Fiestas de Gràcia
The Fiestas de Gràcia is an extraordinary event, and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. This secular festival is a celebration of community and creativity, and is good fun, whatever your age.
If you’re wondering when is a good time to visit Barcelona, we recommend the week the Fiestas de Gràcia is taking place. It’s usually around the third week of August, but check their Festa Major de Gràcia website to make sure.
The History of the Fiestas de Gràcia
Although the Fiestas de Gràcia is now wholly secular, it began its life as a religious procession in 1817. Many such parades still take place all over Spain, and we saw a few through our travels in Andalusia. However, Barcelona is not a very religious city, and Gràcia is one of its most progressive neighbourhoods. Over the last two centuries, the festival has completely transformed.
Once the sideshow to the religious procession, the street food and live music have now taken centre stage. The showstopper, however, the thing that makes the Fiestas de Gràcia truly special, are the street decorations. The streets decorations have their origins in the corpus branches. These are palm leaves that were used to decorated homes and churches during religious events. At the Gràcia festival, they have evolved to the next level.
When I first heard there were street decorations, I thought, “sounds nice”, thinking they’d be some fairy lights strung between the buildings, maybe some crepe paper providing shade over the streets. I couldn’t be more wrong.
Fiestas de Gràcia Under Franco
The decorated streets were a phenomenon that happened as early as 1890, and continued until Franco took power. The festival was still held but in a far more subdued fashion. Even today, Gràcia is a neighbourhood with an unbroken Catalan streak – the days under Franco must have hit this barrio really hard.
However, after Franco’s death, the Fiestas de Gràcia came back in full force. Today, it is an astounding party that takes place all over the neighbourhood, encompassing many streets, squares and plazas.
A World Heritage Fiestas
If UNESCO started giving out recognition to cultural traditions, the Fiestas de Gràcia would be certainly included on the list. Most of our cultural traditions are rooted in religion, even when many of us no longer believe in God. One of the virtues of religion is that sense of community it provides us. That’s why this festival is so refreshing – it shows that people can go to great lengths for their community without the need for religion.
The Decorated Streets of Gràcia
The effort required to put up this festival is phenomenal. The street decorations blow my socks off every year. People put in thousands and thousands of hours preparing for the festival. Some begin preparing as early as the year before. When you see the craftwork on display, you know that this festival is, for a lot of residents, their life. By extension, you know their community is a core part of their being.
For one week in August, the entire barrio of Gràcia is turned into a Disneyland of sorts. I think in the past years there were around 25 decorated streets every year.
Each street is turned into a unique world of its own, and every year I look forward to seeing the chosen themes. These themes range from the fantastical, like Atlantis and Harry Potter, historical, like the Silk Road and the Medieval Farm to pop culture, like video games. Sometimes, these themes can get quite abstract, like “Ideas that shaped the modern world”. At least that’s what I thought the topic was.
As an artist myself, and a general craft lover, these festivals are such an inspiration. Some of the ideas are truly ingenious. For example, in 2018, there was “Atlantis”. There were many beautiful things about it, but what really struck me were the corals and barnacles clinging onto everything. They were made out of penne pasta and bottle caps, spray painted purple and pink! Who knew penne made such convincing coral!
I also remember the tapestries of “The Silk Road”. The decorators of this street had made carpet-like tapestries depicting scenes from the era. They had woven landscapes of desert steppes and the rolling grasslands of Central Asia, which connected East to West for two thousand years.
What Time to be at the Fiesta de Gràcia?
If your intention is to see the streets, go early. I know this is not a Catalan concept (or a Spanish one for that matter), but it works to your advantage. If you get there around 9 A.M., you’ll have enough room to enjoy the streets at your own leisure. You also won’t have to queue to get into the best-decorated streets – which is what happens later in the day. In fact, even quite early there are already queues outside the most lavishly decorated streets. And some of them are incredibly decorated – in 2019, community members built part of Diagon Alley – along with a full dragon climbing over the roof of the first house. The queue was incredibly long, and we simply did not have the patience to wait it out.
I won’t go into too much detail here since we’ve consistently forgotten to take photographs of the food. But the food is good. Street Food is big in Barcelona, and they have a large number of food markets scattered throughout the second half of the year. Gràcia Festival is no exception. Unlike the other festivals though, it’s less co-ordinated here. The restaurants, delis and food stalls all operate independently. They simply set up a stand outside their restaurant, and you can buy directly from them in cash.
It’s an excellent opportunity to try many different cuisines from all over the world. We particularly love the Bifana from La Casa Portuguesa – it’s a Portuguese sandwich of stewed pork in a white roll. They only make it during the fiesta, probably because it takes a lot of time to prepare. And, once you’ve started it, you have to have that vat of stewing pot going 24/7.
The Next Fiestas de Grácia
We’re writing this in 2020, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The festival website still says the Fiesta de Gràcia will take place in August. I’m not sure it will happen, probably the communities in Gràcia aren’t sure either. But I wouldn’t be surprised they are nevertheless preparing for it. It seems like the kind of thing they would do, to show that nothing can dampen their spirits and stop them from throwing Barcelona’s biggest party. Indeed if not this year, they will come back in full force next year.
FAQs for Fiestas de Gràcia
The Fiestas de Gràcia is a festival that takes place in the Gràcia district in Barcelona. It is a secular event. The highlight of the festival are the decorated streets in the neighbourhood. There is also street food and lots of live music.
The Fiestas de Gràcia usually take place second or third week of August, every year. If you are planning to visit Barcelona, this is a great time to come!