Holidaymakers in Barcelona are in for a treat this week, as one of Catalan’s biggest annual festivals, La Mercè, comes to the city. It’s the Barcelona way of bidding farewell to the summer, and welcoming in the cooler autumn months.
The festival has deep roots in the city’s history. The celebration was originally intended as a homage Barcelona’s patron saint, Virgin of Grace (Mare de Déu de la Mercè), who allegedly saved the city from a plague of locusts in 1697. It has been an official holiday since 1871, but it wasn’t until 1902 that it started to be celebrated more widely and in the form that we recognise today.
So, what happens at La Mercè? Well, plenty! The four days (starting today) are crammed with over 600 free events and activities, so no matter who you are or what your tastes, you are bound to find something happening that appeals to you.
Here are our personal highlights of one of the biggest festivals on Earth:
Hundreds of people crowd around Barcelona’s town hall to witness one of the most spectacular events of the festival: the castell competition.
These spectacular human towers are truly a sight to behold. The castellers train throughout the year to compete in this prestigious competition, and make structures up to ten levels tall. It’s no surprise that UNESCO has declared this an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If you choose to see one thing during the La Mercè celebrations, be sure to witness this awe-inspiring display.
Gegants i Capgrossos
The parade of Gegants i Caprossos, or paper mache giants, is a great event to go to if you have a family in tow. This colourful parade through Barcelona’s streets features large statues of Catalan kings, queens and aristocracy, which dance along the route to small percussion bands. The kids love the colourful characters and upbeat music, which makes it a great event for the whole family.
The correfoc – or “fire run” – is simply breathtaking, but not for the faint hearted! Hyperactive “devils” run through the streets of the city, showering the thousands of spectators with glistening fireworks. As you can imagine, the atmosphere is simply electric.
There is a dialled-down version for children earlier in the day, so consider going to that one instead if you have children with you or are of a slightly nervous disposition!
These are our favourite events, but with hundreds of activities taking place all over the city over the four days, there truly is something that all can enjoy. Be sure to also look out for the 10km run, the Catalan wine fair, and the spectacular closing ceremony featuring an incredible fireworks display. If you are visiting Spain this year, then La Mercè is certainly a must!