If you arrive in Barcelona in August, you'll hear the city buzzing with excitement over the Fiestas de Gràcia. If you've never experienced this exuberant fiesta, you might be wondering what the big deal is. What are these Fiestas de Gràcia?
They are the week-long fiesta mayor of the Gràcia neighbourhood.
Okay, so what is a fiesta mayor?
Basically, a local celebration (held in villages, towns, districts...) involving lots of traditional customs and popular culture, filtered through the particular nature of the place putting on the party. Gràcia is a unique neighbourhood with a singular look and personality. Originally, it was a village in its own right, located up the hill from Old Town Barcelona. Eventually, the neighbourhood got swallowed by the expanding city, but it never lost its own identity.
In the 21st century, this identity is marked by two dominant facets: Catalan (and Gràcia) pride and socially conscious hipsterdom. A Fiesta Mayor being a reflection of a neighbourhood's personality, in Gràcia you get traditional customs like the Castellers (human castle builders) or Correfoc (an astounding, fiery street parade of devils and dragons) alongside workshops to combat homophobia, wine tastings, African dance performances and recycling games.
Three events constitute the highlights of the traditional celebration: the Cercavila de Cultura Popular, the Diada Castellera and the Correfoc. The Cercavila is a parade featuring classic figures like the gegants (giant puppets), trabucaires (medieval bandits), castellers, diables (devils) and bastoners. The Cercavila usually departs from the intersection of Gran de Gràcia and Santa Agata and makes its way through the neighbourhood to the Plaça de la Vila, the epicentre of all traditional activities. The square is also where groups of castellers - human castle builders - gather to engage in gravity defying and vertigo inducing human architecture.
The Correfoc is probably the most electrifying of local customs and something that usually leaves foreign visitors speechless. Fearless devils with fire-breathing dragons in tow will rush the streets, spinning enormous sparklers, setting off firecrackers and banging drums. If you're brave enough to get up close, make sure to cover your hair and skin and get ready for pandemonium. And proving that even devils start small, there's a children's Correfoc for young pyromaniacs.
The programme (downloadable PDF, Catalan only) features a map indicating all of the decorated streets, one of the most distinguishing aspects of the Fiestas de Gràcia. Balloons and bunting and coloured lights do not suffice for the creative ambitions of Gracians. I've walked through underwater wonderlands made entirely out of recycled water bottles with curtains of tangled seaweed moving in the breeze and electric fish peeking out at passersby. I've seen papermaché virtuosos turn streets into intricate, whimsical fantasies, veritable Gaudís of cardboard, paper and paint. I've gotten lost in a multicoloured jungle with giant cliffs and a functioning waterfall. In short, adorning streets is a serious endeavour in Gràcia, and it's one of the reasons to go up earlier in the day before the evening crowds make it difficult to get a good look at the decorations.
The programme map is also handy at identifying the squares and streets with live music since finding the Plaça del Swing on an ordinary Gràcia map won't do you much good. Many squares adopt a party name for the duration of the fiesta, hence Plaça del Sol becomes the Plaça del Folk and Diamant the Plaça del Swing. Besides hosting concerts in keeping with its name, the Plaça del Swing offers free Lindy-hop and Charleston classes. A lot of streets also organise concerts and you'll find plenty of local bands playing throughout the week. The best bet for finding the square or street most suited to your musical or cultural tastes is to peruse the programme. Or simply jump into the fray and see what you find wandering through the neighbourhood! Sometimes chance brings the most interesting things our way.
Two other things Gracia takes very seriously: food and handicrafts. The neighbourhood is full of great restaurants and little delicatessens and organic ice-cream shops. No wonder it has an entire space, Tasta Gracia (Plaça Manuel Torrente), dedicated to food and drink: everything from vermouth, cava, wine, beer, even tequila tastings to outdoor BBQs, cooking workshops, internationally themed dinners, locally handcrafted products and outdoor movies with a culinary theme. As for handicrafts of the non-edible kind, the Fiestas provide two spaces for local artisans: the Passeig de Sant Joan usually hosts an arts & crafts fair, and the Plaça de la Virreina changes its name to the Plaça de la Artesanía for the duration of the festivities.
From fiery devils to classical organ music, the Fiestas de Gràcia have it all. Where else could you join a fusion tribal dance workshop, visit an old bomb shelter, learn the Charleston, eat a traditional Majorcan sausage, do a blind tasting of handcrafted Italian ice-cream, learn how to juggle, drink a mojito and see Quimi Portet and Pascal Comelade in concert?
Check out more photos of last year's Fiestas on our BCNinternet Flickr page!
August 15-21, 2012
Entire Gracia neighbourhood