La Mercè is Barcelona’s biggest, boldest street festival with religious roots that date back to the 12th century. Over the years the virgin, from whence the festival takes its name, was called upon to assist with everything from a medieval plague of locusts to the civil war, and by the 19th century it was firm fixture in the calendar of every self-respecting Catalan.
Its modern incarnation became increasingly diverse after the death of Franco and the arrival of a more democratic and vibrant era. Today La Mercè celebrates all the qualities and character that make Catalunya unique, as well as embracing a fresh injection of creativity from afar. This year, the invited city is Beirut, bringing with it traditional and contemporary film and music, dance and art.
Over the course of several days locals and visitors alike are treated to a heady mix of regional cultural spectacles – most of them free - from Girona’s sombre ‘sardana’ dancers, to the nerve-jangling ‘castellers’ (human castles) of Tarragona, to the legendary ‘correfoc’ (fire run) of Barcelona, combined with state-of-the-art light shows, world class concerts and performances.
La Merce takes place from 20th – 24th September with events morning, noon and night. Below are some of the highlights, but do check the full schedule (in English) online at https://www.barcelona.cat/lamerce/en for a full list of events.
The grand opening parade comprising giants, dragons and devils among other fantastical creations kicks off at 7pm at the Palau de la Virreina, before heading off along the Rambla and Calle Ferran to the Plaça de Sant Miquel. It gets extremely busy so arrive early to secure your spot.
For a closer look at the dragons and beasts from the Correfoc, head to El Born Centre del Cultura i Memòria (10am-8pm, daily), where you can admire these magnificent creatures before they meet their end on the Saturday night.
For those who like to live dangerously, the Correfoc (fire run) takes place along the Via Laietana and kicks off with a ‘light’ version at 6.30pm for kids, but really hits its stride at 8.30pm for grown-ups. Wear shoes suitable for running, as well as long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect yourself from flying sparks, as you’ll be ducking and diving among the fireworks, sparklers and bangers that are literally sprayed into the crowd by gangs of demons and devils. It’s a wonderfully medieval affair, but is not for the faint of heart.
Lebanese dancer and performance artist, Alexandre Paulikevitch, performs his mesmerising work - Mouhawala Oula - which draws on an Egyptian folkloric belly dancing or ‘baladi’ under the moonlight at the Parc de la Ciutadella.
Don’t miss the evening light shows projected on to the Ajuntament (City Hall) on the Plaça Sant Jaume, which have gained traction in recent years for ever more extravagant and flamboyant displays that are nothing less than true visual poetry. Lights go up on the 20th from 9.15pm-midnight, on the 21st and 22nd from 8.30pm-11.30pm, on the 23rd from 10.30pm-midnight, and on the 24th from 8.45pm-10.30pm.
Check out the Mostra des Gegants (giants), which are on display at the Pati Manning building on Calle Montalegre 7 every day between 10am and 8pm. These extraordinary creatures are hewn of papier mache and represent a variety of public figures from the original Catholic kings and queens, to well-known politicians, footballers and popstars, and local characters.
Finally, when you need to unwind but don’t want to miss out, look no further than the Wine and Cava Show which celebrates its 39th birthday this year. With the pleasing air of a village fete you’ll find it next to the Mercat Sant Antoni, and it’s a great way to rub shoulders with locals while swirling and sipping your way through the best of the region’s wines. Open on the 20th and 23rd September from 4pm-9pm, and on the 21st, 22nd and 24th from 12noon-9pm.