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La Mercè Festival

A man in a costume during the parade in the streets of Barcelona

Gigantes parade | Photo by Andrea Huls Pareja on Unsplash

La Mercè is within the many events on the calendar in Barcelona the main street festival of the year. Or as called in Spanish ‘La Fiesta Mayor’. It is celebrated each year at the end of September, and this year the celebrations will take place from the 22th of September 2023 until the 25th of September 2023. During this colorful, cultural event around 2 million people participate in the festivities which take place all over the city of Barcelona. The highlight of this festival is the Mare de Déu de la Mercè on the 24th of September, on this day the patron saint la Mercè is celebrated. Spread through Barcelona, there are hundreds of traditional and cultural events taking place during these days and most of the activities are free. In this blog we will discuss some of the events you can’t miss out on when you’re in Barcelona during the La mercè Festival!

The History of the festival

The history of this festival goes back several centuries. Legends say that on the night of 24 September 1218, the Virgin of Mercy appeared to King James I of Aragon, Saint Peter Nolasco and Saint Raymond of Penyafort at the same time. In this time there were religious wars going on, so she gave all three of them the order to liberate the Christian monks, who were held captive by the Saracens. Many years later, in 1687, the Barcelona city authorities declared the Virgin of Mercy as the patron saint of Barcelona because she saved the city from a locust plague in that year. Over the years the festival began to lose the religious intentions and became more of a cultural celebration of the city. In 1902, on the initiative of politician Francesc Cambó, the government recognized La Mercè as an official public holiday. At this time, the City Council decided to transform the festival into a cultural event where the public go on the street to enjoy the celebrations. Since then the festival has become more and more celebrated. After Franco the democracy was established in Catalonia and La Mercè became the most popular festival of Barcelona. Nowadays the La Mercè festival still is the biggest celebrated multi day festival which contains different cultural and recreational activities. Also, you still can visit the Basílica de la Mercè. This basilica was constructed in 1888 and is located at Plaça de la Mercè. On top of this gothic style basilica is a beautiful statue of the Virgin of Mercy placed.

A group of people performing Correfoc with fireworks.

The Correfoc fireworks | Picture by Zuen on FreeImages

Traditional activities

The La Mercè festival is celebrated at different locations across the city. You can find the festivities at well-known locations such as Plaza Reial, Platja del Bogatell, La Rambla del Raval, Paseo de Gracia and many more. At these locations hundreds of activities involving music, sports and culture take place. A few events are the most spectacular and traditional and you definitely don’t want to miss out on them. The first one is the Correfoc run in which a group of people dressed up as devils will light fireworks and walk a certain route through the city. You can also admire fire-breathing dragons during this parade. If you want to visit this event, it’s recommended to wear protective clothes, glasses and hats so you won’t get burned by the sparks flying around. A more child friendly version of this parade will take place before the actual fire run. Another must visit event is the Castellers at Plaça de Sant Jaume. At this square a lot of people gather to watch this enormous human tower, so be there on time. At the same square the Gigantes take place, which is a parade of giant queens, kings and other lords through the streets accompanied by flutes and drums. This parade is particularly popular with families with children. The La Mercè festival ends on the 25th of September with a spectacular fireworks show at Avinguda Maria Cristina, around 10:00 PM. The specific time, date and location of all these traditional events you can find here

A group of people building a tower to perform Castellers during the street festival in Barcelona.

The Castellers | Picture by Quim Muns on Pixabay

Less common activities

Did you know that during the La Mercè celebrations there will be over 16 stages around Barcelona? This year, mainly Catalan musicians will be performing. Artists such as Lildami, Mushkaa and La Fúmiga will be performing Catalan music, making it the perfect opportunity to get familiar with new Catalan songs. The dance ‘la sardana’ is also very important during the La Mercè festival. This dance is performed in circles following pre-rehearsed steps and represents brotherhood, equality and liberty. There is competition between the different sardana groups, and there are performances of this dance during the festivities. Besides this dance, there are four other dances taking place during this festival. The Galop de la Mercè is a very special dance, because it is only performed in the festes de la Mercè. The Servei de Festes requested Jesús Ventura i Barnet to compose the tune for this specific festival, so that Barcelona’s patron saint would have her own dance. Montjuïc also changes into a big event space during La Mercè. For example, the Castle Monjuïc turns into a circus for families! Also, lot’s of other shows and activities are happening in this area. 

Beside the events we discussed in this blog, of course there are a lot more events taking place. For a full overview about the activities that take place in honor of the La Mercè festival this year, take a look at their website. Want to stay connected and hear more about this festival, Barcelona, tours, culture, and more? Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok and check out our array of tours here to start planning your Barcelona adventure!