There is so much to do in Barcelona in summer but mid-August is special, since Barcelona’s Gràcia neighborhood comes alive with a week long festival that sees the district transformed. Las Fiestas de Gràcia is an anxiously awaited event in Barcelona’s busy calendar. If you come to Barcelona in August make sure not to miss out on the magical festival, and go to the district of Gràcia to see what this unique and beautiful festival is all about.
Gràcia is a district of Barcelona that is famous for its bohemian atmosphere, colorful squares and vibrant bars and cafes. The idea of the Gràcia festival is that the streets of the neighbourhood compete to win the prize of “best decorated street”. Each street tends to take the competition very seriously and the standards are high, they prepare for it through the whole year. And obviously in every good competition there has to be a theme!
The neighbours of Gràcia use any recycled and recyclable material at their disposal, such as paper, coloured paperboard and bottles, all decorations are handmade by the neighbours, creating true works of art which flood their streets with colour!
Gràcia’s streets are decorated and filled with activities for all the family, and all the decorated streets are worth seeing, but if you don’t have time to see them all we definitely recommend going to the streets of Carrer de Joan Blanques and Carrer de Verdi that for many years have won the competition of “best decorated street”.
Stroll through the narrow streets of Gràcia and you will be astonished by its colourful decorations located just above your head and the creativity and originality that each street demonstrates. Throughout the week of festivities there will be many concerts and shows taking place. The Gràcia festival is always on the 15th to 21st of August every year. The first day of the festival on the 15th of August is also a public holiday in Spain.
TIP: The prizes for best decorated streets are always announced on the 16th of August and after the prize giving some decorations start to wear or tear, so it is best to visit the streets in the first days of the Gràcia festival. There is also a competition for the best decorated balconies in the Gràcia area.
History of Gràcia’s Festival
The festivals started in 1817, or at least that’s the earliest recorded date historians have about the festival. That means the Gràcia festival has at least two centuries. During Franco’s dictatorship, the festival had a unhappy tone that was in favor of democracy and Catalan culture during a time of Catalan suppression.
Gràcia was once a separate village from the city of Barcelona and was not fully incorporated into the city until 1897. This is why the Gràcia neighbourhood still has narrow village streets and a special village feel and charm. The Gràcia festival is Barcelona’s biggest, most colourful and most popular neighbourhood festival. The Gràcia festival is organized by the districts residents with the aim of bringing the neighbours together in communal activities and events. It’s an admirable tradition, and the Gràcia festival is the most famous out of all the local Barcelona district festivals because of it. Appealing to over one and a half million visitors each year in August.
Gràcia festival “plazas”
Many squares in the Gràcia festival have concert stages and stalls with food, drinks and handicraft items. Some of the main festival squares have individual themes like Plaça del Sol, Plaça del Diamant, Plaça de la Revolució, Plaça de les Dones del 36 and Plaza de Torrente Manuel.
Plaça de les Dones del 36 theme is family shows
Plaça de la Revolució theme is solidarity and social inclusion
Also the square has daytime activities including book exchange, storytelling, games, workshops…
Plaça del Diamant theme is swing music
Having a famous Swing dance school at the corner of the square
Plaça del Sol theme: folk concerts
Plaça de la Virreina theme: craft fairs
Festa Major de Gràcia parades
The ‘cercavila’ parades are fun and wonderful for children. These are parades that open the Festa de Gràcia and are usually on the first day. Featuring all the groups of the “Festa Major de Gràcia” including the huge colourful papier-mache giant dolls called gegants that can be up to 4 metres high. There is usually always a King and Queen giant and other characters in attendance. There are also often papier-mache capgrossos which means ‘big heads’.
Meeting and dance of the Gegants
Gegants is Catalan for giants. They are huge effigies that are controlled by a person underneath them. The local Gegants will meet, dance and parade with various others from around Barcelona and Catalonia.
Catalan festival traditions
All Catalan festivals feature, a rich presence of all the traditional cultural Catalan traditions including the “Diada Castellera de Festa Major”. This features castelleres which are groups that build up to 7 or 8 storey high human towers. During the festa major there are many opportunities to see the local castellers group – called ‘Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia’. On one of the nights of the Gràcia festival the castellers will build a tower and move it between two plazas, which is called the “Baixada del Pilar Caminat.”
The correfoc is also among the most popular and festive traditions of all festivals in Catalonia. There will be also be traditional Catalan Sardanas, which is similar to folk dancing.
Castells is a Catalonian word that means castles – are a cultural phenomenon particular to Catalonia and consist of erecting human towers. Castellers originated at the end of the 18th century in Tarragona.
Correfoc which means ‘Firerun’, is a parade in which devils run and dance through the streets spreading sparks and fireworks, there is always a percussion band that follows the firerun. The drummers of the Correfoc have their own parade called the ‘Tabalada Infernal.’ The devils attempt to scare spectators by waving fire tridents toward them. There is a child-friendly correfoc for children that’s a little less intense.
TIP: Try to dress appropriately in long-sleeved 100% cotton clothes, no shorts, we know it’s summer so if the long sleeves aren’t possible please try not to get in the way of the firerun and don’t wear hair spray!
Sardanas is a traditional Catalan dance which is always accompanied by music, participants hold hands, rotating between sexes and dance in light movements. The dance can change in number of participants and doesn’t require great physical condition outside of competitive styles, making it easy for anyone wishing to take part. It’s a rather simple dance so that it’s open to everyone to join in, which is one of the reasons for its popularity.
Check out the official Fiesta de Gràcia website and make sure you don’t miss out on anything of the festival. Gràcia festival is a free event that takes place in the streets of the district. You can also find Festa de Gràcia Iphone and Android apps where you can find the daily programme and schedule. You can buy the full Festa de Gràcia programme at the festival which has all the info and maps at the festival venues for €1. Gracia is one of the districts you can’t miss if your a first timer in Barcelona.
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