The end of summer brings the best festivals to Barcelona.  If you happen to be here during the 20th-24th of September this year, you are in for a treat.  La Mercè is here and while the weather is still beautiful it’s the perfect time to enjoy the city.  A mix of spectacles, concerts, workshops and cultural activities will be on display for all to see.  After all the surrounding cities and even the neighborhoods within the city have hosted their own Festa Majors, it becomes Barcelona’s turn to celebrate.  Each year Barcelona celebrates one of its patron saints, La Mercè.  The other, Santa Eulalia, is celebrated in February.  It is said that Eulalia, the original patron of the city, gets a bit jealous that we would celebrate someone else and begins to cry.  Let’s hope that the forecast for this weekend is off or Santa Eulalia’s tears might put a damper on the festivities.

Every year the festival releases a new poster to represent the ideas of the celebrations.  This year, the poster was created by Maria Conte and represents a biracial La Mercè with her hair full of all sorts of peoples.  Citizens partaking in the the traditions of the festival and outsiders, even a boat representing the Open Arms sea rescue.  The aim of the poster and festival is to be welcoming to peoples of all walks of life.  During the festival, the city strives for the acceptance of diversity, sustainability, environmental awareness, and anti-sexism; qualities for which Barcelona has become known.  Each year, a new city is invited as the guest city of La Mercè, this year Beirut, Lebanon has that honor.  Many references will be made to this Middle eastern city.

If you are lucky enough to be in the city for this festival, the English program for the festival will have a list of all the things you can do to take advantage of this special time.

The opening day of the festival starts a bit later and is an initiation to the festivals from the Plaça de Sant Jaume.

Friday September 20, 2019:

17:00 Ringing of the Bells at Santa María del Pi
18:30 Opening Speech by Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid 2015-2019) Plaça de Sant Jaume
19:45 Toc d’inici (Start of the Festivals) Plaça de Sant Jaume
21:15-0:00 (every 15 mintues)Light Show on City Hall Plaça de Sant Jaume.  The light show at the City Hall will take place every night:

  • Saturday 21, 20:30-midnight
  • Sunday 22, 22:30-midnight
  • Monday 23, 22:30-midnight
  • Tuesday 24, 20:45-midnight

The rest of the days are a mix of all types of events and activities throughout the city.  Some of the events of interest:

Human Towers (Castells)

Photo by Angela Compagnone on Unsplash

On of the most exciting Catalan traditions for visitors are the Human Towers that are created.  It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it is humans stacking themselves atop one another as high as possible.  It is a bringing together of society and requires an incredible amount of teamwork.  The higher you go, the smaller you need to be, where we can see children as young as 5 or 6 mounting the towers to display four fingers before the deconstruction begins.  Towers can get as high as 10 layers of people high and include as many as 500 or 600 people.  There will be two days to see the Human Towers during the festival both in the Plaça de Sant Jaume.

Sunday 22nd at 12:00 for Historic Castellers from all around Catalonia
Tuesday 24th at 13:00 for Castellers from Barcelona

 

Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash

Correfoc (Fire Run)
The Correfoc, or ‘Fire Run’ as it is translated, is definitely not gonna happen in the States.  You have thousands of people dressed as demons and devils mixed with fantastic beasts (such as dragons) dancing, prancing and running around the Via Laietana starting in Plaça Antoni Maura and finishing at the Plaça Antoni López.  Each of these characters carries sticks with fireworks shooting off its embers in all directions.  Those who want to witness the event are advised to wear long sleeves and pants, even hoodies to cover bare skin.  Those brave enough to participate can dance under the embers that are shot around!  The front rows are not out of bounds, so if you do not plan on getting involved but still want to see it, stand a few rows back!

Saturday 21st at 20:30

 

Giants, Bigheads, Beasts and Dragons

Another big part of the La Mercè festivals are the characters you will see on parade.  Giants in different medieval characters (this year one of the giants will have a disability to coincide with the diversity of the festival), animals of all types (lions and eagles), as well as mythical creatures.  These figures will be paraded around the city during the days of the festival, so, if you plan it or not you might find yourself in the midst of a procession.  You can also find exhibitions of the characters when they are not being paraded around at the City Hall and the Born Cultural Center.  The characters open up the festival with the Toc d’inici mentioned before but will be around giving you other opportunities to catch them in action.  Other times to see the parades:

Giants Procession on Tuesday the 24th at 12h from Carrer Ample to the Plaça de Sant Jaume
Dragons and Beasts will have their turn Friday the 20th at 22h in the Born neighborhood starting at the Born Cultural Center.

Fireworks

There are always fireworks to see during La Mercè along the beach and near Plaça Espanya to close the festivals.  Always a fun time, here are the hours and locations so you can be sure to catch them:

Friday 20th & Saturday 21st at 22h at the Barceloneta Beach, Nazih Tabbara Fireworks Co. from Beirut will be in charge of the first night, while Fuegos del Milenio from Peru will be on display the following evening.

However the closing ceremonies will be held on Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina at 22h, Tuesday the 24th.  These are always a beautiful sight as you have Montjüic hill in the background with the beautiful MNAC building just below the fireworks!

Concerts

Outside of these big events there will be concerts all over the city.  Many of the plazas and even the Bogatell Beach will have stages set up to accommodate the various groups and individual acts set to perform everyday.  It is a great way to learn about and hear different types of music from all around and even listen to some Catalan style music, like the Catalan Rumba!  La Vanguardia newspaper actually published an incredible list of all the concerts on each day that you can take a look at here to find out if there is any that really interests you!

Open Doors and Free Museums

One of the other greatest aspects of La Mercè are all of the cultural activities you can take part in!  Many of the museums will be free to the public on the 24th, also a holiday in Barcelona.  Some of these museums include:

  • History Museum of Barcelona
  • History Museum of Catalonia
  • Olympic and Sports Museum
  • Music Musem
  • Archeological Museum of Catalonia
  • CCCB
  • Contemporary Art Museum
  • Antoni Tàpies Foundation
  • Hospital of Sant Pau
  • Montjüic Castle

It really is a fun time to be in Barcelona and those of you visiting will undoubtedly have a great trip.  Enjoy La Mercè 2019 and if you have any questions, you can always get in touch @patrickguidebarcelona