Throughout the summer, each ‘barrio’ (neighbourhood) in the Catalan capital of Barcelona hosts its annual street party, showcasing papier-maché sculptures, elaborate decorations, free music concerts, fire-runs (corre foc) and human towers. Fiesta de la Mercè is like the Big Mamma of all the festivals livin’ it up throughout the Gothic Quarter (el Barrio Gotico).
History of La Mercé
The celebration of La Mercè has religious origins, honouring the Virgin of Grace (Mare de Déu de la Mercè), patron saint of the archdiocese of Barcelona, and co-patroness of the city, along with Saint Eulàlia. In Catalan, the word ‘mercè’ has meanings related to service, help, a sense of compassion, and loving mercy. In the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, there is a basilica dedicated to the Virgin, where a wooden image of her is venerated. (Situated in El Born, half way to the beach from Las Ramblas). Photo credit: www.basilicadelamerce.com
The festival comes from the Middle Ages when, in 1687, Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts. To fight against the insects, the Consell de Cent, which then governed the city, voted to ask the Virgin’s assistance. When the city was delivered from the pestilence, she was named patroness of the city of Barcelona, although this was only recognised by the Pope in 1868. Since then, La Mercè Festival is celebrated in honour of the Virgin.
Although La Mercé officially falls on September 24th, the celebrations last all week!
Check out the programme HERE!
Los Gigantes – giant papier-mâché figures modelled after classical Catalan characters form a procession which dances through the streets and plazas of Barcelona.Photo credit: www.blog.barcelonaguidebureau.com
Castellers – Quite literally human towers or ‘castles’. This is a traditional Catalan tradition is one of the most popular events at La Mercé and involves participants climbing up one another in a race against the other teams to make the tallest most complex castle.Photo credit: www.nbcnews.com
Street Theatre –
Circus & Dance – Park Ciuatdella and Monjuîc Castle are the biggest hosts to dance acts and circus performers from all over the world. Both venues are transformed into magical places with entertainment at every hour of the day. Park Ciuatdella turns into a wonderland with a wandering orchestra, psychedelic light projections and incredible dancers, whilst Park Ciuatdella runs through the day time with mesmerising acrobatics, interactive circus performances and kids workshops and circus classes.
Corre Foc – literally translates to ‘fire run’and attracts a huge audience. The legend of Correfoc is that the Mascle Cabró – a male goat or ram in English – hears the arrival of the “diables” the devils, and commands his armies to cross the gate of hell called “Porta de l´Infern” which separates the real world from hell. At the end of the correfoc the devils are sent back into hell. About forty “groups of devils” from in and around Barcelona, as well as dragons and other “fire beasts”, take part in this festival. The Merce correfoc starts with spectacular fireworks of the “Porta de l´Infern ” – “Gates of Hell,” which then open and release the “diables” to start the “correfoc” firerun. About 80,000 fireworks are used during the correfoc with absolutely no enforced health and safety precautions! If you are going to get close to the actions wear sleeves and trousers, closed shoes, a hood and a scarf to cover your mouth and face. Photo credit: www.hotelactual.com
Light Projection Show – One of my favourite parts of the festival. Every year a quirky storytelling light show is projected onto the Town Hall (Ajuntament de Barcelona). It lasts around 5minutes and is played a handful of times per night. Tip: avoid the first night unless you enjoy being crushed like a scrapped car. Photo credit: www.hotelarclarambla.com
Photo credit: www.elpais.com
Music and BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical) – During La Mercé there are stages and FREE CONCERTS! all over the city, the main ones being Plaça del Angels (by MACBA), Joan Coromines (Raval area), Plaça St Jaume, Plaça Reial, Antigua Fabrica D’Estrella Damm and Parc Del Forum.
I’ve seen so many amazing bands here including the Kooks, Crystal Fighters, OK Go!, Goldfrappe, Belle & Sebastian and the Klaxons. Whilst the beer factory Antigua Fabrica D’Estrella Damm will usually host the headliners (arrive early unless you want to watch your favourite band on a big screen), Parc Del Forum (althogh not much of a park – it’s more of an event and festival space, which can hold upto 15,000 people) is where the party really thrives with bands playing til around 1am and DJ’s going into the wee hours.
Fireworks – On the last day of the festivities, the party comes to a close with a jaw-dropping musical fireworks show at Plaça Espanya. Thousands converge upon the square to gaze skyward at the colourful pyrotechnics display set to music synchronised with Montjuïc’s magic fountain. A truely magical end to a wonderful week of festivities. Photo credit: www.hotelarclarambla.com
Cost: FREE! “everything free” is the basis of the policy for public culture, with which the Institute of Culture of Barcelona (ICUB) works.
Who, Where, What & When?
You can download these handy apps to ensure you don’t miss a thing!
*Any photos not accredited were taken by myself.