Barcelona has a reputation as a party town and no wonder. A city on the sea boasting sunshine during the day and warm breezes at night? It’s a place made for getting down. I had the great fortune of attending one of the city’s biggest celebrations. It’s pronounced differently in Catalan, but the ‘Festa Major de Grà­  cia’ is indeed a major fiesta.

As is annual tradition each August, the normally quiet streets of this quaint neighborhood tucked towards Barcelona’s hills transformed into a pulsing outdoor party. Every barrio in the city has its own mass block party, but Grà­  cia’s has become the largest and loudest by far. It’s estimated that a million and a half visitors flock to its many plazas and small streets for the festivities.

What exactly is involved in a week-long party? During the 196th edition of the Festa Major de Grà­  cia, which ran from August 15-21, I stayed in an apartment in the center of the action. I saw the answer up close.

Beautifully decorated streets (Carrer Joan Blanques).

Correfocs, literally ‘fire-runs,’ where people dressed as devils set off fireworks in the crowds.

People shooting really loud rifles.

This man agrees the guns are too loud. Notice the ‘caps grossos’ (big heads) behind, another typical feature in parades.

I didn’t snag a photo of the castellars (human towers), but these are also an amazing sight to see.

What I loved most about the Festa Major, however, was the creativity of the community. Each year there’s a competition that crowns victor the best decorated street. Because I was living in the neighborhood, I saw the residents preparing their creations for days beforehand.

Carrer Verdi ended up taking top prize with its Western-themed fort and saloon.

Carrer Verdi, the 2012 Victor.

My personal favorites (aside from my close neighbor Joan Blanques) were a rectangle of streets located in lower Grà­  cia, a trio of which toted idealistic names (Progrés, Libertat, Fraternitat). Here seemed the perfect blend of craft, humor, whimsy, and innovation.

Carrer de la Fraternitat.

Carrer del Progrés, aka Star Wars street.

Carrer de la Tordera.

Carrer de la Libertat, aka the Sewing Street.

Look closely at the dresses on the “sewing street.” They’re made of coffee capsules, soda can tops, and other ordinary items. There’s even a wedding dress made of toilet paper. So creative!

And, of course, there was much drinking, dancing, and carousing in the streets. Once the Festa Major de Grà­  cia was geared only toward residents, but the secret got out and now the whole city shows up. Lots of tourists, too. The crowds create a buzzing atmosphere, but I wondered at times if Grà­  cia ever wanted its own party back.

Rock band on Carrer Pugimarti.

Resident or visitor, the Festa Major will sweep you up in revelry. There was a diverse array of music – from rock to swing to ska to traditional Catalan tunes – but I ran across very few stunning acts. The majority of the groups I stumbled upon sang cover songs. Of course, at midnight, with beer or sangria or mojito in hand, most people were more than pleased to belt out some Aerosmith and Joan Jett (true story!). Heck, I was, too.

If you’re in Barcelona in August, definitely put the Festa Major de Grà­  cia on your agenda. If you decide to book a hotel in the neighborhood, just be forewarned: you won’t sleep for a week.

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