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 2013, the festival is scheduled from 20 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 miniature circuses, there’s something for everyone at La Mercè.
Vienna is this year’s invited city and artists from the Austrian capital will perform major shows at Ciutadella Park and Montjuïc Castle. What a great show it will be at Plaça de la Catedral when the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra play a concert of waltzes!
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. This event is frantic but great fun. A bit of advice: cover up well as sparks will literally be flying all over the place. A tamer version of the event on Via Laietana is planned for children earlier in the evening; this may also be a better choice for those with a nervous disposition!
Get your camera at the ready for the Caps Grossos, otherwise known as ‘fat heads’ and Gigants that will parade through the city during the festival. These enormous figures representing kings, queens, saints and other members of the Catalan aristocracy are a big deal in Catalonia. 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.
Elsewhere, 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.
A lot of the guest acts are only revealed at the beginning of September but this is the info so far:
A three-day firework competition will run from Friday 20 – Sunday 22. Take a blanket, a picnic and a few drinks and head to Barceloneta beach to take part in this truly fabulous spectacle.
The grand finale of La Mercè on Tuesday the 24th, also involves fireworks, on a very large scale (think 4th of July and you’re close).
Do your best to fit in a few of the BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical) concerts from 20-23 September. This year’s confirmed musical acts include groups from the US, the UK, Spain, Catalonia, Holland, Denmark, Argentina and Columbia featuring styles ranging from hip-hop to folk.
Internationally acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià is making the opening speech this year. He will be talking about the evolution, experimentation and culture of cuisine with a focus on the ingredients and methods that make up Mediterranean-style cooking.
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.
Traveling to and from the festivities can be a hassle. Grab yourself an apartment near Barcelona Cathedral in the centre of the action and don’t miss a single minute!
The first international artists to have been announced are rappers The Coup (USA), DOPE D.O.D. (Holland), The Future Of The Left (UK), Él mató a un policía motorizado (Argentina), Small Black, a band from Brooklyn, Denmark rapper Lucy Love and the Columbians Systema Solar.
When it comes to the Spanish, representing Catalonia are Pau Vallvé, Fur Voice and Los Hermanos Cubero, for Mallorca it’s Oso Leone, Pájaro will be the face of Andalucia, Orxata for Valencia and batting for Galicia is Unicornibot.