All throughout Barcelona neighborhoods during the summer host a local barrio festival in adoration of their communities but there is one neighborhood that does it bigger and better than the rest and that would be Gracia. The Festa Major de Gracia is a week long, full-scale street party reminiscent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro minus the religious significance and samba dancers.
With a heritage linked to the Virgin of August and San Roque celebration which falls on the on the 15ht and 19th of August respectively, La Festa Major de Gracia dates as far back as 1827. Although its beginning have religious roots the holiday was defined as more of a civic holiday during the 19th century.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gracia, Barcelona’s most bohemian neighborhood that was once a small village of artisans and laborers separated from the city itself until 1897 still holds steadfast to their independent spirit showcasing their territorial pride during the later half of August with a magical blowout that includes an arts & cultural program of events that the whole family can enjoy. Furthermore, this festival is so well renowned that hordes of people from Barcelona and beyond descend upon Gracia flooding its narrow backstreets to drink, dance and be merry. The streets literally come alive with music and magic.
The festivities always kick off on the balcony of the Gracia Town Hall at the inaugural ceremony commencing the district’s activities, which are always based on a particular theme. Most of the larger organized events like music concerts, children’s theatre, and food fairs take place in the larger squares like Plaza Rius, Plaza Taulet and Plaza del Sol.
There are a large number of traditional Catalan events throughout the course of the week and are a fun way to familiarize yourself with the culture. Two major ones are the cercavila de cultura popular, traditional street parades with dancers, musicians playing traditional music, and huge paper mache giants, and the diada castellera- acrobats that build human towers, which is a tradition dating back to the XVIII century that seems to have started in Tarragona.
My inner child loves the spectacular correfoc as it brings back great memories of celebrating Chinese New Year in San Francisco’s authentic China Town. The correfoc is a gigantic dragon that spits fire while cruising neighborhood streets at nightfall. If you have been to a Chinese New Year celebration then you will understand my comparison.
However beyond the dizzying array of spectacles, fairs and fun happenings what makes this festival magical are the street decorations. For months residents work together enthusiastically transforming neighborhood pathways and building facades into fanciful settings that are legitimate works of art. It’s an absolute delight to simply walk through the streets making your way under, and around the elaborate ornamentation that is strung from building to building.
Nevertheless, there is an underlying motive for the extravagant décor beyond supporting community camaraderie and togetherness, which in fact pits residential streets against one another in a friendly competition to win the ‘’The Best Show’’ prize. Every year different streets pick a theme for their decoration ranging from medieval times to abstract concepts like ‘’fragility’’.
As many streets participate in the competition it’s a challenge to visit them all but the most outlandish efforts always center around Calle Verdi where popular themes have been based on social and political satire to Gracia’s historical past making it a fundamental stop on your party route during the festival.
A Few Tips for Visiting the Festival:
- It is recommended traveling to the area by public transportation and heading towards the heart of the district on foot. There are big crowds but you can count on having big fun.
§ L3 Metro: Diagonal, Fontana, Lesseps
§ L4 Metro: Joanic and Verdequer
§ L5 Metro: Verdaquer
- At night the streets can be very crowded and getting great pictures of the detailed craftsmanship of the street decorations can be a challenge. So, make a special day trip when the crowds are thinner and the natural light is at its best.
- There are non-stop activities therefore consult the event program in advance to select what to see, do and times.
- Generally the festival commences during the second half of August on the 15th running for 7 days.
For all information surrounding the Fest Major de Gracia log onto www. Festamajordegracia.cat (Note: The website is in Catalan)