A summary of its origins and history
Far before becoming a district of Barcelona, Gracia originally was a town situated at the crossroads of two roman roads, now traversera de gracia that came from Gaul (today France), while the other ram from Barcelona to San Cugat through what are now the streets of Paseo de Gracia and Gran de Gracia.
Gràcia was established in the centre of the plain of Barcelona, in a region characterised for its abundance of rivers and streams, beside the old road which joined Barcelona to Sant Cugat and which is now Carrer Gran de Gràcia Street. After the authorities forbade the construction of any new churches, monasteries or hospitals within the city walls of Barcelona in the XIV century, different religious orders began to establish themselves on the plain of Barcelona, and by 1626 a common basic building pattern had emerged. This comprised the arrangement of the plots of land around rectangular squares, or plazas, interspersed with streets whose layout was determined by the course of the rivers and streams that ran down the mountains to the sea. Over time this led to a proliferation of public squares in Gràcia, and the creation of a district that a century later was characterised by a wide variety of architectural styles which complemented each other to form an aesthetically pleasing whole.
In the XIX century Gràcia enjoyed steady growth, and also witnessed a flourishing of industrial activity and a rise in its population of skilled artisans. Although it did not attain the same level of development as the neighbouring towns on the plain, during this period the town became an important centre for textile production thanks to the craftsmen who worked hand-operated looms, and the introduction of factories with steam-powered looms. Over time the textile production was joined by other activities, such as printing and the manufacture of matches, and a diverse range of craftsmen set up workshops in the ground floor of their homes. This upsurge in industrial activity was matched by a rapid rise in the number of political and civic organisations, resulting in a plethora of printed publications. These associations included associations such as the Teixidors a Mà Cooperative (1876), the Els Lluïsos Association (1855), the Moral i Instructiu Centre (1869) and the Orfeó Gracienc Association (1895), to name but a few.
At the outset of its industrial development Gràcia was involved in a struggle to gain municipal autonomy, or local self-government, which it finally achieved in 1850. At that time Gràcia had over 13,000 residents and covered an area that was actually larger than the present-day district, since it included the district of La Salut and part of the eastern sector of the present-day Sant Gervasi district. After achieving self-government the town quickly initiated a public works programme and started improving its communications and infrastructures: municipal gas lighting was introduced (1852), the Sarrià train station in the western part of Gràcia was built (1863), the appearance of the first horse-pulled tram between Barcelona and Gràcia (1872), the Mercat de la Llibertat Market project and (1888), the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central Market (1892) were approved, etc.
Gràcia would continue to enjoy the right to local self-government, or to be a vila (self-governing town), over the next 47 years, until it was incorporated into Barcelona in 1897. At that time the town had over 60,000 residents and 5,500 buildings and, although the annexation was fiercely opposed by many residents, in 1897 the town lost its independence to become another district of the city of Barcelona.
Nowadays the district of Gràcia is characterised by its bohemian atmosphere, the richness and diversity of its population, its artists, and families whose roots in the district date back centuries, and draws tourists from around the world.
The Barefoot Carmelite nuns of La Rambla built the Convent of Sant Josep in the present-day Plaça de Lesseps Square, formerly called the Plaça dels Josepets Square. The church they built was dedicated to La Mare de Déu de l’Anunciació Plena de Gràcia, or Our Lady of Grace, and this is where the name of Gràcia Street well as the place name of the district are derived from. Over the years the land surrounding the Convent and the other monastic buildings was gradually built up, especially in the areas alongside the road, converting it in parts into a busy thoroughfare.
However Gràcia reached the height of its urban and industrial development during the XIX century, and this was most clearly manifested in the attainment of municipal autonomy and the dawning of a new age of social activism and working-class organization. The urban development began in 1801 when Barcelona initiated a housing project to solve the problem of working-class housing in the capital. The district of Gràcia was chosen to be the starting point for this project, and it was divided into 83 plots, each with its own development plan for the construction of housing.