Carlota S. Vidal introduces us to Gracia Barcelona, a neighbourhood proud of its heritage and traditions and also home to an alternative spirit and culture.
Gràcia became part of the Catalan capital back in 1897 but still has a villagey feel to it. The district acquired its name after it was originally established by nuns and monks who founded a convent in 1626 “Nostra Senyora de Gràcia” (Our Lady of Grace).
Image Plaça de la Virreina, Gràcia . Oh-Barcelona via Flickr)
Gràcia is a state of mind. More than a neighbourhood, it is a village republic that has periodically risen in armed rebellion against city, state, and country, whose jumble of streets have names (Llibertat, Fraternitat, Progrès, Venus) that suggest the ideological history of this fierce little nucleus of working-class citizens and progress. (Fodors)
With a diverse population, consisting of many ethnic communities, and being less touristy Gràcia is a popular spot for artists and a more bohemian crowd. A mix of the young and trendy and those of who have grown old in the still evident local communities adds to its character and charm.
With its terrace lined cafes, Plaza de Sol, is a great place to enjoy the very agreeable surroundings and see the world go by – during the day or night.
Street Party Time
Every August its party time in Gràcia with the week long celebration and festivities of Festa Major also known locally as Festes de Gràcia . It’s a big deal with all day street parties throughout the district going on into the early hours. With every street adorned by colourful decorations you can see how seriously everyone takes it and gets involved. There are a host of free concerts and other activities during the week.
Images Festa Major, Gracia. JaulaDeArdilla via Flickr
Some fantastic architecture to be seen in Gràcia includes Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Güell and also his first major work Casa Vicens which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a stroll along Gran de Gràcia, one of the main avenues in Gràcia, and you will find some stunning buildings designed by Francesc Berenguer, an architect who worked alongside Gaudi.
Image Casa Joan Baptista Rubinat by Francesc Berenguer. Wikipedia Creative Commons
Mercè Rodoreda, who is considered by many to be the most important Catalan novelist of the postwar period, wrote her famous novel La plaça del diamant (‘The diamond square’, translated as ‘The Time of the Doves’) in 1962. The stream of consciousness novel is named after a square in Gràcia. The book which has been translated into thirty languages is regarded as one of the most important works of contemporary fiction in Catalan literature and widely used by secondary schools in Catalonia.
Even though in real terms Gracia attracts less tourism than other parts of Barcelona it has seen a substantial growth of visitors in recent years. The visible rise in tourist accommodation, three fold in the last two years, is becoming a concern for local people who fear it will lead to a rise in the cost of living.
A spokesperson from Barcelona’s City Hall said that it was too early to say whether the increased tourism will mean greater living expenses for residents but that it will clearly generate new revenue.
Image Street in Gràcia, Barcelona. Oh-Barcelona via Flickr
Gracia’s independent spirit and character runs through the barrio’s veins
Just as big an issue for the people of Gràcia are the wider implications of greater tourism. Anyone who knows the area well will realise how the neighbourhood coexists with Catalan tradition and culture while preserving its own distinct identity. Part of Barcelona they may be but for many they are still Gràcia first and foremost.
This duality must be viewed along with a long history of activism stemming from the vast number of “colles” (organised groups to preserve Catalan culture and traditions) and active citizenship in defence of local rights. And so given their rich history of resilience and resistance Gracia’s independent spirit and character runs runs through the city’s veins.
Image Gracia clock tower.Arjan Richter via Flickr
There is also a an alternative culture in Gràcia where anarchist or community ideals have found a home and led to direct action. An example of this was the occupation of a bank office as an act of disobedience against financial institutions.
For anyone thinking of visiting Barcelona it’s well worth the effort to explore the narrow streets and host of elegant plazas that make up the barrio of Gràcia.
Words Carlota S. Vidal