The ‘Verge de la Mare de Déu de la Mercè’, has been the patron saint of Barcelona since 1687. It’s a title she has shared with the former patron saint, Santa Eulàlia. Since 1871 the festival of La Mercè has been celebrated, and this has also turned into ‘la Festa major de Barcelona’ – Barcelona’s annual festival day.
Highlights of ‘La Mercè’
Despite the fact that ‘La Mercè’ itself only lasts a day, the festivities are drawn out as you might expect. The date is usually linked to the nearest weekend for the celebrations to continue; this is especially for those outside Barcelona for whom it isn’t a public holiday, and they would like the chance to celebrate and join the party too!
Activities and events during La Mercè
There’s something for everyone during the Festes de la Mercè, whether for adults or children, and you’ll find a variety of interesting activities making up the programme of events. There’s music, street art end entertainment, fireworks and lights. These activities usually take place over three or four days, depending on the year, spread out during the mornings, afternoons and late into the evenings.
During the Festes de la Mercè, the Festival BAM, Barcelona Acció Musical, is also held, and many stages are put up in various spaces throughout Barcelona – for example the Parc del Fòrum, the Plaça Reial, the Plaça de Catalunya, the Plaça dels Àngels and the Antiga Fàbrica Damm. Several nationally and internationally recognised bands and artists, performing in a variety of styles, are featured throughout the festival on these stages. What’s particularly notable about these performances is that entry is free of charge to all of them.
As well as the musical offerings, you could say that light is another of the main features of the Mercè, since so many of the events have something to do with light. One of the highlights is ‘mapping’, in which 3D light effects are projected onto some of Barcelona’s most historic buildings (especially recommended the mapping on the Barcelona City Hall facade). Every year this spectacle becomes more impressive. One place in which you can watch shows that combine music, light, dance, theatre and other art forms is the Parc de la Ciutadella; from the morning until late at night there are continuous performances.
There’s no doubting the importance of fireworks during the celebrations, and in fact there’s always a firework show to conclude the Mercè Festival on the night of 24th September. This is of course not just any firework display – the fireworks are choreographed to music (‘Piromusical’), in a spectacular display that takes place at the Magic Fountains at Montjuïc. This has become a traditional event which is attended by the locals of Barcelona and neighbouring towns, as well as tourists who happen to be in the city at the time. As well as this firework show, there are also other displays on the seafront, on the previous evenings of the festival.
Celebrations of Barcelona’s traditions
The traditional celebrations take place as part of the Arts de Carrers – the programme of street entertainment, in which Gegants (giant puppets), Capgroços, Correfocs (displays consisting of people throwing and juggling with fire), Castellers, popular dances such as La Sardana (a traditional slow dance, performed in a circle) and other activities entice adults and children alike. Some of the best-known areas where the entertainment takes place are La Rambla and the Plaça Sant Jaume.
Buildings and museums that are free to enter
Many of Barcelona’s museums join in with the Festes de la Mercè by programming an open day, during which you can visit without paying anything. In addition to this, many of the buildings that aren’t usually open to the public, such as Barcelona’s City Hall, open their doors to the public.
La Festa al Cel
The next weekend to the closing party of La Mercè, all eyes are on the air festival La Festa al Cel, or ‘Party at Heaven’, such is the expectation that it creates. Everyone heads to Lleida-Alguaire Airport to watch a huge display of aircraft including commercial planes, fighter planes, helicopters plus many others entertain spectators.
Many of the activities are already perfect for children, such as the Festa al Cel and the fireworks shows. However, there are also bespoke activities for children, such as storytelling and workshops, all designed to develop their imagination.
Although as we’ve already explained, each La Mercè Festival is different, there are certain characteristics that are traditional each year. On the map that we have included below you can see where some of the regular features of the annual festival take place.