There’s something about walking the overly-decorated, quaint streets of Gràcia under the cloudless Barcelona sky, that makes you believe the Spanish rumors that Festa Major de Gràcia is truly the best neighborhood festival here in Barcelona. From August 15-21, the perfectly quadratic layout is unrecognizable with vibrant paper-mache designs hanging between buildings and animated characters lining the sides of the streets, staring at you as you walk past. It was with awe and amazement that I wandered the streets day and night, making my way through various countries and time zones displayed through artistic designs. Nearly two million visitors made their way though countries like Paris, France, on Travessera de Sant Antoni. They witnessed the massive Eiffel Tower constructed solely of recycled cartons, while a couple streets down offered a ride of a lifetime at the Parc D’Atraccions Joan Blanques 2015 amusement park.
The Festa Major de Gràcia could be the best neighborhood party here in Barcelona due to the intensity in which each meticulous design is thought out and executed; or perhaps, because the other neighborhoods can’t compete with the proximity and how close each designed street is to the other. No matter what the reason is, the colors, excitement and crowds are never-ending. Each business and street work together to “out-design” the others with the most creative theme, interactive daytime entertainment for children and lively music to keep guests on their street, dancing and drinking the night away.
Booming beats from radical, anti-moderno bands and sweet melodies from traditional, flamenco music fill the streets each night as visitors struggle to move and dance about the crowded streets. Spanish punk rock bands all the way to jazz bands in bow ties elicit the same effect from the crowds, who enthusiastically jump around throwing their beers in the air. It was here we spent our days, only to be transformed into moonlit dancing shadows when the night fell upon the city. Yes, we partied until the wee hours of the morning, giving the locals a show as they watched with their beers in hand from their balconies.
Gràcia’s plaças such as Plaça del Sol and Plaça del Diamant are transformed into concert venues and renamed Plaça del Folk and Plaça del Swing for the duration of the week. Old friends were reunited and new friends were made during this festival, which began as a way to bring the locals together, but now attracts millions of tourists since it received the Creu de Sant Jordi award and was named a Traditional Festival of National Interest by the Generalitat of Catalonia.
This festive tradition dates back to when Gràcia was a separate village from the city of Barcelona. It was founded in 1626 by an order of Carmelite nuns who dubbed it “Nostra Senyora de Gràcia (Our Lady of Grace)” and was incorporated as a part of the city in 1897. Hence, the name Gràcia stuck and is very fitting for this area of the city, near mosaic Park Guell, within sight of peaceful Tibidabo and away from the hustle and bustle of the immediate city-center. To this day, Gràcia is popular for a plethora of local restaurants and shops with a hippy or free-radical vibe about them. There are many Catalonians living here who are passionate and proud of their culture and origin, which is evident by the countless Catalan flags waving at you from various windows and balconies.
The last night of the festival, a plethora of police are found roaming the streets, since the Catalan people are known for starting riots as a demonstration of their desire for liberty from Spain. In addition to the threat of riots, the last night is when the Correfoc takes place and the locals carry fireworks on poles and carefully constructed animals who spit fire at the crowd. It is a procession that is typically used to celebrate religious holidays and festivals and the crowds go crazy over it. Drum rolls accompany exploding firecrackers and inevitably countless people leave with burn marks on their skin and the smell of sizzling, burnt hair.
After the week of partying, we all are exhausted, but somehow everyone gears up for the next festival in Sants, Barcelona, beginning the very next night!
By Melissa Butz