What is the La Mercè Festival?
La Mercè is a huge festival in Barcelona that takes over the city in late September. The purpose of the festival is to honour the patron saint of Barcelona, Mare de Deu de la Mercè, also known as Mother of God of Mercy, or Our Lady of Mercy.
The celebration is made up of many different festivals that all work together to capture the cultural richness of the city of Barcelona.
This year there are over 600 activities and events planned for the La Mercè festival, with the majority of the events occurring Friday, September 22nd through Monday, September 25th. For example, Sunday, September 24th there are 204 activities/events planned! From music and dancing, to fireworks, parades, street art, circus shows, and more – there’s bound to be something for everyone!
History of La Mercè in Barcelona
La Mercè has been celebrated in Barcelona since 1868. The holiday officially falls on September 24th, though La Mercè celebrations last for several days.
The festival honors the Patron saint of Barcelona, Mare de Déu de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy), who is thought to have performed several miracles to help people. One such legend says that this saint appeared to King Jamie I, Saint Pedro Nolasco, and Saint Raimundo de Peñafort all at the same time requesting them to assemble a religious order to save Christian hostages in the Holy Lands. Another notable legend says that Barcelona was plagued by locusts that didn’t go away until the Barcelona people called upon the protection of Our Lady of Mercy.
At first, the festival was celebrated in a very religious and conservative manner. It wasn’t until 1902 that the festival began to leave behind its conservative roots and become the culturally diverse celebration that it is today.
Gegants and capgrossos
Gegants and Capgrossos (giants and big heads) are a huge part of the La Mercè festival and Catalan culture as a whole.
Rooted in Corpus Christi celebrations, the Giants parade can be found in festivals all throughout Catalonia. These figures are crafted from paper mache as representations of important historical figures and symbols in Catalan culture. Rising above a lively crowd, the giants sway and dance to the drums and percussion of the parade music. Overall, this parade is a highlight of La Mercè celebrations and worth going to for people of all ages!
The Correfoc, also known as ‘fire run’, is an iconic, highly anticipated aspect of the La Mercè festival. The parade consists of diables and dracs (dragons and devils) performing mesmerizing dances amidst a breathtaking shower of thousands of fireworks.
Since the Correfoc can get quite dangerous, it is not recommended for children; however, an alternative is a fun, yet safe, junior Correfoc happening shortly before the main event. The main difference between the junior and the adult Correfoc is that in the adult one, firework flames are thrown to the people. So, if you are planning on attending the main event make sure to take extra safety precautions and wear protective clothing.
Another age-old Catalan tradition that makes up a huge part of the La Mercè festival is the Castellers, or human towers, a tradition that came about at the end of the 18th century and has been popular in Catalonia ever since. People get together and climb on top of one another, creating a human tower that is almost 8 stories high. To finish off the tower, a child will climb to the top. During the La Mercè festival, this event usually takes place in the Gothic Quarter.
Live music makes up a huge part of the La Mercè festival. So much so, that there is even an entire music festival itself within the La Mercè festival. The BAM (Barcelona Accio Musical) Festival is a series of free, outdoor concerts all across the city of Barcelona. Consisting of performances of all different music genres, there is something for everyone during the BAM festival. Ranging from electronic music to rock music, everyone will be able to find a show that they enjoy during the La Mercè celebrations.
The poster for La Mercè is yet another way that art is used as part of the festival to represent Catalonia’s rich history and culture. Every year, a different artist is chosen to design a new La Mercé poster with their own creative twist.
This year, in 2023, Barcelona native Chamo San was selected to design the poster. He chose to model his poster off a vertical human tower. At the very top we see an enxaneta, symbolizing La Mercè’s various smaller festivals. Many of the other individuals also represent La Mercè in their own respective ways. Overall, the poster pays homage to notable people from Barcelona’s cultural sphere.
The poster also draws inspiration from some of the previous La Mercè posters, like Sonia Pulido in 2018, and Damià Carulla’s from 1985. Other notable cultural figures can be seen on the poster, like writer Maria Mercé Marçal, painter Ramon Casas, dancer Enric Castan, and more.
The poster’s unique and innovative design reflects San’s personal artistic style, often revolving around a 1970s color scheme and typography with the black and white depictions.
Ultimately, La Mercé is more than just a fun festival – it embodies many aspects of the city of Barcelona in a way that not only celebrates, but also honours, that which is important to the city and its people. So, go out and celebrate La Mercè this year for a rich and exciting cultural experience!