La Mercè Festival is the festival of all festivals in Barcelona. Every year around September 24th Barcelona holds a week-long festival in honour of Mare de Déu de la Marcè (the Virgin of Mercy), the Patron Saint of Barcelona. This massive annual festival draws over a million people to the streets of Barcelona and includes tons of cultural, artistic and traditional activities, as well as concerts and all sorts of performances.
Low cost fun in Barcelona: A festival that is absolutely free
Another great thing about La Mercè is that it is free! All activities organized for La Mercè Festival are free of charge! Even concerts! The city itself becomes a stage overflowing with art, fantasy and imagination. Music, traditions and all sorts of entertainment clearly show the essence of Barcelona.
This keenly anticipated festival is frequented both by local and international crowds. People from all over Catalonia expect this festival with excitement and you can just feel the good atmosphere from the very first day. All metro lines run all night and they increase the frequency of buses and other means of transportation in anticipation of the great popular participation.
La Mercè Activities and Events:
Although each year there are new activities and events planned, there are some traditions and cultural activities which always take place during La Mercè.
- Concerts: Over 60 concerts of all kinds by local and International musicians.
- Castellers (Human Towers): This event usually takes place in Plaça Jaume I. It consists of a group of people called ‘Castellers’ building a human tower. The goal is to stand up long enough for the ‘Enxaneta’ (young child and smallest member of the tower) to climb up the tower and stand up on the very top.
- Gegants and Capgrossos (Giants and big-headed’s Parade): People wearing big heads and giant figures of kings, queens and nobles over their shoulders march through the streets of Barcelona accompanied by a band made up mainly of drummers.
- Correfoc and Fireworks: This is a sort of parade lead by The Devils (Els Diables). Groups of people dressed up like devils run around the city holding fire-weapons and lighting up firecrackers, spiralling fireworks, and torches. They are accompanied by percussionists and beasts (from sparkling dragons to dreadful fire creatures). You cannot miss it!!!
- Light and music projections on the façade of important buildings around the city. The theme changes every year, but it is definitely worth watching.
- Sardanes (Traditional Catalan dance): Dancing to traditional band music, people form circles holding hands and lifting their arms up in the air. It is mostly their feet that move in regular patterns.
- Theatre, circus and street performances all over Barcelona.
- Bastoners (People dancing with sticks in their traditional outfits).
- Grallers (Shawm players) and trabucaires (People shooting weapons called ‘trabuc’).
History of La Mercè
La Mercè Festival honours the Patron Saint of Barcelona and it started in 1902.
According to the legend, on September 24th in 1218 the Virgin of Mercy appeared simultaneously to King Jaume I, Saint Peter Nolasc and Saint Ramon de Penyafort. In times of religious wars, the Virgin asked these three powerful men to create and lead an order of monks dedicated to liberate the Christians taken by the Saracens.
Centuries later, in 1687, Barcelona was suffering from a plague of locusts and pestilence. The population was in desperate need of help. The city prayed to the Virgin of Mercy and entrusted her with their lives. When the city was saved, the Virgin of Mercy was appointed the Patron Saint of Barcelona.
After the Pope ratified the appointment in 1868, the population of Barcelona started organizing events and festivities in honour of the Mare de Déu de la Mercè every year in September.
Finally, in 1902, driven by Francesc Cambó, a Catalan politician, Barcelona united all these events and festivities into their first official festival.
Things to take under consideration
- Driving: The city becomes extremely crowded and some streets are cut due to the promenades and different activities. Therefore, finding a parking spot might be a nightmare.
- Correfoc: Beware of the flames! The devils literally spray the crowd with their sparklers and fire weapons. If you have fear of fire, the correfoc is definitely not the best place for you.
- Clothing: If you intend to experience the correfoc to the fullest, I strongly advise you to wear protective clothing (hats, long sleeves, no shorts, trainers…). Preferably cotton clothing.
- Metro: Although the authorities take precautions in order to ensure safety, there are a lot of people using public transportation. Watch out for pickpockets and avoid getting on coaches where the doors are already barely closing. It’s easy to get dizzy.
Other than that, it is an amazing festival that you absolutely have to experience at least once in your lifetime. Have lots of fun!!!
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