This weekend the Catalan capital of Barcelona explodes into life with the
. El Raval in Barcelona is the grubby, charming, cultural hotspot dotted with trendy bars, boutique shops, a thriving art scene and the gastronomic wonders of the Mercat de la Boqueria. Here, the richly diverse immigrant communities intersect and overlap, entangling themselves in Catalan life. The result is a celebration of cultures that reverberates through the narrow streets, out of shop windows selling freshly made kofta, past market stalls hawking colorful fabrics and into squares where kids play kick about, and old folk slowly sip ice-cold vermouth in the late evening heat. And, while pockets of El Raval maintain the seedy stigma that defined the area before it underwent its remarkable rejuvenation, now it pulses with life and is brimming with character.
What is a Festa Major?
Before we get into it, let’s spend a moment to refamiliarize ourselves with the Spanish tradition of the Festa Major.
The literal translation of Festa Major means Major Party. And, from this, you quickly get a sense of what the whole thing is about. In Barcelona, and throughout the country, different cities, towns, and neighborhoods will take to the streets for days to celebrate.
In Catalonia, celebrations often include cultural traditions. There are parades of gegants (giants) and enormous, carnivalesque, papier mache heads, or capgrossos, that bob and twist through the crowds. Sweat inducing human towers topped by toddlers with the climbing abilities of spider monkeys called Castellers. Communities pull out trestle tables, chairs, plates, food and wine and sit to break bread with one another. Then, they dance sardanas, in circles, accompanied by music from the cobla.
Of course, no two festivals are the same, with each Festa possessing its own unique vibe and style. And, all festivals have also moved to incorporate concerts, exhibitions, performances, and workshops. The traditional elements though stem from the original purposes of the Festes which were initially events of religious celebration and worship.
Festes have always played a part in Catalan culture
. But, in the years following the death of Franco and with the restoration of democracy, the region has seen a resurgence in cultural events. Under the dictator, who ruled Spain for 36 years, the country suffered great oppression, with Catalonia and it’s distinct cultural identity faring the worst. In an attempt to eradicate Catalan identity Franco banned Carnival and many other traditions and expressions of Catalan culture
. This move did not have its desired effect and instead forced Catalan culture underground where, although hidden, it grew stronger. And, when Franco died, it flooded out.
In Catalonia alone, there are between 1,014 and 1,153 Festa Majors a year. Approximately 68% of these festivals are held between the summer months of July
, August, and September. And, while they definitely contribute to the region's booming tourism industry, they by no means pander to it. Each distinctly different Festa is a celebration of community. The emphasis being to encourage people to be a part of the social and cultural fabric of a city.
Okay, so, with that out of the way…
Festa Major del Raval
This year the festival kicks off on Thursday 12th July and runs right the way through to the Sunday 15th.
It begins as it does every year with a parade and performance from Raval’s Choral Societies. This is then followed by the gegants and capgrossos parade. And, finally Isabel Hernández, the Technical Director of Raval’s Public Services, gives the commencement speech, marking the official opening of the Festa Major del Raval.
Over the next three days, El Raval in Barcelona will be alive with life and activities that people of all ages can enjoy. Here a taster a menu of some of what’s on offer.
- An outdoor sports morning for kids
Take the little ones along to Placa Salvador Segui where they can run wild between 10.30 and 13.30. Here, there will be eco-karts to race around in as well as mini-golf, basketball, ping pong, water sports, and football.
Head to Placa Jean Genet for a late morning of hip-hop, beatboxing and rap battles.
- End the night with a Couscous
Before heading home, round your night off by heading to Carrer Lancaster for a plate of delicious couscous and live music performances.
- Browse a second-hand flea market
All day Saturday along the Carrer de Segona there will be a second-hand market. So, if you’re looking for some vintage clothing, an antique mantel clock, or just some bits and bobs head on over. Things wrap up at 18.00.
- Festa Major a Plaça Joan Amades
For those who want a full day out in a fixed location, then the festa within a festa at Plaça Joan Amades is where you want to be. Bring the kids along for a morning of children’s theatre (11.00).
Afterward, settle into an early afternoon vermut and barbeque accompanied by Flamenco music (12.30). Then, take a seat and digest as you watch more theatre, this time for the grown-ups (14.30).
Once the sun sets, out come the DJs. Dance late into the night (or early into the morning) to Italo Funk Disco (23.00 - 3.00). Can you feel the beat?
For a cultural injection and a taste of South America make a beeline for the Rambla del Raval. Here, all day on Sunday the Catalan Bolivian Centre will put on a series of workshops, music performances, and dances (10.00 - 19.30).
In Placeta Lluis Ulloa, you can enjoy both a morning and afternoon of small plays, clown performances, and music. All performances are put on by students from Berty Tovias Theatre School (12.00 - 14.00 & 17.00 - 19.00).
- Kick back to some Cuban crooners
Close out your festival experience on the Rambla del Raval to the rhythmic sounds of Cuban songsters. Served alongside the Havana born tradition will be fired rum.
And, there you have it, an amuse-bouche for what’s to come at this year’s Festa Major del Raval. For the complete list of all the activities over the long weekend, check out the official programme here
. But, remember, the Raval neighborhood, Barcelona is an exciting and lively place, full of character. So, why not throw caution to the wind and head to the area, roam the streets and see what you happen upon? You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.