To celebrate the end of the summer, the city of Barcelona organises La Mercè Festival. The massive street party takes place during 5 days from the 20th to 24th of September. The main day of celebration is on the 24th and is a bank holiday. So no surprise if few people are at work and enjoying themselves in the streets of Barcelona. Various events occur during that period and you probably want to make sure you could make the most if. That’s why we thought about and we elaborated this guide for La Mercè festival of Barcelona.
The origins and customs
The festival is a tribute to the patron saint of Barcelona, who is credited with a series of miracles linked to the Catalan capital. On September 24, 1218, the Virgin of Mercy – la Virgen de la Mercè – appeared simultaneously to King James I, Saint Peter Nolasco and Saint Raymond of Peñafort. The Virgin ordered them to establish a religious order to rescue Christian hostages in Saracen lands.
In 1687, Barcelona was attacked by a plague of locusts and the inhabitants invoked the protection of the Virgin of Mercy. When the plague ended, they proclaimed her patron of the diocese. This title was shared with another patron saint, Santa Eulàlia.
It wasn’t until 1868, with Pope Pius IX, that it officially occurred. In that same year, around September 24, Barcelona began to celebrate religious and popular festivities in honour of the Virgin of Mercy.
Now, every first day of the celebrations (on Friday 20 September this year), the bells of Santa Maria del Pi basilica marks the starts of the festivities at 05.00 PM.
The poster of La Mercè festival of Barcelona
Every edition has its unique poster. For the second time, the Barcelona native artist Maria Corte Maidagan designed the 2019 edition poster.
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After reviewing the iconography of the Virgin of Mercy, the artist discovered that it was also a popular image in South America and the Caribbean. Therefore, she depicted a saint similar to many people from Barcelona. She is a woman of colour either born her or an immigrant, like Maria’s parents. Local folklore like castellers, musicians, sculptures of Miro’s style and even some beast of fire compose the colourful hairstyle. The latter is topped by a sea in which a ship sails like those that rescue people in the sea.
Find the previous editions’ poster by clicking here.
Since 2007, La Mercè festival invites a city to take part in the festivities and shares its cultural talents. After Lisbon last year, Beirut is the guest city in 2019.
The Lebanese capital is an important artistic hub in the in the Arab world. La Mercè festival will showcase in the domain of theatre, dancing, street art and cinema the world deserves to discover.
El pregón – or the announcement – is one of the key events of La Mercè festival. It’s the inaugural speech of the festival before the celebration starts. It’s usually written and read by a remarkable personality linked to the city of Barcelona. This year, el pregón will be read by Manuela Carmena.
She is a lawyer, judge and Spanish politician who was mayor of Madrid from June 2015 to June 2019. She moved to Barcelona in 1966 fleeing repression. All along her lives she has been involved in political and social associations.
Location: Plaça Sant Jaume
Time: 06.30 PM
Traditional Catalan folklore
Since 1902 some activities are still currently part of the programme of the festivities. Its a proud display of the traditional folklore of Catalonia. From gegants (Big-headed characters) to castellers (human towers), falcons, ball de bastons and sardana dance performances are some of the highlights of the events. Although they occur in several parts of the city, you can usually see them in Plaça de Sant Jaume and Placita de la Seu.
Later on, more events were introduced and that are worthy to discover. Correfocs led by groups of “devils” offer a pyrotechnic show through the streets of Barcelona. Make sure you don’t miss them as they’re a genuine and impressive Catalan tradition.
Most of these activities will take place on September 24 all-day long around Plaça Sant Jaume and the street of the Old City. So make sure stroll around the streets of the Gothic Quarter, El Born and El Raval to spot them.
Several sorts of processions and other events complete the programme of La Mercè festival. Find the programme per day here:
- Opening Procession – 07.00 PM – Starts from La Virreina Palace
- Sardana dance – 07.00 – 08.40 PM – Placita de la Seu
- Toc d’Inici (beginning of the festivities) – 07.45 PM – Plaça Sant Jaume
- Procession of Dragons and fire Beasts – 10.00 PM – Starts from Plaça Comercial
- Galop de la Mercè (dance) – 11.00 AM – Avinguda de la Catedral
- Bastoners (stick dancing) – 11.00 AM – Starts from Plaça Sant Jaume
- Tabalada (drums parade) – 05.00 – 06.15 PM – Starts from Plaça Comercial
- Correfoc of La Mercè – 07.45 – 08.30 PM – Starts from Plaça Antoni Maura
- Falcons – 10.30 AM – Plaça Sant Jaume
- Sardana danca – 11.00 AM – Avinguda de la Catedral
- Traditional dances – 11.30 AM / 05.00 PM – Palauet Albéniz
- Castellers (human towers) – 12.00 PM – Plaça Sant Jaume
- Sardana dances – 06.00 PM – Plaça Sant Jaume
- Cercavila de la Vígilia (“giants” dances) – 06.00 PM – Starts from Plaça de la Mercè
- Giants’ Xambanga (parade) – 08.45 PM – Starts from Plaça dels Àngels
- Morning Procession of Grallers (Pipers) – 08.00 AM – Starts from Carrer Ample
- Galejada trabucaire (Blunderbuss display) – 09.15 AM – Starts from La Rambla
- Anada a ofici (parade) – 10.45 AM – Starts from Plaça de Sant Jaume
- Giants’ procession – 12.00 PM – Starts from Plaça de la Mercè
- Dances of the eagle and the Giants of the City – 12.30 PM – Plaça de Sant Jaume
- Castellers – 01.00 PM – Plaça de Sant Jaume
- Cavalcade of la Mercè (Parade) – 06.00 – 07.00 PM – Starts from Carrer de Pelai
- Sardana dance – 06.15 – Plaça de la Mercè
- Toc a plegar (closing procession) – 08.30 PM – Starts from Plaça de Sant Jaume
Fire and lights
For more explosions, the “Piromusical” show proposes a splendid firework show coordinated with the Magic fountain of Montjuic. The synchronisation of the music with the rockets create an impressive spectacle for the ears and eyes.
Location: Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina
Time: 10.00 PM
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For the XXII International Fireworks Festival, the beach of Barcelona will also be the stage of a massive firework. It usually happens between Sant Miquel and El Somorrostro beaches in La Barceloneta.
Location: La Barceloneta beach
Date: 20 and 21/09/2019
Time: 10.00 PM
Video mapping of the City Hall
The façade of the City Hall will be illuminated by a fascinating video mapping show every night of the festival. The show will celebrate the art of the Catalan poet Joan Brossa in a visual performance. We recommend you to head to Plaça de Sant Jaume quite early as the place gets really packed.
Friday 20/09 – 09.15 PM – 12.00 AM
Saturday 21/09 & Sunday 22/09 – 08.30 PM – 12.00 AM
Monday 23/09 – 10.30 PM – 12.00 AM
Tuesday 24/09 – 08.45 PM – 10.00 PM
For more than 25 years, Barcelona Acció Musical (BAM) has always been part of La Mercè festival. It has become a festival renowned for discovering emerging local and international talents from various music genres.
More than 40 groups perform on various stages across Barcelona with their proper and original sounds. In this way, BAM is a musical celebration profoundly connected with Barcelona and La Mercè festival blending technology, performing art and traditions. It is one of the emblematic signs that Barcelona is a creative and innovative city.
You will find the full programme with each band here.
The Race of La Mercè
Sport is also on the programme of the event. On September 29th, the 41st edition of the Race of La Mercè or la Cursa de la Mercè, takes places. It’s actually the second oldest one in Barcelona.
In 1900, sports events began being part of La Mercè festival. Festival goers were first able to see a bicycle race, and later on a 500-meter pedestrian race in the Ciutadella Park. The first race of La Mercè occurred on September 24, 1979.
Over the years, the race has had several distances, between 8 and 11 kilometers, and different routes. The hardest ones were in the first years until the mid-nineties, when runners had to go back and forth to Montjuïc.
You’ll find the route below on the map.
Location: Plaça Espanya
Time: 09.00 AM
Free culture in museums
Especially for this event some museums of Barcelona will be open for free on Tuesday 24 September. Some historical buildings will also be part of it.
Here is the list:
- Pedralbes Monastery
- Picasso Museum
- Palau de la Generalitat
- Montjuic castle
- Science Museum (Museu Blau)
- Museu de la Música
Some of them might extend their free entrance for more days. Visit their websites for more information.
Performing art has charms to soothe the savage breast
As part of several activity groups, various other free events like concerts and performing art shows and workshops will take place around the city. Find the complete programme day per day here.
Day without cars
See all the activities here.
Where to stay
To be able to make the most of La Mercè festival is to stay in the Old Town of Barcelona. This is why we think of our customers’ comfort when we select our holiday apartments. Some of our luxury short-term rental properties are in the heart of the action of this event. So, visit our website here to book the most suitable apartment for your stay in the Catalan capital.
Check the map below for you to have better idea of where to go during La Mercè festival.