Festes de La Mercè - the pinnacle of the party
Summer might be coming to an end in Barcelona, but the party is just getting started
Fireworks. Music. Giants. Dragons.
This September, you can find all of the above in one place. No, a ninth Harry Potter film isn’t coming out, but La Mercè, Barcelona’s own Festa Major, offers a pretty decent alternative.
And the list goes on - light shows, dancing devils and human towers just to name a few more. Here’s an (incredibly) bite-sized all-you-need-to-know for Barcelona’s party of the year (and that accolade is saying something).
It’s really quite old
The festival dates as far back as 1871, when activities were organised to observe the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady Mercy, on September 24th.
Since then a variety of traditions have developed - 1902 marked the introduction of papier maché giants, which is now a tradition throughout Catalonia. The festival has grown year on year, and in 2017, a staggering 4 million people attended.
New this year
Every year, the festival welcomes a city from across the globe. This year, the festival promises to bring the “creative energy” of Beirut.
There is a talk with Tomàs Alcoverro, former correspondent in Lebanon for ‘La Vanguardia’, as well as the film series ‘Images of Beirut’ at the Filmoteca de Catalunya. The Parc de la Ciutadella will ring with concerts of Lebanon artists such as Maya Chami or Bassam Abou Diab, and will be adorned in the style of a night in Lebanon.
2019 also marks the 50th anniversary of human tower building at the festival, as well as the centenary of the birth of Joan Brossa.
This year, much of the entertainment will be based in Parc de la Trinitat, with several concerts from renowned symphony orchestras such as the Municipal Group of Barcelona. Make sure you also head down to the Besòs Channel and the Parc de la Ciutadella to catch more of the action.
Correfocs are one of the biggest traditions at Catalan festivals. People dressed as devils run through the streets holding fireworks.
At La Mercè, streets are closed off at dusk, normally around Via Laietana, and the devils enter.
There are two types of Correfocs - the earlier show is child-friendly, and then there is a bigger, more interactive show that follows. In this case, interactive means that the crowd gets sprayed with flames from the sparklers. For this reason, protective glasses, hats and long sleeved tops are also advised.
Another great tradition in Catalonia is Giant Culture. Giant parades will take place throughout the five days, many of which occur between late morning and early afternoon.
The giants sadly are not real people - sorry to break it to you. Instead they are effigies that often resemble Kings, Queens and nobleman, among other notable figures.
Another of Catalonia’s longstanding traditions, the human towers events are some of the highlights of the festival.
In previous years, thousands of people have filled the Plaça de Sant Jaume, where Castellers will build a human tower and have a young child climb to the top and stand up.
As improbable as this sounds, the Castellers are unbelievably successful. Nevertheless, events like this do not go without risk, and so if you are nearby watching watch out for the occasional human that plummets out of the sky.
For La Mercè, two of Barcelona’s most defining buildings, the City Council and the Sagrada Familia, are lit up.
The Sagrada Familia, arguably the showpiece of Barcelona as a whole, becomes even more eye-catching for La Mercè. A richly-coloured light show transforms the building in a way even Antoni Gaudí would have been proud of.
The Barcelona City Council light show, in Plaça St Jaume tells a story. This story can be witnessed every night and is free to view for the public.
If that wasn’t enough visual pleasure, pyrotechnics shows will kick off the party on the Friday and bring it to a close on the Tuesday, in Montjuïc.
10k makes the headache go away
Although the party technically ends on the 24th, the traditions extend beyond that.
If you’re feeling a bit shoddy on Sunday 29th after enjoying Saturday night a bit too much, take the leap of faith and participate in the famous 10 kilometre run. After all, what better way is there to cure a hangover?
Last but not least, the music at La Mercè is simply the icing on the cake. Concerts (some mentioned above), street performances, and drama in thousands of venues across the city mean that wherever you go in Barcelona, the party never stops.
This year, the music programme encapsulates equality - 68% of all of the music groups in the programme are led by a woman. Don’t miss out on Beirut-style concerts (mentioned above) as well as groups such as ‘La Caza Azul’ on the opening Friday, and Joan Dausà on the Saturday.
Honestly, this preview barely scratches the surface - the festival really is that big. Visit La Mercè’s official website for the full programme of events, but above all, go and experience it for yourself. After all, seeing is believing.