La Mercè

Every year, close to the end of September, the city celebrates its official festival. The festival commemorates the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, “La Mare de Déu de la Mercè” in Catalan, patron saint of the city. The holiday is on September 24, and there will be hundreds of activities and events during the week around it.

La Mercè from Barcelona Cultura on Vimeo.

The official program of the festivity has been published; check http://www.bcn.cat/merce/ . What follows are some highlights of what you can expect.

Open-air music and street performances

From Wednesday to Sunday, the city will fill with street circus, street theater, concerts of all styles, and parades of several types. The peak is on the nights of Friday and Saturday, when tens of bands will be playing simultaneously in various parts of the city, especially the Old Town. Walk around and, in a matter of minutes, move from pop to salsa to world music to electronic music to flamenco.


Correfoc (or “Fire Run”) is a traditional festivity in which “devils” and fire beasts parade and dance with fireworks and firecrackers on them, occasionally chasing the fools that get too close.

It will be held in the Via Laietana avenue, on Saturday 25th, starting at 20:00. It's crowded, very loud, spectacular, and fun — but keep your distance! Alternatively, wear cotton clothes that you don't value too highly.


Castells (meaning “castles”) are the most unique manifestation of Catalan folklore. Casteller troupes build human towers of different heights and shapes, crowned by children sometimes as young as 5-6 years. The record in height, achieved on a few rare occasions, is 10 floors.


A large castle may involve up to 600 people, and a casteller at its bottom may be holding 450+ kilos on his shoulders. While the construction may seem a bit haphazard and rough to outsiders, no detail is left for improvisation and sheer force isn't the main factor. Every single person in the castell has his/her specific place and mission. The technique for climbing up and down, including children, is precisely codified and rehearsed. The music is not for fun, but for synchronizing movements and informing those inside the castle of what is going on.

There will be two castell shows during la Mercé, both on Plaça Sant Jaume in the Old Town: On Friday 24th at 12:30, several Barcelona-based troupes will act; expect to see mostly 7-8 floor castells. On Sunday 26th, at 12:00, the largest Barcelona troupe will host the currently two best troupes; expect to see several 9-floor castles.

Note: it will be hot and extremely crowded. Carry some water and a hat.


La Mercè closes on Sunday at 22:00 with a large firework exhibition held on Montjuic mountain, held synchronously with music. The Plaça d'Espanya is the usual observation point. If you are staying in one of the hotels of the area, ask whether you can watch it from the rooftop.

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