Attending La Mercè means experiencing Barcelona in its most entertaining state. The city feels like one endless street festival at this end-of-summer bash that provides non-stop entertainment for four days, including dozens of free concerts and more than 600 events spread throughout the plazas, streets, museums, and parks. Just be prepared not to sleep much!
The Origins of this “Festa Major”
Barcelona’s principal festival is dedicated to its co-patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy. Yes, this is why Spain has so many fiestas; there’s a festival for every saint. Nostra Señora de la Mercè is given credit for ridding this Mediterranean city of locusts in 1687 and, then, when she was appointed commander in chief of Barcelona’s military during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, the fortunes of this lovely seaside city turned around overnight. Between La Mercè 2013 and 2014, Barcelona will commemorate 300 years since the milestone event of the city’s modern history. The recently inaugurated El Born Centre Cultural, which has opened in the neighborhood of La Ribera Born, as well as Ciutadella Park and Montjuïc are just some of the sites that will be hosting a variety of cultural events to celebrate Barcelona’s independence.
Each day of the festival is commemorated with its own parade filled with mythical characters, dancing giants and traditional drumming.
While La Mercè has been an institution in Barcelona since the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until 1871 that it became an official city holiday. The feast day takes place on September 24, but the festivities begin a few days in advance.
Giants, Devils, and Human Pyramids
Each day of the festival is commemorated with its own parade filled with mythical characters, dancing giants and traditional drumming. No Barcelona festival would be complete without fire runners (correfocs
) and human castles rising eight stories high (castellers). We promise that you’ll curse yourself if you forget your camera. There's a photogenic spectacle around every corner, from folk dancing (sardana) to parades of giant papier-mâché characters (gegandes). While La Mercè has a long history, some of its most prominent components are just over a century old. The best way to think of this is that Les Festes de la Mercè combines the best of what you might see at any spectacular Spanish festival. For that reason alone, it’s a great primer for any culturally curious person who wants to understand why Spain is probably the festival capital of the world (perhaps tied with India). The best thing about this festival is that all of the street events are free, as well as a multitude of museums that open their doors and provide free visits, so it’s a perfect place to bring a group of friends or a large family.
A Reflection of Barcelona
Barcelona is an artistic and robust stage for experiencing design, food, and life, but this particular festival will have you wondering why you’ve never moved here. La Mercè is a reflection of this enterprising, creative, and inventive city which is in a constant state of evolution. But, Barcelona doesn’t do it alone as each year she invites a guest city each year (in 2013, it was Vienna) to bring their favorite dance and street theater companies to this festival of festivals. Because Europe has woken up to the fact that Barcelona isn’t just a paradise in August, you’ll see an increasingly international flavor of who comes to visit this festival each year.