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Gràcia Fest

Posted by Jessica in Barcelona on 21/Oct/2006
Festa de Gràcia If you happen to find yourself halfway across the world in mid-August, preferably with a sense of adventure and an affinity for insomnia, I'd advise heading to Barcelona and joining in on the annual revelries of the Gràcia Fest. Every August from the 15th to the 21st, Catalans return from their luxuriously long summer vacations and the small barrio of Gràcia plays host to one of the most vibrant neighborhood festivals in Europe.

The Gràcia Fest is basically a hyperbole of a block party - events and feasts are scheduled all throughout the day, live music persists every night until dawn, and outdoor bars and their patrons make it impossible to cross even the smallest square in under ten minutes. Every year, over a million people flood the narrow streets of Gràcia to gawk and to party until literally flooded out by street cleaners in the morning.

For visitors, the biggest draw of the festival is undoubtedly the street decorating competition, which obsesses the neighborhood for the week prior to August 15th and engages whole streets in the construction of elaborate environments organized around chosen themes. Last year's winner, War of the Worlds, featured towering aliens creeping up and down the street holding the products of local shops above their green piñata-style heads. Other notable competitors included a giant pinball machine, a re-creation of the world of Shrek (which sadly did not fare well in the rain), and a square with a 40 foot Loch Ness monster suspended from a bell tower. Abetting the sense of the fantastical, while wandering through these worlds, one runs the risk of stumbling into a magic show for toddlers conducted in Catalan, or the possibility of intruding on a parade thrown by local anarchists. During the day, tourists explore these streets with festival programs stuffed in their back pockets, and small children waddle under paper-mâché decorations as their parents chase them with cameras.

Festa Gracia When night falls and the streets jam, toddlers are promoted to shoulder seating, and the scene takes on a decidedly more adult tenor. Crushes of people drink and dance, and when the bands stop playing, crowds congregate around impromptu musicians and refuse to go home until the Guardia Civil politely suggests otherwise. For those who live in Gràcia, it is tacitly understood that the week will be a sleepless one- restaurants and bars offer specials on mojitos and capirinhias, and even serve them directly out of windows so as to avoid the trouble of forcing people to abandon the street.

While all this may sound aimlessly Bacchanalian, the Gràcia Fest also offers many opportunities to see the more traditional side of Catalan culture. The middle of the week brings the parade of the gigants, a public celebration in which giants modeled after folkloric Catalan kings and queens are marched down busy streets; often to the dismay of oncoming traffic. And perhaps the most impressive spectacle of the entire festival is the performance of the Castellers, teams of Catalans who form human towers up to nine or ten people tall as a demonstration of cultural unity and strength. In short, there is certainly not a lack of things to do during the festival, and if you're sick of hearing English on Las Ramblas or being shuttled through the Picasso museum amid groups of German schoolchildren, simply hop on the subway, take the green line up to Fontana, and head into Gràcia. I guarantee you won't be bored.

Festa Major de Gràcia
Aug 15st - Aug 21st

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