense. It takes around four hours of labor to get a single mascletà ready, and there was a cortador on-site, slicing ham to give the workers strength as they finished their task.
We also had the honor of meeting Núria Martí. She’s the great-granddaughter of the founder of Pirotecnia Nadal-Martí and is running the company now. Pirotecnia Nadal-Martí was founded in 1932 in the town of L’Olleria which used to be home to thirteen fireworks workshops but her company is the last one standing. It’s not common to find pyrotechnic companies led by women. As she explained in this interview, historically, women in the industry were mostly relegated to the workshops where the firecrackers were produced, and where most of the accidents would happen. But the times are changing.
We had already taken notice of her company in the past, as they’ve been responsible for some incredible displays. And happily, today’s mascletà lived up to the company’s reputation. In fact, this particular mascletà almost scared us… it seemed angrier and more aggressive than usual. But maybe that’s just because were were standing so close. Only those who are true of heart will not shudder in the violent presence of the Cathedral!