La Mercè: Barcelona’s Biggest Fiesta

Party like a local at la Mercè

If there’s one thing that Catalonians love more than a siesta it’s a fiesta, and Barcelona’s biggest is la Mercè. The city’s Festa Major – named for patron saint the Virgin la Mercè – is a week-long spectacle that ejaculates creativity and colour all over the streets, drawing nearly two-million visitors into the frivolous mess each year. In 2016 la Mercè runs from September 17-25 and features over 500 different free events in public spaces all over the city – check out the official website for a full program. As well as a host of of theatre, circus and dance performances all over the city, each year you will find the following Catalonian favourites drawing a crowd:

1. La Correfoc

In a more conservative city, people might spend their Sundays going to church and observing health and safety precautions, but that’s just not Barcelona’s style. Welcome to la Correfoc, the traditional fire run often employed to mark the end of fiestas. Drumming sound a little satanic? It’s opening the gates of hell, hence the stream of Catalonians in demon-dress waving sticks of wheeling, sparking and scorching fireworks. Get too close with your SLR and they will gladly chase you – don’t wear your favourite tshirt because it will end up holey at this most unholy of street parades. In addition to those pesky tourist-chasing demons, you will also come across a range of mythical, fire-spewing beasts. Our favourite is the tarasque (“wild worm”), a funny little fella with the body of a turtle and the head of a man that will alternately projectile water, fire or lollies in your direction. Correfoc de la Mercè is guaranteed to be a big one, don’t miss it.

When: Sunday 25 September, 20:30h

Where: pl Antoni Maura, Via Laietana and pl Antoni López

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2. Castellers

The Castellers  are a mean feat of human engineering (literally). If as a kid you ever attempted to create a human pyramid, this would be like that, only if you all trained your whole lives for it and had super-human strength. It originated from a small town just outside of Barcelona, and became both a Catalan sport and tradition. The structure is built by first establishing a pinya, which is the group of people that supports the rest of the structure. They provide the soft, cushioning scalps and shoulders onto which the structure would fall if something went wrong. The tronc (trunk) begins its construction from there, as rings of up to nine people begin to climb to dizzying heights. But the most gasp-invoking section is the pom de dalt (the tower dome), which is constructed only of children, the smallest of whom (the anxenta) will summit the tower and salute the crowd. As one of the more popular events during La Merce, the square becomes packed-up pretty quickly. Don’t worry however, these towers reach nine stacked-humans high, which means that even from your measly, ground-level vantage point, you’ll still see that nimble Spanish child scale the body-pillars of the castellar with shocking ease.

When: 24 September, 12:30h

Where: Plaça de Sant Jaume

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3. Toc d’inici and Seguici Popular de Barcelona (Opening Ceremony and People’s Parade of Barcelona)

If you can only get to one event, the Opening Ceremony is like a smorgasbord of Catalan culture – bouncy sardana dancing, traditional music and, of course, fireworks.  The People’s Parade makes its first appearance of the festa here and features all of Catalonia’s most well-known saints, heroes and mythical creatures, represented in giant form. Watch the gegants bob down the streets as they are carried along Chinese dragon style, accompanied by the traditional dancers, ominous drumming and frolicking devils that permeate Catalonian fiestas. The ceremony segues into the Colorama projection show, an explosion of colour all over the face of Barcelona’s City Hall. If you missed the parade, you can see some of the gegants on display at the Institut de Cultura de Barcelona on La Rambla. 

When: 22 September, 19:00h

Where: Plaça de Sant Jaume

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4. BaM

Put your finger on Barcelona’s cultural pulse and you’ll feel music coursing through it. La Merce boats over sixty live music performances throughout the festival including an independent music festival called BaM (Barcelona acció Musical). With local and international acts gracing the stages at different locations throughout the city, the festival seeks to experiment with new sounds and to showcase Barcelona’s diversity. And it’s all free! Certain stages are dedicated to particular types of music, such as flamenco and jazz, so check out the schedule to see what’s happening and join the fiesta.

Where:Various locations throughout Barcelona

When: 22-24 September

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The people of Barcelona truly take ownership of their festival – with more than 200 groups and associations from around the city contributing to the la Mercè program, it offers a taste of everything that makes Catalonia’s capital so vibrant. Each year features a “guest city”, adding a little extra flavour in the form of top music, theatre, dance and film artists. This year’s guest city? Paris, mon cherie. Don’t make your plans around our brief summary of the traditional acts – have a dig through la Mercè’s official website and take your pick from the endless theatre, music, projection and circus shows on offer, all free.