Festes de la Mercè are the festival in honour of the city patron
The festival La Mercè, which is held in honour of the patron saint la Mercè (the Virgin of Mercy) on September 24th each year is the “Fiesta Mayor” – the main festival – of Barcelona. It is the largest and most colourful festival in the city’s festival calendar and the absolute climax of Barcelona’s event schedule.
The main events of the festival take place on September 24th. But during the entire week before and after La Mercè there are many events in Barcelona.
The origins of the festival
The origins of the festival are religious and celebrate the intervention of the city’s patron saint, the Virgin of Grace or ‘La Mare de Déu de la Mercè’, who saved the city on two notable occasions. On September 24th, 1218 the saint is said to have appeared to King Jaume I and ordered him to create a religious order to save his christian countrymen captured in Saracen lands. Centuries later, in 1687, the saint is believed to have appeared once again and freed the city from a plague of locusts.
Although celebrations had taken place spontaneously since the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the festival was officially recognized by the local authorities. Since then the various displays, dances, and performances that take place during the celebration have been centrally coordinated by the local government, although individual neighbourhood groups still play an important role. The church was a little quicker in honouring the saint’s benevolence towards the city, making her the patron of the Barcelona archdiocese in 1868 upon declaration of Pope Pius IX.
After pope Pius IX had declared the Virgin of Mercy the patron saint of the city, festivities in her honour were started each year in September. On an initiative of the politician Francesc Cambó, the festivities were turned into a major festival in 1902, which still serves as a model for almost all city or town festivals in Catalonia. The history of the festival la Mercè is full of ups and downs, from times of the Civil War and the era of Franco.
Festes de la Mercè today
With the establishment of democracy after the time of Franco, La Mercè became the most popular festival of the city thanks to the cooperation of organisations from all parts of the city. Today, several hundred events take place in the entire city area with the general topic of Mediterranean culture. The events show that the festival Le Mercè lives up both to the tradition and modern art and culture.
Top events of La Mercè
There are up to 500 events taking place in the scope of the Festes de la Mercè in the area of the whole city, mainly in the centre.
Since the 19th century the celebration has largely been considered an important cultural as well as religious celebration, and La Mercè is the best time of the year to witness the rich diversity of Catalan traditions and folklore. This includes:
Castellers – the human towers
The human towers of the castellers, as their builders are called, are to be as high as possible. Performances take place at the Plaça de Sant Jaume in the Gothic Quarter, which is then filled with thousands of people.
The ‘Castells’ or human pyramids were declared to be amongst Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Correfoc – fire-breathing dragons & devils
The correfoc usually takes place on the Via Laietana at nightfall. Fire-breathing dragons, accompanied by dangerous devils and other monsters march the streets and scare the people with lots of fireworks and bangers.
There is a more harmless Correfoc for children taking place before the actual Correfoc, at around 18:30. Later on there is the “adult” correfoc at around 22:00 which is more wild and includes a lot more fire.
We recommend you dress appropriately, in long-sleeved 100% cotton clothes, no shorts, we know it’s summer so if the long sleeves aren’t possible please try not to get in the way of the firerun and don’t wear hair spray!
Gegants – the giant parade
Giant figures of queens and kings, nobles and saints march the streets of Barcelona. The giants dance on the streets, march around in circles, accompanied by the play of flutes and drums.
Sardanas – Dance
The Sardana is performed by a mixture of men and women who hold hands in a circle before making choreographed moves. This is perhaps one of the most ancient forms of dance to be found in history and dances with a similar structure can be found in ancient civilisations of Europe, Africa and Asia.
Festes the la Mercè are also famous for:
Projection Show – Light Show
For a more artistic scene, mappings are usually held on the city’s most historic places such as Barcelona’s city hall in Plaça Sant Jaume. Where 3D light effects project shapes or stories or even people dancing on its facade.
The Piromusical de la Mercè is the grand finale of the Merce Festival and takes place at the Magic Fountain at the foot of Montjuic hill near Plaza Espanya with the Palau Nacional in the background. The Merce Piromusical is a fantastic music, water, fireworks and laser light display centred around the Magic Fountain at Montjuic hill with music and light themes change from year to year.
Mercè Pirotècnic fireworks
Fireworks at the beach! Two nights of spectacular fireworks displays at 10pm. You will be able to see them from everywhere at the beach, sit on the sand and soak it all in.
Mercè – Parc de la Ciutadella
There are many activities for children during Merce Festival at the Parc de la Ciutadella including the MAC street art festival and a fabulous light projection show on the fountain in the park.
Cursa de la Mercè – 10k run
The Mercè Race is one of the most popular runs in the city of Barcelona and forms a part of the Mercè celebrations. It attracts around 15,000 runners each year who all aim to complete all 10km of the race. It is a charity event as the organizer works with various non-profit organizations including UNICEF.
The inscription costs €5 and goes to charitable causes.
Fun facts – things you may not know about La Mercè
Each year there is a ‘guest city’ invited to celebrate alongside the city
As part of an attempt to broaden cultural understanding between countries, each year Barcelona invites a guest city to participate in the celebrations in order to display the best of its artistic and cultural scene. The two cities collaborate throughout the year in the lead-up to the event, bringing together the best of their own cultures to produce unique projects.
The poster announcing the celebration is designed by a different local artist each year
Every edition of La Mercè receives a custom-designed poster created by one of the city’s most prominent artists of the time. This is a a great honor for whoever is invited, an opportunity to become part of the history of the city’s most important cultural celebration and the posters themselves are considered collector’s items. Notable past participants include the Catalan painter, sculptor, and art theorist Antoni Tapiès, whose art foundation is one of the most important artistic centres in the city.
Each year the celebration is inaugurated by a special speech read by a prominent cultural figure
One of the most important but often overlooked parts of the celebration is the opening speech, called ‘pregó‘ or ‘proclamation’ in Catalan. Each year a different personality from the Catalan cultural sphere is invited to compose and read out the speech in front of a private audience of notable local figures to mark the beginning of the week-long celebrations.
We love Barcelona. We love Catalonia. We want you to fall in love with it too!