It’s time to start getting ready for La Merce Barcelona 2018
. Every year in early fall Barcelona
throws this massive, largely free, street party. Imagine a city-wide Festa Major
and then multiply that by about 100 and that’s La Merce. This is, without doubt, Barcelona’s biggest party so if you’re visiting Barcelona in September between the 21st and 24th, you have to check it out. To help you along, we’ve put together this rough guide. Enjoy.
Who and What is La Merce?
Okay, so La Merce, or Mare de Deu la Merce as she is officially recognized, is the Patron Saint of Barcelona. She is kind of a big deal in the Catalan capital. So much so, in fact, that every year the city explodes into a carnival of color, fireworks, and music for a weeklong, mega-bonkers festival in celebration of her. Why you ask. Well, let’s find out.
Although La Merce festival Barcelona, in its modern iteration only dates back to 1902, the festival’s origins begin with the La Merce herself. The story goes a little like this...
On a chilly September night (the 24th to be exact), 800 years ago in 1218, La Merce made an appearance. Not once, not twice, but three times. All in one evening and all at the same time. The lucky trio she visited? King Jaume I, Saint Pere Nolasc and Saint Ramon de Penyafort. Her message was clear and simple, establish an order of Monks to help save Christians imprisoned by Saracens (Muslims) forces.
Message delivered *poof* she disappeared.
Four hundred odd years later, in 1687, she returned. This time though it was to save an entire city, the city of Barcelona. Suffering from a plague of locusts, La Merce rid Barcelona of the winged pestilence. The townsfolk were obviously very grateful. Have you seen what a mass of locusts can do? Me neither, but biblical references paint a pretty devastating picture. So, they made La Merce the patron saint of Barcelona
- It’s Official, let the Celebrations Begin
In 1868, the Pope made it official and ratified La Merce’s status as Patron Saint. Thus marking the beginning of the celebrations.
At first, the festival was little more than a religious procession that involved carrying a depiction of La Merce through the streets. Slowly, over time, the celebrations grew more elaborate, but not before suffering through the Spanish Civil War.
Much of Spain suffered under Franco and his fascist government including the Catalans and their culture. Franco believed in a centralized Spain and worked hard to squash out anything that fell outside of his vision.
In Catalonia, this meant language and many of the distinct cultural flourishes that make the region what it is were forced underground. As a result, festivals such as La Merce, and the popular Festa Majors, suffered.
Not until after Franco’s death in 1975 did life rush forth from the dark recesses of his fading oppression and explode with vibrant energy. And, La Merce, in a celebration of liberation, cultural identity, and heritage, took new form as a bigger and better festival.
La Merce Today
Today, La Merce is dubbed the biggest party of the year and is a weeklong affair that sees the whole city participate. As well as being a celebration of Catalan culture with gegants (giants), capgrossos (big heads), castellers (human castles) and a correfoc (fire run), La Merce also celebrates Barcelona’s cultural diversity. All the streets of Barcelona come alive as people go to watch live performances, eat food, listen to music and enjoy each other's company.
A Woman’s Merce
Over the course of the last 40 years, only 12 women have opened the festival, and only three have designed its official poster. So, this year La Merce places women center stage.
This is beautifully communicated through the festival’s poster. Designed by Sonia Pulido, the poster is a colorful illustration of a woman standing tall and dancing to music played by an all-female band in the background.
Opening the this year’s festival is a screenwriter, actress, and film director, Leticia Dolera. Born in Barcelona and soon to film a television series in the city, Leticia has been an active member of the feminist movement. To watch her opening speech via a live stream on a giant screen, head to Placa Sant Jaume at 6.30 pm on Friday 21st.
The Guest City: Lisbon
Every year, since 2007, Barcelona's La Merce festival has invited a city from around the world to participate in the city’s celebrations. In the last two years, La Merce has paired up with Paris (2016) and Reykjavik (2017), but other cities have included, Dakar, Saint Petersburg, and Montreal. This tradition brings together different cultures, encouraging cultural exchange through food, live music, and performances.
For La Merce Barcelona 2018, Barcelona pairs up with the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. One of the scheduled highlights of Lisbon’s representation at this year’s festival is Fado Music. Fado is traditional Portuguese music, think Portuguese blues. It emerged from the working class neighborhoods and docks of Lisbon.
Keep an eye out for Cuca Roseta and Camané, who will be performing as part of La Merce’s two musical festivals: BAM and Merce Musica.
What to expect: La Merce Barcelona 2018
If you’re visiting Barcelona in September, then you cannot miss La Merce. No, that’s meant quite literally. It will be happening all around, so throw yourself into it and have a great time. For the full program visit La Merce official website
. Otherwise, here are some of the traditional events you can expect at La Merce Barcelona 2018.
These enormous papier-mache giants are a fixture of pretty much every Catalan festival. They come out throughout La Merce for street parades in which they move hauntingly above the crowds and break out into dance. For families with kids, the Gegants are a great, family-friendly way to introduce your little ones to Catalan culture.
Similar to the Gegants, Capgrossos, which literally translates to big heads, are, well big heads. These, too, are a fixture of many of the festivals in this region and are also worn during parades.
Watching the Castellers is breathtaking. The word stems from the Catalan for castles. Except instead of them being made of brick and mortar, they are built using people. That’s right. The Castellers are human towers. People stacked stories high, with no support except the people whose shoulders hold them up. Most astonishing is the castle is crowned by a child, who must stand upright and lift their hand high into the air before the castle can be “dismantled.”
- Correfoc, Fireworks, and Lightshows
The Correfoc, or fire run, is one of the most impressive parts of La Merce Barcelona 2018. This event originates from the medieval tradition known as the Ball de Diables and consists of an open-air performance where people dress as devils and demons and charge up and down the streets of Barcelona with fireworks. The atmosphere for this event is electric. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and trousers when attending.
If the madness of the fire run doesn’t sound like your thing, not to worry. Over the course of the festival, there are several firework displays to enjoy and some beautiful light show too.
Tips and Advice
Barcelona is recognized the world over for its pickpockets
. Now, while this is not enough of a reason to stop you from having a good time, you do need to be conscious of it. Leave any unnecessary valuables at home, and keep your cash in a travel wallet you can secure to your person.
Not that you ever have to worry about “not getting in,” but popular events will be packed with big crowds. So, if you don’t want to get stuck behind the tall tourist, or the Dad with his kid on his shoulders, then head in early.
La Merce always has so much on its program that it pays to sit down and plan what you want to see and when you want to see it. Although it is great fun to head out blind and see where you end up, adding a little structure to your festival experience will make it a better one.
The fire runs are an event that everyone should try to experience, but a lot is going on, and the fireworks may overwhelm young kids. It’s also important to wear the right clothing. Although generally a safe event, it is still wise to put on long sleeves and trousers as the firework sparks fly everywhere.
The most important part of La Merce Barcelona 2018 is to remember to have fun. This is a fabulous festival that gives you a real sense of the Barcelona’s diverse, vibrant energy. So, throw yourself into it because it’s an unforgettable experience.
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