La Mercè, Patron Saint of BarcelonaThe legend goes that on the night of 24 September 1218, the Virgin appeared simultaneously to King Jaume I, Saint Pere Nolasc and Saint Ramón de Penyafort. She asked all three to create an order of monks dedicated to saving Christians imprisoned by the Saracens. It was the time of the wars of religion.
Centuries later in 1687, Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts, and placed itself in the hands of the Virgin of La Mercè. Once the plague had been overcome, the Council of the City named her patron saint of Barcelona. The Pope did not ratify this decision until two centuries later, however, in 1868.
The Origins of The Annual FestivalAfter Pope Pius IX declared the Virgin of La Mercè the patron saint of the city, Barcelona began to celebrate a festival in the month of September. La Mercè really took off in 1902, when under the impulse of Francesc Cambó, the festival became the model the those that are currently held all over Catalonia. However, the history of La Mercè would suffer many high and low points that extended throughout the Civil War and the years of Franco.
The Festival TodayWith the arrival of democracy, La Mercè became a truly popular celebration thanks to the participation of organisations from all over the city. Today it is a festival held in a large number of public places with a programme centred on Mediterranean culture. In less than a week Barcelona brings together a huge programme of events which forces you to choose between them: street arts, street processions, concerts, traditional dances...
Barcelona’s SpecialityThe most traditional activities of the Mercè Festival are, in fact, a compendium of popular culture from all over Catalonia. There is the Gironese Sardana, the human castles and devils from the Camp of Tarragona, dances that still survive today all over the Catalan lands. But the great Barcelona speciality is its street parades, originating from the spectacular processions which took place centuries ago for the celebration of Corpus Christi. They are some of the oldest street spectacles that still exist today. Now, as ever, the organisation of the street parades relies on groups representing popular culture working side by side with the street artists. Their joint task means that we can keep alive the festive and theatrical spirit that these events have always had.
Correfoc - Fire Run
If you are going to experience the Correfoc it is highly advisable to take protective clothing because often powerful sparkler fireworks are sprayed into the crowds. People should bring hats, protective glasses and thick long sleeved tops that will protect you from the flying sparklers.
There is normally 2 types of Correfoc on the same evening. One of them is for the children and is a lot more tame than the "adult" Correfoc which happens later on in the evening
The Correfoc event takes place at dusk. Normally along and around Via Laietana. The road will be closed off and then opens to "The Devils" . The Devils are special community groups that dress up like devils and parade the streets during certain festivals in Barcelona. La Merce Festival is one such festival. The devils run up the streets with bangers and hand held fireworks. Lots of bangs and fire is the order of the day. Fire breathing dragons (or at least sparkler-breathing dragons) also roam the streets with Devils skipping along with spiralling fireworks held in their hands.
The "adult" Correfoc takes place after the "junior" Correfoc. The main difference with the adult event is that the crowds are actually sprayed with flames from the sparklers - you can see this in the picture to the left and in the picture below. If you are of a nervous disposition then maybe you should consider standing well back from the Correfoc itself.
Castellers - Human Towers
This event is one of the highlights of the Merce festival and takes place in Placa de Jaume. Thousands of people will pack out the square so it is worth arriving early. The aim of the Castellers is to build a human tower and have a young child climb to the very top of the tower and stand up. It requires a tremendous amount of planning and teamwork to build a human tower and it is quite an amazing sight to see.
Gigantes (Giants Parade)
The Giants parade is a very popular event for the whole family. Huge giants with effigies of kings, queens and nobles march through the streets of Barcelona. These huge figures tower above the crowds and spin around and around so the crowds can see them in all their glory. The Parade is often accompanied by small percussion groups that beat out a rhythm on drums as the Giants go by.
The Barcelona La Merce festival will have something for everyone, music, street performances, drama in thousands of venues across the city. Join in the fun with Barcelona's biggest party of the year.