People walk past an installation after the Fallas festival was cancelled over the coronavirus outbreak in Valencia on March 13, 2020. (AFP/Jose Jordan)
Officials in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia debated Wednesday what to do with large sculptures set up on its streets for its annual "Fallas" festival after the event was postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
Called "ninots", the sculptures made of wood, plaster and papier mache -- some as tall as a four-story building -- depict fairytale figures and cartoonish effigies of politicians and celebrities.
They are brought out into the streets of the Mediterranean city and then burned on the last day of fiesta, held every year on March 15-19.
The UNESCO recognized festival, a centuries-old tradition honoring Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, is believed to have evolved from pagan rituals marking the end of winter and usually attracts one million people to Valencia.
But late on Tuesday regional authorities decided to postpone the event to a yet to be determined date to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in Spain, which has recorded 48 deaths from the disease so far making it one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe.
It is the first time that the festival has been suspended since the end of Spain's 1936-39 civil war.
The problem is that many sculptures, which are made by groups of artisans over several months, have already been set up in the streets.
Valencia city hall initially proposed that the "ninots" be temporarily stored in the city's congress center.
But the association representing the artisans who make the sculptures advised its members not to take down works already in the streets until it was clear who would be responsible for the cost of this operation which it estimated would be "high".
The "ninots" are made by 380 associations of locals who this year spent an estimated 7.8 million euros ($8.8 million) on the works.
In the square in front of city hall locals placed a large face mask on a giant sculpture of a woman's face with her eyes closed.
The artisans finally agreed late on Wednesday to start taking down the sculptures and put them in storage after city hall agreed to split the cost involved with the regional government of Valencia and proposed holding the festival on July 15-19.
Any sculpture that can not be dismantled will be burned "behind closed doors", the Valencia city councilor in charge of culture, Carlos Galiana, told a news conference.
The sculptures are traditionally exhibited beforehand for the public to vote on their favorite with two saved from the bonfire on the last day of the festival and stored in a permanent collection at the local Fallas museum.
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