September begins. Holidays and summer are finishing, beaches are almost empties and most of the tourists are already in their countries. Students are coming back to universities and there is lots of cloudy and rainy days. But we also have good news, great news: we still live at one of the craziest cities on the world and September is a special month in Barcelona! Local or tourist I'm sure that you have heard about "Fiesta de la Mercè", one of the biggest and most important event of the city.
What is it?
Is an amazing event, a "must go", specially if you're and erasmus student or if it's possible that you'll be only once in your life at Barcelona in this moment of the year. People from diferent places over the world are coming to Barcelona because of the festival, so if you live here or if you're in holidays you shouldn't miss it.
If you're new on the city maybe you just heard about it but you don't know exactly what is Fiesta de la Mercé. Let's say that is the biggest steet festival in Barcelona! It lasts almost 1 week and it promoves mainly Mediterranean culture. There's a lot of differents events and atractions: folk dances, parades, concerts and theater. Beyond these ones, there are a few activities that are the most populars of all them, as the castellers (human hugh towers), parades of giants and beasts, the BAM independent music festival and the famous Correfocs (a dangerous activity where people run with demons and beasts that carry fire and flares).
A rising star
This festival became really popular and grows every year thanks to lots of local people and tourists that enjoy it every year. There is more than 100 of activities, so if you really want to exploit it, you will have to be very organized and inform yourself as much as posible. You will probably have to decide between two or three events that you like so is very important that you read as much as you can of everyone of them.
For security reasons and for and to organize all the events, Barcelona the City Council decided to move forward the festival, which was supposed to start on November 23th. Considering that parliamentary election will have place on November 27th the festival will starts on friday 18 and will end on thursday 24 with the feast of La Mercé.
Most of the activities are free and they will have place in public spaces, as squares and parks. There is only some of BAM concerts that will ask for the pay of a litle comission, but almost all the concerts they're for free too.
History of Festival de la Mercé
It's official since 1871, but if you want to undestand its origin and legend we have to go back almost 800 years. The story starts the night of 24th September 1218 when Virgin
Si bien es oficial a partir del 1871, para comprender su origen hay que remontarse a la noche del 24 de Septiembre de 1218, cuando en plena época de confrontaciones religiosas, la Virgen appeared to King James I, San Pedro and San Ramon Nicolasco Pedrafort entrusting the mission to create an order of monks destined to save Christians prisoners by the Saracens (it was an age of religious wars).
Much later, in 1687 the Catalan capital suffered a plague of locusts so they entrusted to the Virgin of La Merced. When it was over, the City Council's named Virgin patron saint of Barcelona, a decision which was corrected by Pope Pius IX two centuries later, in 1868. From the year 1871 was declared official, but the festival becames really important since 1902 when Francesc Cambo organized a Major Feast that became a model for Catalonia.
The festival grew up even more with the end of Franco regime and the beginning of democracy. Today lots of local organizations help to lead this amazing event.
Toc d'Inici (Opening Official Ceremony)
Opening Ceremony has place at "Plaza de Sant Jaume", at Gothic Quartier, between the City Council and "la Generalitat". This activity is famous because it shows for first time all the beasts and giangts locally knows as the "Seguidici Popular". They will leave the City Council and will walk dancing to the crowds. Besides the prestigious orchestra of Cami Ral will play next to them.
Each element of "Seguidici Popular" has its own history and song. Catalan kids loves this beasts, specially ones called Gigantes del Pi.
Fireworks will explose on the roof of "Ayuntamiento" marking the beginning of the festival. You will literally feels the fireworks explosing above your head, so you should know that it will be a noisy spectacle.
If you want to attend to Toc d'Inici we recommend you reach Plaza de Sant Jaume as soon as possible because is one of the busiest events of the festival. You should also take with you something to drink because is quite long.
Another very important fact to note is that at the end of Toc d'Inici will be some 3D shows using the facade of the town hall. Is a dazzling show. If you are interested you can find on You Tube "Miratges, Barcelona" and you'll see what I mean.
Castellers (human castles)
This one is another of the most populars and famouse activities of the festival. Castells it means "Castel" in catalan and Castellers are the human being that will make them. Usually there are two differents competitions: the local one (only people from Barcelona) and other one with guests from all the region of Catalunya. Besides this sport is becoming really popular in others countries (specially in Chile and India), so is possible that in next editions will play an international team.
The members try to build towers ranging between 8 and 10 layers and are usually young children those who build the higher layers.
This activity is one of the most popular and attracts many people. The competition invited group will occur on September 20 in the Plaza de SantJaume generally from 1200, while that of Barcelona will take place on 24 from 12.30. You must know that streets leading here are usually closed.
For larger towers usually ask help to viewers. No one is forced to participate, but if so it is recommended to listen carefully to instructions.
Please note that the Castellers do not develop only in this festival but are held throughout Catalonia in different seasons, so it may not be essential to attend during the festival.
For obvious reasons the activity is suspended in case of rain. If you will go then don't forgot wear sunscreen and bring cold drinks.
Maybe the most famous and interesting attraction of the festival and also one of the newests ones (the first one was in 1979). It has really lots of fans and crowds consider it like the "highlight of the festival. There is more Correfocs in Catalunya in different seasons, but this one is the bigger and more famous of all of them.
Usually there are two Correfoc. One of them is child and another principal. It is a spectacular parade of demons all the city and each is accompanied by its own beast and music.
It is a dangerous and high-adrenaline activity because each demon brings light firecrackers that they light up on the road, which are accessible to any viewer who tries to chase them or grab them by the way. Viewers should be careful with sparks that produce them burns and in some cases injuries. There is a big difference between child and adult correfoc, mainly in danger. The child has smaller fireworks that don't produce the same explosions.
We must clarify that there are risks in this activity, that's why official participants (dressed as beasts and demons) are dressed in costumes thick canvas, gloves and goggles. We recommend that if you go to participate don't wear your best clothes and try to cover your eyes and skin.
At the end of the Correfoc, Barcelona firefighters often bathe the crowd with their hoses, it is on you decide ifr you want to go crazy with the rest and get wet or if you prefer stay outside, in which case you must be careful and stay away.
As in all crowded activities we recommend arriving as early as possible and take considerable number of soft drinks. A very important tip is that if you want to be running and jumping among the sparks, you will realize that musicians are "off limits" to the demons and beasts, so you can take refuge there.
Both will take place at Via Laietana. The children one will begin at 6:30 PM and the adults one at 8:15 PM. However, they're usually delayed.
It's a peaceful parade where you will see all the typical figures and monsters from Catalunya and the rest of Spain. Giants and beast walk by traditional music. It's another unmissable festival activity.
At the end of the Xambanga usually distribute sweets and candies to children who have stood up until the end of the parade. There is also another habit, although not offcialy accepted, which consist in throw flour.
The parade will begin on September 23 at 9:00 pm at the Maritime Museum and ends with the arrival at the Plaza de Sant Jaume.
It is one of the final activities of the Festival and at the same time one of the most amazing and crowded. It takes place at the end of the Avinguda de Maria Cristina, facing the imposing National Museum of Art.
It's a massive 30 minutes show with music and fireworks which incorporates the famous Fonts Magica.There have been in recent years between 300,000 and 400,000 people attended the event. Enjoy the fireworks are not inconvenient because you can see them from different points without any problems, but keep in mind that if you want to enjoy the fountain show, then you will have to be there from very early, that is, go at noon or in the afternoon. Many people install around and traditional picnic with cava (is like catalan version of champagne), cheese and sausage. If you have thought about doing something like this, we recommend wearing comfortable clothes that you can sit on the floor (beyond the sidewalk and pavement there are not many places to sit down).
Another tip that can be quite useful is that, unless you're in a hurry, we recommend you stay a little longer in the area, after the end of the event. People it binds Plaza España Metro, so it's usually collapsed. Wait half an hour can make your way back home much less stressful.
Música y BAM (Barcelona Acción Musical)
For many people this is the essential and main attraction of the event. There are more than 90 concerts of great diversity and international recognition. There will be groups of 13 countries and in turn many regional talents and emerging groups that are presented too.
Concerts take place in various public places in the city, but the most important will have place at Plaza Catalunya, the Avinguda de la Catedral, Plaça Reial, Placa del Rei, Parc del Forum (especially the "hardcore" concerts) and MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art).
BAM activity and "Mercé Música" are different but they complement each other. Together they propose a varied program to all the audiences.
"Mercé Música" opens on Friday with a Turkish-Greek group called Moussakis. They will play in Plaza de Sant Jaume, while Saturday will be the first milonga in the history of Fiesta de la Merced, coming directly from Buenos Aires. On Sunday 20 and Monday 21 jazz will star, with the Sant Andreu Jazz Band and the proposals of the Taller de Musics.
Meanwhile, the BAM is set to new talents of pop, rock, folk and electronica to compose a sign that grows up year after year. This edition features 29 groups of more than 13 different countries. The main performances will take place on a stage in Plaça dels Angels, including the Chinese group Da Bang, the Canadian one Metz and Loop, an emergent british group. The international stage will be leaded by the british trio Crystal Fighters and the typical presentation in Antiga Fábrica Damm.
On Friday and Saturday BAM and Merce Music will perform together at the Forum on Friday 18 and Saturday 19. In "Plataforma Marina" will be presented Mashima and Delorean, two of the busiest bands. Meanwhile, in "l'Esplanade" there is going to be a post-punk where Shopping will play. The Amfiteatre receive the visit of Madrid quintet The Punsetes.
Other activities of interest
The wine festival attracts tourists and locals who want to spend the day tasting wines and champagnes of the region, which are internationally reputed. If you are a sociable person probably you end your day talking with small wine producers and their families.
The presentation of Partnerships, or "Muestra de Asociaciones" takes place in the Plaza Catalunya and is the opportunity given to many social groups as charities, sports or dance to have greater social exposure. You will probably find some independentists groups and charitable organizations. Is a good choice if you're interested in various aspects of local society.
In conclusion, we recommend you to organize as much as possible to fully enjoy the festival and informe you about each activity. Please note bring refreshments and sunscreen to the most popular events.
As I told you, the Merce Festival attracts tens of thousands of locals and tourists, so it will be a very active week in the city. The nightlife will be crazy and nightclubs expected have full and busy discotheques. If you want to go party in Barcelona sign in for free in the Guest List through NightsApp.es and secure your spot on the best nightclubs.