What to Know About Barcelona's La Merce Festival

What to Know About Barcelona's La Merce Festival

A guide to what to see and do during La Merce, one of Barcelona’s most fascinating festivals By: Natalie Chudnovsky
<p>Sprint alongside firework-wielding devils during La Merce’s fire run. // © 2016 Creative Commons user <a...

Sprint alongside firework-wielding devils during La Merce’s fire run. // © 2016 Creative Commons user julienlagarde

Feature image (above): Travelers can crane their necks to watch the procession of giants. // © 2016 Creative Commons user joeywan

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Barcelona’s nightlife, art and culture are most spectacularly epitomized by the La Merce festival, which encompasses some 600 (mostly free) events. During the nearly weeklong extravaganza, visitors will stumble onto La Merce everywhere they go, from the Barcelona Accio Musical acts sprinkled throughout the city to nighttime projection shows. The celebration dates back to 1868, when Pope Pius IX declared the Virgin of Mercy the patron saint of the city. The annual festivities culminate near the end of September, usually on or near the Roman Catholic feast day of Barcelona’s patron saint.

The exact schedule varies from year to year, so be sure to check the official website for details. Whether clients have planned a trip around the celebration or, like me, lucked out and happened to be in the right place at the right time, here are some of the must-sees of La Merce. 

Catalan Wine Fair
A recent addition to the La Merce festival itinerary is the Catalan Wine Fair, where visitors can taste wine and “cava,” a type of sparkling wine, from Catalan vineyards. More than 73 wineries attended the fair in 2015, so wine-lovers will find plenty to do and drink here.  

Circus Acts at Castell de Montjuic
Catalan culture is big on the circus, and checking out the various local and international acts at Montjuic Castle is a treat like no other. Onlookers will delight in watching jugglers, clowns and all sorts of gravity-defying artists show off their skills.

Fire Run
Though the origins of the “correfoc,” or fire run, tradition are more recent — dating back to the 1970s — it’s one of the most highly anticipated events of the festival. After the sun sets, performers dress up as devils and light fireworks, many of which are directed at spectators, who are advised to wear long-sleeved clothing and glasses. Booming drums, sparks and fire create an atmosphere of chaos. Visitors can immerse themselves in the revelry or watch at a safe distance along Via Laietana. Families with young ones may want to check out the children’s version of the correfoc, which is markedly safer.  

Human Towers
Travelers looking to vicariously overcome their fear of heights can head to Placa Sant Jaume to watch “castellers,” or acrobats, stack themselves into human towers. The lilt of drums and flutes signifies different phases of the construction of these “castles,” which sway up to 10 people high. 

Parade of Giants
Visitors will glimpse various processions throughout La Merce, but the most comprehensive is the main parade, during which people dressed as papier-mache giants march through the Gothic Quarter. Travelers can crane their necks to see queens, kings, biblical figures, beasts and dragons as they dance to the drums of accompanying percussion groups. 

To celebrate the end of La Merce, spectators fill Maria Cristina Avenue at night and surround the Magic Fountain for a display of water, lasers and fireworks. There’s no seating, so families with young children may want to say goodbye to La Merce earlier in the day. But if travelers don’t mind large crowds or standing, they can get their spots early and settle in to watch the show. 

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