The patron saint of the city of Barcelona is the Virgen de la Mercé, and is celebrated every September 24th since the nineteenth century to dismiss the summer solstice and prepare for the arrival of the colder months.
A Mediterranean feast that brings back all the inhabitants of the city to enjoy music, dance and street entertainment with Giants, Castellars and Sardanas that dance to traditional instruments such as the “chirimía” a kind of hornpipe.
Guide - La Merce Barcelona
What is La Mercé?
The Giants that parade in the Gothic Quarter and Raval are famous, dancing with the big heads and delighting children and adults in the Sant Jaume Plaza.
Once immersed in the Catalan culture, you should not forget to see the incredible shows that are given by the “Castellers” in the Sant Jaume Plaza, you need to arrive early since the turnout is large. The merit of the human pyramids is due to the tremendous solidarity between the members of the “Castell”, on top of nerves and iron muscles.
The more experienced Castellers have formed pyramids to up to 9 levels tall, each level containing less people and less weight as the previous one, the last level is usually a kid. The aim is to assemble the pyramid and dissemble it cleanly, without falling any of the levels.
Like in all the celebration of the Spanish Mediterranean, fire cannot be forgotten, for Barcelona Merce, there are on top of fireworks, the “Correfoc” that are a series of dragons and demons that run through the streets throwing firecrackers and rockets. Although they are made for children and adults, it is recommended that you dress appropriately to avoid getting burned.
One of the latest attractions of these festivals that surprises tourists is the sound and light show called “Piromusical” which consists of a fireworks display synchronized to the beat of the music in the unique setting of the luminous fountains of Montjuic.
To close the festivities of La Merce in Barcelona, the feast of heaven has been held for the past few years, the second weekend of the holidays, a great air festival is put on for the kids and adults, with displays of acrobatic planes, war planes and trade planes over the skies of Maresme beach.
Origins of La Mercé
The festival pays celebrates the patron saint of Barcelona, the Virgin of La Mercé. A series of miracles are linked to the city are attributed to her.
Supposedly, on September 24, 1218, the Virgin of Mercé appeared simultaneously to King Jaime I, Saint Pedro Nolasco, and Saint Raimundo de Peñafort. In this apparition, the Virgin asked that they create a religious order to rescue the Christian hostages in the Holly Lands.
The next miracle came in 1687 when Barcelona was attacked by a plague of locusts. The people of Barcelona begged the Virgen de la Merced for her assistance. When the plague ended, it was believed that it was La Mercé that vanished the locusts, and therefore she was proclaimed patron of the diocese.
In 1868, Pope Pius IX declared La Mercé the patron saint of the city of Barcelona. That year, the city began to celebrate religious and popular festivals in honor of the Virgin of Mercy on September 24.
But it wasn’t until 1902 that the festival gained the popularity it enjoys today. That year there was an unprecedented number of parades, the appearance of the famous Giants from all over Catalonia, the first contest of castells was held and the popularization of the Sardana.
The festivities of La Merced as we know them today were born during the Spanish democratic transition when the Barcelona City Council decided to totally transform the city’s main festival into a celebration in which popular culture and citizenship took over the streets.
When is la Mercé?
The main festival of Barcelona, Spain is celebrated every year around September 24, which is the day of the Virgen de la Merced. The celebration lasts about a week and takes place in various public spaces across the city.
Around 2 million people flock to la Mercé every year who come to the city to enjoy the different cultural and artistic activities. It is the largest party of all those held every year in Barcelona.
The Giants of La Mercé
The Giants featured in la Mercé have been part of different celebrations since the 15th century. There is documentary evidence that in 1424, among the multitude of hors d’oeuvres that participated in the Corpus Christi procession, there was a representation with the “King David ab lo Jiguant”.
This giant was the first documented in Europe and represented a Goliath. The statue was paid for by the municipality. He considered to be the first giant of Barcelona.
The giants of La Mercé are always displayed in pairs. It is not known exactly how many different couples and figures have walked the streets of Barcelona over the centuries, but, at the end of the 16th century, their popularity began to decline, and even disappeared, but they made a comeback shortly after.
The month of September with more pleasant temperatures for tourists and taking advantage of the holiday celebrations of the Merce, is an ideal time to visit Barcelona and enjoy both its historical and cultural heritage, museums, parks, architecture and excursions to monasteries, coastal towns and wineries nearby.
La Merce is one of the icons that have built the identity of Barcelona. Like the FC Barcelona, or the Sagrada Familia from Gaudi, it has shaped the way the Barceloneses perceive themselves and are perceived by the rest of the world.
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