Today marks the start of Carnival – Carnestoltes in Catalan – a city-wide festival with roots that stretch way back in Barcelona – the first documented reference to Carnestoltes is a city council directive against throwing oranges from 1333! The celebration of carnival forms an integral part of the church calendar, but almost certainly predates the Catholic Church as part of European folk culture, a celebration of spring and renewal, with people dressing up in masks and costumes for thousands of years. In Barcelona Carnestoltes is celebrated every year, with specific traditions that have been passed down for hundreds of years.
Timed to coincide with sunset, the Mardi Gras parade starts off at the bottom of Las Ramblas and makes its way up the avenue. A flower-laden float carries the carnival king, who is joined by the seven ‘ambassadors’ of Carnestoltes, who come from the different barrios of Barcelona and play characters such as Lord Me-Me-Me and Count Big-Belly. The king opens the festivities with a satirical speech covering the events of the last year and an enjoinder to really let loose during Carnestoltes this year, and the parade finishes with fireworks.
Thursday 28th February, 6pm, Las Ramblas
Traditionally Carnestoltes was a time of feasting, where the end of the winter stores were used up in a celebration of excess, before the fasting associated with Lent. As a result, there are lots of food traditions associated with the festival, such as eating ‘butifarra amb ou’ (egg sausage) or ‘pan de coca’, a type of sweet bread. But our favourite tradition is the tortilla competition held in each barrio, where locals compete to see who can make the best tortilla.
Thursday 28th February, 5pm, Carrer de Sant Salvador, 24
Today is the day to break out your Carnival costumes! The parade of Carnavalassu wends its way through the narrow streets of the Gotico all evening, filling the streets with music and revelry. Head along to check out the elaborate costumes before putting on your mask and partying the night away yourself!
Saturday 2nd March, 6pm, Plaça de Vuit de Març
Burying the sardine
This curious ritual takes place on Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the end of Carnestoltes. A funeral procession makes its way through Ciutat Vella to Barcelona, where an effigy of a sardine will be burned. The sardine supposedly symobolises the wild behaviour and appetities of Carnival, and burying or burning it reminds the viewers that it is time to end the revelries for another year.
Wednesday 6th March, 5.45pm, Plaça de la Barceloneta
Each barrio has its own specific celebrations – you can find the ones local to you in this PDF of the full Carnestoltes programme.