Backstory: Barcelona is in a region of Spain called Catalonia. This area used to be its own empire and political entity back in the day, but Catalonia essentially got jacked in the early 1700s by Philip V. Catalan institutions were abolished and official use of the Catalan language was prohibited. Things were even worse under the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from the 1940s to 1975. He strictly (and often violently) crushed Catalan autonomy and culture in an attempt to establish a national homogeneity in Spain. However, despite these laws, the Catalan culture, language, and a strong regional pride remained.
Soooo TLDR: There are a lot of distinctly Catalan customs that people feel VERY strongly about in Barcelona. And they are pretty neat if you get a chance to see them.
One Catalan custom is a dance called the Sardana. Every Sunday, in front of the Catedral de Barcelona, a cobla, or traditional Catalan band of 11 musicians, perches at one end of the plaza and huge circles of locals come together to do this dance as a show of Catalan unity and pride.
Older people (that lived under the regime of Franco) are the most likely to participate, but people of all ages and from all walks of life join together, hold holds, and do the precise steps and jumps involved in the Sardana. (See video below.)
And these grandmas got moves, y’all!!! (No, but seriously, how cute are they? Obsessed.)
So that was cool, just by itself. Totally worth a trip to the Catedral. But then, as we were leaving the plaza, I spotted some gegants! The gegants (or giants, in English) are huge figures, typically with paper maché or plastic heads and arms, and the rest of their bodies covered in bolts of cloth to make them into 10-15 foot high towering people with detailed costumes and accessories.
As it turns out, we had inadvertently stumbled upon a Palm Sunday celebration.
Notice the little cross-hatch window peeking out from the folds of fabric in the gegant closest to us. (They all have them, his is just the most obvious.) That small peephole is so a regular-sized person, who stands inside, can see where they’re going as they carry these massive gegants on their shoulders. People parade them down the street and spin them in time to the music.
More gegants! (The black diamond is the viewing window for the guy in front.)
And another video, of dancing gegants, below.
These guys have been documented as a Catalan custom during festivals and parades as early as the 1400s. And the tradition is still going strong today. Molt bé!
Another awesome (and uniquely Catalan) ritual is building castells (human towers). Again, this typically happens at festivals or celebrations, but there are also special competitions to see which team can build the tallest and most awesome human towers.
This castell is pretty tiny (the highest ones have 9-10 layers of people from the ground up!) but it was still pretty exciting to see. The little babies on top (actually called the enxaneta) are my favorite part.
So basically, we got a lot more Catalan culture than we were bargaining for, but it was also pretty awesome! Plus, you’re not really traveling until you’ve accidentally stumbled across a religious parade in the street, so I guess we’re legit now.