We are so excited that September is finally here because that means La Mercè is just around the corner! This year it will be held from September 22nd to the 25th. It is the event that us Barcelonans wait for all year! You may be wondering though, “what exactly is La Mercè and why is it so special?” Have no fear, your team at Spanish Trails is here to answer all of your questions.
A little bit of background…
The origins of La Mercè can be traced back to the 17th century when in 1687, the city of Barcelona was plagued with locusts. The governing body, the Consell de Cent, prayed to the Virgin of Mercy for help. When the pests finally cleared, the Virgin of Mercy was named the patron saint of Barcelona by the council but it wasn’t until 1868 that the Catholic church recognized her as such. After 1868 an annual celebration of “La Mercè” became a local tradition that has since grown into the citywide festival that we see today.
Join the Fun!
Theactivities that go on during La Mercè are what truly set this festival apart from all others. Two of the most famous activities are the castells or “human towers” and the correfocs or “fire-runs.” The Castellers construct these human towers in stages with layers of people holding each other up as tall as several stories high. It is an exercise in strength, teamwork, and determination – a must see!
The correfoc is a newer event compared with the more traditionally Catalonian castells. It came about as a more conspicuous method of celebration after the repression of Catalonians during Francisco Franco’s regime. As tabalers “drummers” beat a rhythm, diables “devils” wielding sparklers and fireworks parade down Via Laietana alongside fire-breathing dragons.
During the day, gegants i capgrossos, giant figures with paper mâche heads are paraded through city streets. In plazas and squares, the traditional Catalan Sardana is danced in groups. People are brought together in circles as a cobla band of wind instruments and drums time the steps. All of this occurs alongside a vast array of municipal concerts and smaller scale neighborhood celebrations. There is quite literally a party on every block!
Each year Barcelona hosts a guest city as an opportunity to highlight different cultures. (Good news for Francophiles, this year’s guest city is Paris!) In many ways, La Mercè is a celebration of not just the patron saint of Barcelona but of the city itself and how it has grown over the years. The festival is a grand tour of local culture that showcases Barcelona’s blend of old Catalan traditions and modern multiculturalism. Tourists lucky enough to be in our lovely city during La Mercè are in for a real treat, you will get to be a part of the most fun and colorful week of the year! Get ready to celebrate, we’ll see you out there!
Text: Caroline Guardabassi