Gràcia district’s history

A region characterised for its abundance of rivers and streams, beside the old road which joined Barcelona to Sant Cugat and which is now Carrer Gran de Gràcia. After the authorities forbade the construction of any new churches, monasteries or hospitals within the city walls of Barcelona in the XIV century, different religious orders began to establish themselves in Barcelona, and by 1626 a common basic building pattern had emerged. This comprised the arrangement of the plots of land around rectangular squares, or plazas, interspersed with streets whose layout was determined by the course of the rivers and streams that ran down the mountains to the sea. Over time this led to a proliferation of public squares in Gràcia, and the creation of a district that a century later was characterised by a wide variety of architectural styles which complemented each other to form an aesthetically pleasing whole.

In the XIX century Gràcia had steady growth, and also witnessed a flourishing of industrial activity and a rise in its population of skilled artisans. Although it did not attain the same level of development as the neighbouring towns, during this period the town became an important centre for textile production thanks to the craftsmen who worked hand-operated looms, and the introduction of factories with steam-powered looms. Over time the textile production was joined by other activities, such as printing and the manufacture of matches, and a diverse range of craftsmen set up workshops in the ground floor of their homes. This upsurge in industrial activity was matched by a rapid rise in the number of political and civic organisations, resulting in a plethora of printed publications.

At the outset of its industrial development Gràcia was involved in a struggle to gain municipal autonomy, local self-government, which it finally achieved in 1850. At that time Gràcia had over 13,000 residents and covered an area that was actually larger than the present-day district, since it included the district of La Salut and part of the eastern sector of the present-day Sant Gervasi district. After achieving self-government the town quickly initiated a public works programme and started improving its communications and infrastructures: municipal gas lighting was introduced, the Sarrià train station in the western part of Gràcia was built, the appearance of the first horse-pulled tram between Barcelona and Gràcia, the Mercat de la Llibertat Market project and, the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central Market were approved, etc.

Gràcia would continue to enjoy the right to local self-government, or to be a vila (self-governing town), over the next 47 years, until it was incorporated into Barcelona in 1897. At that time the town had over 60,000 residents and 5,500 buildings and, although the annexation was fiercely opposed by many residents, in 1897 the town lost its independence to become another district of the city of Barcelona.

Squares of Gràcia

The striking squares of Gracia were built as a result of the development of the former village and have become the focus of recreational and social life for locals and visitors in Barcelona alike. The neighbourhood is dotted with over 15 squares, places which afford light and shade, where people can meet and chat: colourful spaces which appear, almost by surprise, among the narrow streets.

The squares include literary landmarks, such as the Plaça del Diamant, which gave its name to the novel by the Catalan authoress Mercè Rodoreda, the square also has historic underground air-raid shelters dating back to the Spanish Civil War, and the air-raid shelters have become iconic symbols of Gràcia and Barcelona. To the south of the neighbourhood you can find the Plaça del Raspall and the Plaça del Poble Romaní which are frequented by the neighbourhood’s gypsy community. The Plaça Rius i Taulet is where the town hall stands, that has a impressive clock tower in the centre. The square has had four official names: Plaça d’Orient, de la Constitució, de Rius i Taulet and, finally, de la Vila de Gràcia. Nearby, the charismatic Plaça del Sol which is the meeting spot for young people, and is the main square that gives life to Gràcia. Plaça de la Revolució has a more modest vibe, dotted with trees and a kids playground. The square leads to the Carrer Verdi and the next door square is Plaça de la Virreina where the parish church of Sant Joan is located. The neighbouring Plaça del Diamant features a sculpture of La Colometa, the main character in Rodoreda’s novel. If you are searching for something more peaceful to escape to we recommend heading to Plaça del Nord and Plaça de Rovira i Tries, which takes its name from the architect who is the subject of the sculpture in the square.

Gràcia’s district is completely self-sufficient, this means that you could stay in Gràcia and never have to leave, there are good amenities of every sort, bars, cosy cafes, a real Mediterranean lifestyle. At the same time, everything like the buildings, streets and plaças are in much smaller proportion than those in the centre of town, and around Gràcia there is also some astonishing art nouveau architecture to be seen. From its rich history to the contemporary art scene, this is a district where old traditions and cultural diversity flourishes. In the mood for a little more action? head to the tree-lined Verdi street for some great ethnic food, independent-designer fashion stores and quirky shops of all kinds. The pedestrian traffic on this characteristic street make for a lovely afternoon stroll. You can discover all there is to know about Gràcia history and culture on our gastronomic experience around the district of Gràcia.

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