Les Festes de la Mercè

Friday 20th to Tuesday 24th September 2019

The Festes de la Mercè are Barcelona's Festa Major or Main Festival and festivities normally begin the a few days before the day of Barcelona's patron saint, the Virgin of the Mercè public holiday on September 24th and continue over the following weekend.

This year La Mare de Déu de la Mercè Saints' Day falls on the Monday and the multitude of activities in La Mercè 2019 are packed into 5 days from Friday September 20th to Tuesday September 24th.

The big events for me are the Pregò or Official Speech and subsequent opening ceremony in which Gegants, Capgrossos and other traditional figures of the Bestiar Popular fill Plaça de Sant Jaume and the Mercè Procession in which the Bestiar Popular parade around the streets of Barcelona.

Incidentally, the procession sets off from the Palau de la Virreina on La Rambla, so you can get a good look at these traditional figures if you visit during the afternoon.

The other big event is the Diada Castellera, which is one of the important dates in the annual Castells calendar so you get to see some of the best groups or colles of Castellers in action.

There are concerts of of all different styles throughout the city as part of the Mercè Música and Barcelona Acció Musical programmes and other types of performance and family events can be found at the Castell de Montjuïc, the Parc de la Ciutadella and the newly added Parc de la Trinitat.

You can consult the Full Programme on the Official Festes de la Mercè website.


Some Background

Although the Mercè Festival as we know it today dates back a little over a century, the relationship between La Mercè and the city of Barcelona has a long history.

Legend has it that on 24th September 1218, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jaume I, Saint Pere Nolasc and Saint Ramon de Penyafort simultaneously and asked all three of them to found an order of monks to rescue Christians imprisoned by the Moors.

Centuries later, in 1687, Barcelona was hit by a plague of locusts and the city prayed to Our Lady of Mercy or the Mare de Déu de la Mercè.

As soon as the plague was over, Barcelona City Council made La Mercè patron saint of the city but the Pope didn't ratify this decision until two centuries later in 1868.

It was this year that Barcelona began celebrating its annual festival around September 24th but it wasn't until 1902, under the then Mayor of Barcelona, Francesc Cambó, that the Festes de la Mercè began to be celebrated in the way they are today.

It was in this year that the first processions of papier-maché giants and big-heads - Gegants and Capgrossos - were introduced as well as a popular dance from the Empordà in Northern Catalonia known as the Sardana.

In the early part of the century, La Mercè provided the template for the town festivals celebrated all over Catalonia.

Although the festival lost some of its exuberance during Franco's dictatorship, with the return of democracy after the dictator's death in 1975 the Festes de la Mercè came back in true style.

Recently introduced traditions include an amazing Correfoc or Firerun, Castellers building Human Towers, the annual Catalan Wine Fair, a 10 km road race and the Piromusical, a display featuring synchronized fireworks and music as well streets full of circus performers and the brilliant BAM music festival.

You can consult the Full Programme of events on the Official Festes de la Mercè website.

Posters from Previous Years

Most years I write articles about my experiences during Les Festes de la Mercè, I was in London for La Mercè 2017 but here's some of what I did in 2016. If you want to add your own experiences, please use the form below to add photos and text.

  • Felipe V's Alternative Pregó by Toni Albà - The choice of Javier Pérez Andújar to give the official opening speech of La Mercè caused some controversy so comic actor Toni Albà gave an alternative pregò dressed as Borbón King Felipe V.
  • Keyframes: Sculptures in Parc de la Ciutadella - I went for a walk in the Parc de La Ciutadella on the morning of La Mercè and came across these fascinating sculptures, which apparently are called Keyframes.
  • Events in Plaça de Catalunya - I was walking around Barcelona City Centre on the morning of the Saints' Day of La Mare de Déu de la Mercè and it was great to see such a variety of events going on in Plaça de Catalunya.

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