Some of you might have read my list of top summer activities for locals and visitors alike in one of my recent posts, however, there is one thing I have (purposefully) left out – the Festas majors de Barcelona. Over the second half of the summer, each of the city’s barris (neighborhoods) hold their own unique festa.
What originally was a religious celebration for the patron saint of each barri has turned into a beautiful, and colorful street soiree, where you can find both Catalan traditions, like Gegants or Correfocs (see below for explanation), as well as neighbors enjoying paellas together in the open air, and live bands playing dance floor hits for all ages. This is a time where residents decorate their balconies and entire streets, as they fiercely compete for the “most beautiful calle of the festa. During this time streets and allies, otherwise bustling with commercial activities and city life, slow down and are impressively dressed up for the occasion.
These festas are nicely distributed over the summer months, as a means to assure that locals don’t miss out on any of them. Even though traditionally you celebrate the one of the barrio you live in, some of the festas have gained such a reputation across town that people from all flock to the neighborhood in question to join in on the partying.
Here are two of my favorites, although there’s a lot more that you can find on the event calendar of Barcelona’s official website.
1) Festa major de Gràcia (15th – 21st August 2013)
Undoubtedly the most famous one of all, the Festa Major de Gràcia, is permanently marked in the calendars of many people living in the city, and has also become popular with visitors from other parts of the world. Gràcia, spreading out from the top end of famous Modernist avenue Passeig de Gràcia, did not become part of the city of Barcelona until 1897. Before that it was a small, independent municipality in the north of city. This local community spirit is still very much alive (residents actually say they “go down to the city” when they refer to the medieval city center of Barcelona) and is one of the reasons why the decorations in the heart of the old “village” are known to be the most elaborate of all. Following a tradition that has been documented ever since the 1850’s, every year dozens of neighbors work for months to prepare the decorations (many of them using recycled waste material) and the results are often spectacular. Among one of my favorites last year was a street dedicated to the Star Wars Trilogy, with life-size statues made out of papier mâché resembling Darth Vader and company. If you want to check out more detailed information on this year’s program, visit the official website http://www.festamajordegracia.cat/.
Either take the green metro line to Fontana, or simply walk up Passeig de Gràcia until you arrive at Gran de Gràcia street. Then take any of the small alleys on the right and within no time you will find yourself in the heart of the action around Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia.
2) Festa Major de Sants (23rd – 30th August 2013)
If you miss out on the Festa de Gràcia, don’t fret, you will not have to wait long before you can get swept up by another famous festes. Sants, known to many visitors for its homonymous main train station of Barcelona, is another one of those former independent municipalities that about a hundred years ago was annexed by the city of Barcelona, following its expansion after a huge growth in population due to the Industrial Revolution. In fact, just next to the train station there was originally a huge textile factory called La Espanya Industrial, which has given the name to the park where the opening ceremony of the festa takes place on the 23rd in the evening. At 6.30 pm, there’s a procession of Gegants (“giants”, huge statues carried by one person), that ends at the park with the traditional dance, the Bailada de gegants.
If you are into Catalan traditions, there is another event you should highlight in your agenda – the Correfoc. This is one of the most striking features of many typical Catalan festivals. People dressed up as devils and mythical creatures set off fireworks while walking and dancing to traditional music amongst huge crowds of spectators. Do not forget to bring a hat or a baseball cap – you will understand why once you get there. This year, at the Festa de Sants they have a version for children on Friday, 30th August, at 7:30 pm (starting point: Plaça de Can Mantega), and one for adults at 9:30 pm, starting at Plaça Osca. If you have never seen a Correfoc before, make sure you don’t miss it. Of course, all throughout the Festa, there will be a maze of about 15 streets decorated by the residents, along with countless activities such as a “water party” for the whole family on 24th August, and a lot of good local bands performing live in the evenings.
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