A surprising parade
While Barcelona's Gràcia neighbourhood may be modern and trendy, it has always stayed true to its roots and traditions. One tradition – the famous Festa Major de Gràcia – has been held every year since the 19th century. Five days of merrymaking bring locals and travellers together as they rejoice in the celebrations.
This year, the festivities start on 15 August, the day of the patron saint of Gràcia (Saint Bartholomew), with a parade of giants (gegants), dragons (dracs), “big heads” (capgrossos) and other original figures each more embellished than the next. Months of work go into creating these imaginative handmade sculptures, which offer a marvellous spectacle that will delight onlookers. Dressed in their finest garments, the extraordinary characters stroll joyfully through the neighbourhood, accompanied by neighbours and visitors who are blown away every year by the talented creations.
A kaleidoscope of colours
This first event also gives festivalgoers a chance to see the decorations that completely transform Gràcia's streets with natural and paper flowers, lanterns, sculptures and other handmade designs. Associations meet for months ahead of time to create the decorations – often made from recycled materials – that will embellish the neighbourhood. These weeks of preparation are as important as the big day itself because they create strong ties between the local residents.
When everything is ready, the streets become virtually unrecognisable from the explosion of shapes and colours. Let yourself be guided by the poetry and magic of this ephemeral extravaganza. Meander through the streets, admiring the façades and balconies, keeping an eye out for the wondrous, one-of-a-kind creations.
A shiver of excitement
A myriad of free entertainment and concerts are held against this backdrop. You can watch as a group of men and women in traditional dress link hands to perform the Catalan folk dance called the sardana. You may not be able to join the circle, but you are sure to feel the convivial spirit of the experience in your soul as the cobla (musical ensemble) plays nearby. Who knows? You might even be inspired to try a few steps yourself…
In a much more boisterous musical style, the colles de diables (“groups of devils”) are the heroes of the correfocs, or literally “fire runs”. Drummers provide the music as these groups of devils take over the streets, chasing after – good-naturedly – bystanders and shaking their pitchforks to which sparklers are attached! While it is not exactly a performance, it is an exciting experience. If you are looking for a more familial vibe, correfocs are regularly held in a calmer atmosphere aimed at a younger audience.
A gravity-defying challenge
The highlight of the Festa Major de Gràcia is without a doubt the show put on by the castellers, who build castells, or “human towers”, that reach dizzying heights of seven to eight people high! Just watching the castellers work their magic is impressive: they have to be both agile and strong, and each is essential and yet nothing without the others. Stand by to encourage them as they add on level after level. It is an exercise in teamwork and mutual trust unlike any other. When the tower is complete, the applause can be heard for blocks. This tradition is deeply rooted in Catalan culture and has been declared intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
If these spectacular events have piqued your interest in other festes majors, there is no shortage of options. The cities of Tarragona, Vilafranca del Penedès, Girona and more all offer fantastic festivals of their own.
Gràcia Festival (Festa Major de Gràcia)
15 to 21 August 2019