Human towers, giants and fire runs are the essentials of Barcelona’s biggest and craziest street party. But along with the Catalan staples, make sure to take in all the other festivities of this dynamic bash: street art, circuses, fireworks, theatre, concerts and dancing. Here’s our list of Mercè favourites you just can't miss.
The Palauet Albéniz opens its doors for La Mercè and offers a cycle of shows and animation all day on September 19. Only on occasions such as this can you visit the interior of this impressive building built for the International Expo of 1929 which now hosts formal events such as official receptions. To avoid crowds, tickets to visit the palace will be given out every half hour from 11.30am until sunset. This is part of the MAC festival programme of theatre arts that are taking place in the palace, so in addition to admiring the architecture and the surrounding gardens, you can also enjoy a variety of shows at the venue.
Year after year the Fira del Llibre d'Ocasió, Antic i Modern is on in Passeig de Gràcia, featuring thousands of hard-to-find tomes. This year it will be between Aragó and Rosselló, and the featured writer is Girona-born writer Narcís Comadira, who will give the fair's opening speech. Look out for the 'Modernista Passeig de Gràcia' exhibition where the street meets with C/València, where you'll find books, posters, postcards, press and other documents on modernisme.
Just like last year, once again in Passeig de Lluís Companys, the Mostra de Vins i Caves de Catalunya brings together a group of cellars that represent 11 Catalan wine and cavas. You can taste singular vintages and discover the diversity and quality of these Catalan products, as well as get information about the wine culture in Catalonia and how that interacts with tourism.
The first two nights of the city's big party are accompanied by fireworks shows on Barceloneta beach. The 18th International Pyrotechnic Festival is brought to you by two teams of experts who come from near and far for the occasion. On Friday the 18th at 10pm, Pirotècnica Jordà, from the Balearic Islands, will be shooting off rockets for the first night. They've got more than 70 years of experience with special effects for the cinema, television and all kinds of shows, but their speciality are fireworks castles. Their signature is three palm trees that mark the start of the sequence. On Saturday the 19th, also at 10pm, Fuegos Júpiter from Buenos Aires will show off how they earned their reputation throughout South America and at events in cities like Cannes, Geneva and Montreal. It promises to be a show with very creative fireworks that leverage the latest innovations in the field, all combined with music.
Catalan funnyman and chat show host Andreu Buenafuente will give the opening speech this year to get the festivities of the Mercè celebrations going. Once the speech is finished in Plaça Sant Jaume, the beasts (giants, bigheads, etc.) come out to play via the main door of the City Hall to perform their traditional dances, particular to each figure, to the sound of the music from the Ministrils del Camí Ral. A special piece is dedicated to Ovidi Montllor, as this year marks 20 years since the death of the singer-songwriter. When the dances are over, the characters will parade around the square again before fireworks shoot from the rooftop of the City Hall, marking the official start of the celebrations.
Under the name 'International Circus Combination', at the Castell de Montjuïc you can see acrobats, clowns, jugglers and other specialists in the circus arts who come from France, Finland, Germany and the United States, as well as a handful of Catalans. Ale Risorio, a clown who was born in Buenos Aires and lives in Barcelona, is the master of ceremonies, and students from the Rogelio Rivel Centre of Circus Arts will perform as well.The main participants are the Circ Pistolet (Catalonia; balance boards), Jimmy González (France/Spain; juggling with mud), Wise Fools (Finland; triple trapeze), Felix & Flow (Germany; acrobatic bicycle) and Trío Anneaux (France/Spain/USA; Chinese acrobatic rings).
Walking from the Plaça de la Mercè to Plaça Sant Jaume, this parade is made up of The Barcelona Municipal Band and the figures of the Cortejo Popular, among which are the Macers Capgrossos (bigheads); the gegants (giants) from Barcelona city, Pi and Santa Maria del Mar; the Bou (ox), the Drac (dragon), the City Àliga (eagle) and the Mulassa (donkey). New this year is the Colla del Ball de Bastons del Seguici de Barcelona, which is a group formed by members of several city stick-dancing troupes, putting on a big show for La Mercè. At the tail of the parade are the 'castellers' (human tower builders), who will be performing the daring 'walking column'.Halfway along their route, the paraders stop and remain silent while the eagle and the Barcelona city giants do their ancestral dance along with the music from the Municipal Band. When they get to Plaça Sant Jaume, the day of human tower building (Diada Castellera) gets underway.
Once the parade ends up in Plaça Sant Jaume, the city's big annual 'castells' (human towers) show starts, bringing together all the groups of human tower builders ('castellers'): Castellers de Barcelona, Sants, de la Vila de Gràcia, Poble-sec, Sagrada Família and the Colla Jove de Barcelona youth group.
The spectacular games of lights and projections onto the City Hall building this year will take the form of hundreds of Barcelona residents who've sent in their photo to participate. Last year the videomapping was a story that twinned Stockholm with Barcelona, and this year will put a local face on the festivities.