Gràcia, the most distinctive of the towns absorbed by expanding Barcelona, was a vortex for 19th-century liberals, progressives, and assorted riffraff: workers, Anarchists, feminists, vegetarians, Protestants and ardent Republicans flourished here, formed societies and movements, and published an avalanche of periodicals (even one in Esperanto).
On three occasions its ardent convictions erupted into open revolts that had to be put down by the Spanish army. It was annexed to Barcelona in 1898, not altogether willingly, and in the 1960s it once again became a centre of alternative ideas, a citadel of left-wing liberalism (as much as such things were allowed under Franco).
Today Gràcia still has a laid-back, neighbourhood atmosphere, perfect for a little walking tour; its narrow streets wander between a dozen compact squares, offering a nice, local contrast to the Barcelona of big art and monuments. Gaudí designed his first building here, the Casa Vicens; many of the other Modernista buildings were built by his disciple and right hand man, Francesc Berenguer.
In late August, Gràcia hosts a lavish festa major, each street striving to be the brightest or most outlandish, hosting tumultuous parties, dancing and music to the delight of the thousands who pour in from Barcelona, and to the sniffy protests of some locals who would prefer it to remain a private party. Cries for Gràcia’s independence from Barcelona, frequent in the 1960s, are still occasionally raised, but not too seriously.