La Merce is the name of the annual festival in the city of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. This day is even an official holiday in Barcelona since the year 1871. In 1871, the local government organized a program of special activities for the first time. These activities and events were to celebrate the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, in Catalan La Mare de Déu de la Mercè. The actual feast day is September 24 each year. However, the festivities start a few days before.
La Merce Festival events are numerous during the festive days. Some of them have a long tradition. For example, papier-mâché giants were introduced as early as 1902, more than 100 years ago. Today they are one of the most important peculiarities of the festival in the Catalan capital. The "gegants i capgrossos" (translated as Processional giants from Catalan) perform a parade every year on the occasion of La Merce, which is one of the highlights of the festival. They also perform the dance from the Catalan region of Empordà. This dance is now very popular throughout Catalonia and beyond and is called the Sardana. But that's not all that you can experience during the La Merce Festival in Barcelona.
While the holiday used to have mainly local significance, today the La Merce Festival events attract numerous tourists and guests to Barcelona. Activities surrounding the holiday include events such as the annual Catalan Wine Fair. You can sample the best regional produce from the Catalan vineyards during the festival.
One of the key events of the La Merce Festival Barcelona Fireworks is the performance with synchronization of fireworks, water fountains and music. The performance is staged at the foot of Montjuïc Mountain.
Another popular event is the 10-km race held on the occasion of La Merce.
The festival of La Mercè has a religious origin. This festival honours the Virgin of Mercy. The Virgin of Grace is the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Barcelona. Together with Saint Eulàlia, she is also patron saint of the city. The word mercé has several meanings in Catalan. It means service as well as help, compassion as well as loving mercy. In the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, you will find a basilica dedicated to the Virgin. Here a wooden image of her is kept and lovingly venerated.
The festival has been celebrated since the Middle Ages. When Barcelona was struck by a plague of locusts in 1687, the Consell de Cent, which governed the city at the time, voted to ask the Virgin for help in its fight against the insects. When the city was freed from this plague, she was named patroness of the city of Barcelona. In 1868, the Virgin was recognized by the Pope as the patron saint of the city. This recognition was the official trigger of the festival. On the occasion of this recognition, the inhabitants of the city carry out the annual festival in honour of the Virgin.
During the week-long festival, nearly two million people attend the cultural and artistic performances that take place throughout the city. The traditional activities of the festival have their origins in the popular culture of Catalonia. Particularly noteworthy are the street parades, which once originated from the colourful processions that took place centuries ago to celebrate Corpus Christi. On each day of the festival, a special parade is held.
There are more than 600 events every year. They are spread all over the squares, streets, museums and parks of the whole city. Participation in the events and activities is free. During the time of the festival, the city's subways also run all night. Street theatre is also a special element of artistic events during La Merce. In addition, there are dance, circus concerts, and travelling shows, so there is a suitable program for everyone. In order to bring different cultures closer to the residents and guests of Barcelona, every year, as a part of the host city program, a different city from around the world is invited to present its culture and artists.
Castellers are called the human towers. They are a prominent part of La Mercè. Castells, Catalan for castles, are a kind of cultural phenomenon of Catalonia. In this speciality, human towers are built. This tradition originated at the end of the 18th century in Valls, in the province of Tarragona when rival groups called colles began to fight over the construction of different types of human towers. Participants build human towers by climbing on the shoulders of their fellow competitors.
Learn more about the La Mercè Festival in Barcelona