Autumn is a great time of year to be in Barcelona, the summer temperatures have calmed and the light takes on a golden hue reflected off the Mediterranean making for perfect conditions to walk around and explore the city. And for anyone who happens to be in the city between the middle and the end of September they will find themselves in the midst of La Mercè, the fiesta mayor or Barcelona city festival that takes place between this year September 21st and 24th when the city is possessed with a carnival like atmosphere.
Over the course of its five days almost two million people will participate with the festivities that are organised by the Ayuntamiento (City Council) centred around September 24th which marks the feast day of Barcelona’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary or La Mercè. The principal focus of the events and activities is Catalan culture, drawn from the entire region and La Mercè is an ideal way to learn about the music, the dance, the language, the arts & crafts and other activities that reflect the rich culture of the area.
A city festival that marks the end of summer
After most locals return from their holidays at the end of August La Mercè is an ideal way to beat the post-holiday blues. The entire city centre becomes an outdoor festival with countless activities that are eagerly anticipated; street processions, firework displays, parades of mythical characters modelled in papier-mâché, live concerts on stages specially constructed all around the city for the festival featuring every imaginable musical genre, food and wine tastings, castellers (a tradition where groups form human towers standing on each others shoulders that can reach numerous storeys in height), the correfoc (literally meaning fire-run where groups dressed as devils setting off fireworks lead a procession through the city centre) and marching drum bands making their way through the streets of the Gothic quarter creating a racket. La Mercè is a riot of noise, colour, smells and bonhomie that marks the end of summer.
A celebration of the city and its culture
Every year a local celebrity is chosen to officiate at the opening ceremony or pregona, this year on September 21st Leticia Dolera, actress, screen writer and cinema director, will do the honours at the Saló de Cent del Ayuntamiento. More than 600 different events will be hosted between the 21st and the 24th of September. The venues for the concerts and activities include some of the most iconic squares, public spaces and buildings that Barcelona has to offer and the events are free to attend. In the days leading up to La Mercè the city is a hive of activity with stages being constructed for the concerts and sound checks being carried out; Plaça Reial, the Barceloneta beach, Rambla del Raval, Plaça dels Àngels (MACBA), the Parc de la Ciutadella, all turned into one huge open air backdrop for the city’s annual celebration.
Some of the musical highlights on the programme for the 2018 edition include Maisha, the Afro Jazz sextet (Friday 21st Sept., Plaça dels Àngels), Candeleros, Latin beats from Madrid (Friday 21st Sept., Rambla del Raval) and Mayte Martín, flamenco singer (Sunday 23rd Sept., Av de la Catedral).
And although the focus is mainly on local bands, performers and culture every year a guest city is also celebrated, this year it’s the turn of Lisbon and its wonderful Fado tradition (Portuguese folk music usually sung as a lament), its more contemporary musical sounds, street theatre and food will all be featured.
A festival that dates from the Middle Ages
The origins of the festivities are with the religious celebration of the city’s patron (together with Santa Eulàlia), Mary the Virgin of Grace or Maré de Deu de la Mercè. In Catalonia Mercè is a also popular first name for girls. The festival dates back to the Middle Ages and specifically to 1687 when the city was delivered from a plague of locusts after the city fathers agreed to pray to the Virgin, from then on Mary was venerated as Barcelona’s patron saint. La Mercè as its celebrated today dates to 1902 when elements like the procession, the giants, the correfoc and the sardana (traditional dance performed in a circle representing Catalan solidarity) were incorporated. In 1980 it was recognised as of cultural value and given protected status.
The official web for La Mercè is https://www.barcelona.cat/lamerce/en all the free concerts, activities and venues are listed here.
During La Mercè the city’s metro operates all day and night. However from Grand Hotel Central many of the activities are within walking distance from the hotel which during the festivities is the best way to get around.
Accommodation & Cuisine
Grand Hotel Central is right in the middle of all the action, literally. A perfect base to visit the concerts and other activities going on over La Mercè, the correfoc in fact goes right past its front door on Vía Laietana. Whether observing the events from Sky Bar or the City Bar and Restaurant both offer a chance to sample one of the other great local attractions, Mediterranean cuisine. Simple, straightforward and seasonal food prepared in such as way as to preserve the flavours of the Mediterranean. A more formal culinary experience at City Restaurant is complemented by the less formal menu of City Bar and Sky Bar where sampling Manel Vehí’s cocktails is a sure fire way to get into the festival mood.Local agenda