The main festivity of the city of Barcelona, the Fiestas de la Mercé –or Fiestas de Nuestra Señora de la Merced- is a celebration in honor of the city’s patron Virgin, the Virgin of the Mercy. The cult is long established in Barcelona and in many other parts of the world (France and some South American countries are also very devoted to this Virgin) since almost the XIII century.
According to the tradition, a Catalan priest called Pedro Nolasco, who was very worried about the continuous Moorish attacks that made many Christians captive, started praying to the Virgin to help him in his task of freeing these prisoners. Supposedly, on the night of August 1st, 1218, the Virgin appeared to him while he was at prayer, and commanded him to found an order with the mission of liberating the captive Christians. He told his vision to king Jaime I, who had also experienced a similar revelation, and thus gave all his support to the order’s foundation, which happened just ten days after the apparition, and was approved by Pope Gregory IX in 1235. The order rapidly gathered many adepts, who gave their lives for the freedom of the captive Christians. It is estimated that, until 1779, more than 60,000 captives were released by the Order of the Mercy (Orden de la Merced).
The Fiestas de la Mercé as we know them today started in 1871, after the Virgin of the Mercy was named patron saint of Barcelona in 1868. The celebrations revolve around the Mediterranean culture, including more than 500 different activities for all tastes and ages.
The main celebration centers around three squares: the square of the Cathedral, the Plaza del Rey, and the San Jaume square. In this last one takes places one of the most spectacular events of the feast: the parade of the Giants. People dressed in costumes of Giants come from all over Cataluña and parade the streets and squares in a unique eye-catching and colorful dance without equal in Spain.
Another interesting event that occurs during these Fiestas is the Correfoc, where a group of people disguised as demons run around the city’s streets, jumping and dancing amongst fireworks. This parade completes a route that starts at San Jaume square up to the end of the Ramblas, and is accompanied by dragons and the cuques (cockroaches). The end of the party happens at the Montjuic fountains, with a spectacle of lights, music and fireworks at night.
Another element, very typical of the Mediterranean culture is the Castells, human towers in which both men and women of all complexions and ages take part. There are many different variants that can be built, some more spectacular than others, but all of them very impressive. For this reason, they have been declared by UNESCO to be a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Every other year there is a competition held at Tarragona’s bullring, in which participants from all over Cataluña and Valencia take part.
Apart from all these events, in the recent years a new attraction has been introduced in the form of an alternative music festival called BAM, that showcases the latest and most interesting national and international bands of the alternative music scene.
If you happen to be in Barcelona at the end of September, the Fiestas de la Mercé is a date you cannot miss!