Summer and its multitude of neighbourhood festivals are swiftly disappearing into the sunset. Fortunately, the end of summer brings Barcelona’s biggest yearly festival, La Mercè.
Its dramatic origins aside, the festival has helped locals welcome autumn for more than 100 years and continues to attract crowds from far beyond the city’s official boundaries.
The celebration of Barcelona’s patron saint, La Mercè has become Barcelona’s biggest and best-attended block party, packed with free activities (more than 600) for all ages and walks of life. For 2012, the festival is scheduled from 21 to 24 September.
This year’s festivities offer up a potent cocktail of authentic local traditions, regional and international performers (around 2,000), street fairs and modern spectacles to Barcelonans and visitors alike from 11am to 4am. From castells, a Catalan spin on human pyramids, to open-air concerts featuring musical acts from around the world, to karaoke in Ciutadella Park, there’s something for everyone at La Mercè. Montreal, Canada is this year’s invited city and designers from the city have created a light and music show in tribute to Antoni Gaudí at Sagrada Familia Temple.
Catalan culture at La Mercè
Hold your breath as castellers form their spectacular human towers, known as castells, at Plaça Sant Jaume in front of Barcelona’s town hall. First documented in 1770, castells have been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Watch crowds of correfocs, or fire-runners, as Catalans disguised as devils run through the streets with fireworks and firecrackers in hand. A lower-key spectacle is planned on Via Laietana and surrounding areas for children earlier in the evening as well as a late night free-for-all for an adult public. A bit of advice: you’d be well-advised to wear long sleeves and trousers in flame-resistant fabrics.
Snap shots of Caps Grossos, a.k.a. fat heads, and Gigants, enormous figures representing kings, queens, saints and memorable members of the Catalan aristocracy on parade as they march through the streets of the city. They’ll be spinning around to the beat of small percussion groups at Plaça de La Mercè, in front of Barcelona’s Cathedral, and at Plaça Sant Jaume.
Enjoy the spectacle of traditional dancers performing la sardana, a Catalan circle dance or the lively stick banging of the bastoners in the ball de bastons.
New this year
While the traditional activities like castells and correfocs don’t vary much from year to year, every festival features a different guest city and presents new activities and unique opportunities for entertainment.
Gaze in wonder at a fireworks and music show designed to recall the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 at Montjuíc. But be forewarned, the show is crowded, and most years sparklers are handed out to the public and lit at close proximity. Excessive hairspray could cost you your hair.
This year there will be a giant karaoke set up in Ciutadella Park. So practice your favourite number and share it with Barcelona and beyond.
Do your best to fit in a few of the BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical) concerts on September 21, 22, and 23. This year’s confirmed musical acts include groups from the U.S., the U.K., Catalonia, France and Guatemala and feature styles ranging from hip-hop to folk.
Catch scientist Lluis Torner’s opening speech about this year’s theme of creativity and innovation.
Whatever your tastes are, La Mercè doesn’t disappoint. Shop at La Mercè Street Art Festival, learn traditional Catalan dances, or treat your ears to an evening of free music.
Isaac Ulam – 20:30 – Joan Coromines
Joan Colomo – 21:15 – Plaça dels Ángels
Howlin Rain – 22:45 – Plaça Reial
Sonny and the Sunsets – 23:30 -Joan Coromines
La Iaia – TBA – Antiga Fàbrica d’Estrella Damm
Love of Lesbian – TBA – Antiga Fábrica d’Estrella Damm
The Kooks – TBA – Antiga Fábrica d’Estrella Damm
Fliptrix – 13:30 – Plaça Reial
L’Hereu Escampa – 20:30 – Joan Coromines
THEESatisfaction – 21:00 – Plaça Reial
Filastine – 00:15 – Plaça Reial
Dream Syndicate -00:15 – Escenari 20 anys de Garatge Club (Plaça Reial)
Black Dice – 00:30 – Plaça dels Angels
Meneo – 00:30 – Electro-BAM
Kap Bambino – 02:00 – Electro-BAM
Lidia Damunt 23:30 Joan Coromines
Los Punsetes 00:30 Plaça dels Ángels
Maria Rodés 21:00 Plaça Reial
McEnroe 21:15 Plaça dels Ángels
Woodkid 00:15 Plaça Reial