It’s August, and the blazing heat is rolling over rooftops and hidden alleys. It’s that time of the year again when Barcelona’s artsy district, Gracia, holds its summer festival, festa major.
The city, otherwise depleted of locals, away in cool country homes and nearby beach towns, fills up almost miraculously for a few days around St. Mary’s Assumption, on the 15th of August. Tourists alike mix with the locals to experience this almost 200-year-old Spanish fiesta.
As to its exact age, not even the organizers are clear if it’s 193 years celebrating this village festival, or already 197. What’s certain is that such a long tradition cannot carry on without the locals’ passion for their heritage and mastery for crafts.
In the months before the festival, Gracia’s tenants gather in groups, by street, decide on a common theme and build decorations for the narrow alleys they live on, all from recycled materials. It’s a common effort, century-old teamwork the neighbors pull off in their attempt to win the prize for the ‘best decorated street of Gracia’. This year the winner was a Jurassic Park themed street filled with giant dinosaurs, fake lakes and complex jungle vegetation.
However, from the spirit of the people, you could see that all neighbors of Gracia won. It’s not so much a competition, as it is a display of art, so impressive because everyone works together for it, as in old times.
At the festival, whoever wins, Gracia wins.
Emerging from the different worlds painted by the streets’ master craftsmen, we had a chance to live other experiences too at Festa de Gracia. The old-town squares are filled with concert stages, local food stands, Catalan cava bars and activities for kids.
The main square in the former town, called Vila de Gracia, where the old town-hall still stands, is filled on Sunday morning with cheering locals and curious foreigners. They wait for the performance of the typical Catalan human towers, or castellers. They are an impressive display of human team effort, building up on the festival’s theme: collaboration between neighbors to keep the traditions alive.
For me however, the highlight of the week-long festival was having lunch on the streets of Gracia, in the company of locals.
They had set up a row of tables right through the Jurassic lookalike jungle street. With a voucher granting us a plate of homemade seafood paella, we took our seats at the infinite table, together with the middle-aged Catalans. Literally stepping into 200-year-old Catalonia, with olives, fuet and people’s stories of old times. We hadn’t realized how much we were surrounded by tradition until we saw the paella stewing in a giant pan, watched over by an old couple, impromptu chefs for the day.
When you think all this was about people crafting decorations together, recycling tons of materials for the planet’s well being, about traditions being kept alive, Catalan food and wines, concerts and castellers, what’s there not to like about Festa de Gracia?!