Barcelona’s street decoration festival ‘Festa Major de Gràcia’ launches six days of concerts and partying
Barcelona’s famous annual street festival, ‘Festa Major de Gràcia’ kicked-off on Wednesday evening with streets intricately decorated by neighbours and live music being played well in to the night. The event, in its 197th year, draws an estimated 1.5 million visitors and has activities for all ages including: firework displays, ‘castellers’ - Catalan human towers, decorated streets and open air concerts taking place in 47 stages. It was traditionally a religious festival for locals of the neighbourhood, but for the last five decades it has become popular with Catalonians. Furthermore, in recent years, foreigners have also discovered it. Each year the festival begins on the 15th of August and lasts for six days.
Barcelona (CNA).- This year’s ‘Festa Major de Gràcia’ began on Wednesday evening drawing visitors to the neighbourhood of Barcelona to enjoy the magnificently decorated streets, live music and the hedonistic spirit of the festival. Gràcia is normally a tranquil area of the city with its narrow streets and peaceful squares, although it is also a popular bar area among Barcelonans. It is populated by a mix of students, bohemians, families and an older generation. However, every August for six days it transforms itself with its festival that is now in its 197th year. The event has religious origins. Gràcia’s festival originally honoured the Virgin Mary which is why it begins on the 15th of August. As the years have gone by it has increasingly become a festival of merrymaking with the religious aspect having almost completely disappeared. One of the highlights is the street decorations with neighbours working together, often months in advance, to convert their streets into a totally different world and which often seem like an art exhibition. This year, streets have been decorated with themes such as an ice planet, underwater, a giant sweet shop, and one even being an enormous newspaper printing machine. Progrés street has a Jurassic Park theme with a humungous tyrannosaurus rex in the centre. Recycled materials are used and whole streets unite, creating a strong community spirit, competing to win the coveted ‘best decorated street’ award. The festival has attractions for all ages, during the day visitors enjoy the parades of traditional folk giant figures, the ‘castellers’ – the Catalan human towers or local food, domino or petanque competitions. As evening approaches firework displays take place and bands take to the 47 stages (a 25% increase on last year) of the neighbourhood with revellers dancing to the music well into the night. The festival lasts for six days and is said to draw 1.5 million visitors.
47 stages with live music and performances
During the evening, the event really has the feeling of being at a music festival with people clapping to flamenco music on a street corner by locals wanting to ‘jam’. Some even sell homemade sangria and mojitos from their windows. The 47 different stages of the festival have varying music. This year, the Diamant Square is dedicating itself to swing, while the Sol Square has rumba and folk music. On Thursday evening visitors at the Sol Square were going wild as the DJ played a form of electro-folk with everyone dancing to the music with a smile on their faces. At the same time, looking to one side one sees an elderly couple sitting on a bench taking in the atmosphere, while to the other side there is a toddler on his father’s shoulders dancing happily to the tunes. Then, a group of friends start a human train following the rhythm of the music and dozens of others join, winding through the square and the crowd. Instead of being in a huge city such as Barcelona, you feel like you are in a village carnival, and it seems like the locals take pride in making the event as enjoyable as possible. It is as much a community event at it is a festival for outsiders to enjoy with some stages having local bands from Gràcia playing.
Magnificently decorated streets
One of the highlights of the event is the street decorations that seem to unite the community as neighbours can be seen working well into the festival’s first night to put the finishing touches on their themed street decorations that are often made from recycled materials. Locals enthusiastically transform plastic bottles and cardboard with some of the themes this year being the moon, safari, angry birds, and Jurassic Park. A total of 17 streets take part.On Saturday judges will decide which street wins the ‘best decorated street’ award.
Nàtalia is one resident who has been working to decorate Mozart Street. The street is full of balloons, flaying machines and gadgets in the style of Leonardo da Vinci. She explained to the CNA that since January local residents, shops and bars have been keeping containers and materials that have been used in the decorations and that 70% of the decoration is made from recycled materials. Nàtalia also noted how even some tourists have helped in the preparation. “The last two or three nights I practically haven’t slept because I have been preparing the street, hours and hours of work”. Joan Ferrer, resident of Perla Street, also emphasised the importance of the recycled products in the decorations and the collaboration of the neighbours. He worked until four in the morning to complete his street. Perla Street has a science fiction theme with aliens, UFOs, planets, rockets and robots, and is called ‘Perla Dimension’.
History of the festival
In the 19th century, Gràcia used to be a town separated from the city of Barcelona and just like any other Catalan town it had its own annual festivity to honour the town’s Patron Saint. Gràcia’s festival honoured the Virgin Mary and for this reason it was starting on the 15th of August, The Assumption of Mary’s Day. However, the town’s festival also combines recreational activities, with concerts, dances, neighbourhood meals and local competitions. This aspect of the festival has continued as the years have gone by and has even been expanded, especially during the last few decades, becoming the biggest and probably most popular street festival in Barcelona. Furthermore, in the last few years, it has also started to attract the attention of tourists for its unique flair of neighbourhood work and fun.