Every August, a kaleidoscope of color and culture come together to take over the narrow village streets of Barcelona's barrio de Gracia. Residents from all walks of life team up to decorate the neighborhood from head to toe in celebration of their community. Festa Mejor de Gracia is one of Barcelona's most meaningful festivals and is centered around community and genuine love between neighbors. Because Gracia wasn't annexed by Barcelona until 1897, it still retains so much of its Catalan village charm within its streets and an overall sense that absolutely everyone knows everyone. Walking the streets of this once-rural village feels like something out of a movie with people strolling on by, waving to the local bread lady, taking high fives from children, and shouts of "bon dia" to the stranger hanging their clothes on the line above. The connection between those in Gracia spans generations and isn't just seen, but felt and this is precisely what makes Festa Gracia so meaningful.
History of Festa Gracia
The earliest recorded Festa Gracia dates back to 1817, which, sure, in the grand scheme of Spanish history, feels like only a few minutes ago. But it's not so much the number of years that it's been celebrated as it is meaning behind it. For 200+ years, Gracia's residents have been transforming the streets into an artistic jungle to celebrate the togetherness of their community. At the time the festival was created, Gracia was independent and wouldn't be annexed by Barcelona for another 80 years, thanks to Catalans and their deep love of tradition, it's managed to retain an authentic-tight-knit-village-charm. Throughout the past centuries, these neighbors haven't only used the festival as a means to celebrate their community, but also a way to stand up to Catalan suppression by Franco. Throughout Franco's dictatorship, the small but mighty barrio used the festivals to make their stance on democracy and preserving their culture abundantly clear. Post Franco, the Festa has had its highs and lows, in fact, in 1975, thanks to the growth of television and peoples newfound "inconvenience" of the festival, only five streets were decorated, but little by little, it's been revived. Today over 20 streets of Gracia participate in celebrating the closeness of their community and still incorporate the artistic cry for Catalan Independence.
*If you're not familiar, Francisco Franco Bahamonde was evil-Spanish Dictator-extraordinaire who was heavy in bed with not only Fascist Italy, but also Nazi Germany. He is responsible for the start of the Spanish Civil War, banning Catalan, Basque and even his native Galician languages, enlisting secret police, along with your typical dictator ordered human rights abuses which resulted in somewhere between 200,000-400,000 deaths.
Here are the must see Catalan traditions during Festa Gracia:
Decoració de Carrers
Everyone loves a strong drink with great food and dancing, but hands down, the best part of Festa Gracia is the streets. Essentially, the way it works is each street will choose a theme decided by a vote-the longer a voter has been a part of the festival, the heavier their vote weighs. This could range anywhere from a fairytale, a movie, conceptual metaphors, a social issue etc. Then, they work together tirelessly, sometimes all through the night and into the next morning to bring the theme to life and fiercely compete to win the best-decorated street. Gradually the neighborhood floods with the color of all sorts of recycled materials as the theme begins to come together. Not only is the use of recycled materials incredible, but the dedication and long hours of creativity needed to do the theme justice is admirable. Inch-by-inch the streets are transformed into paper mache masterpieces.
Castelleres are groups of adrenaline junkie Catalans(kidding, but really) who create human towers. These are not cheerleader pyramids. These are not creative piggy-back rides. Nope, these are literal human towers that can get up to 7-8 stories. Oh yeah, and they walk around, too.
Correfoc, which translates to "Firerun" is a parade with little devils running and jumping through the streets with massive sparklers, torches and fireworks complete with a dancing group of drummers to follow them. It's such a fun experience that'll have you wondering why the EU even bothers with fire regulations in a place like Spain.
Sardana is a traditional Catalan dance with groups moving in and out of circles with light movements. It sort of reminds me of the Slovak Circle that my family does to keep in touch with our Czech roots at weddings and family gatherings. The Sardanas exact origin is a bit of a mystery with roots dating to Antiquity, nonetheless, it plays a big role in cultural identity for Catalans. If you see a Sardana, always feel free to hop in, just be sure you don't separate the male, female pattern! It's simple and doesn't require any intense coordination which is why you'll often see people of all ages dancing the Sardana together!
Gegants is Catalan for "giants" These humungous paper-mache characters parade the streets twirling around carelessly. There is always a King and Queen giant and capgrossos which means "big heads"
Here are some more photos to inspire you to put Festa Gracia on your list!
Know Before You Go:
When: Aug. 15-21 annually
I recommend around 7-8pm as it's less crowded and once the streets are incredible when illuminated! Activities go until 2 am on weekdays and 3:30 am on Friday and Saturday. I also think it's best to visit in the first few days of the festival when the decorations are still fresh!
From Plaza Catalunya Square it's only about a 15-20 minute walk to Passeig de Gracia.
"Passeig de Gracia" (passage to Gracia) comes from when Gracia was still a village and separate from Barcelona.
By metro, you can take the green line L3 to station Fontana and station diagonal green L3. You can also take yellow line L4 to Joanic.
Where to Stay:
I also recommend searching Airbnb for a more local experience!
The best area is Born/Gotico. It's a little far from Gracia but is perfect for everything else you'll need while in Barcelona!
Click here for a magic link that'll take you there.
Tips: As I've mentioned, Gracia has a strong feeling of local identity famous for its open-arms approach but keep in mind that this is their home. Festa Mejor de Gracia is truly a vibrant and exciting experience steeped in lots of ooey-gooey small-town tradition. If you find yourself lucky enough to wind up in the centuries-old block party that is Festa Gracia, respect the decorations, don't litter and live a little. ;)