Six days of festival fun with more than 600 things to do including street art, traditional ceremonies and cultural events, circus performances, live music, dance and fireworks in some of the most emblematic spots in Barcelona. With so much going on to celebrate the city's patron saint, how do you decide what to do? To get you started, we've pared down a list of the top 11 things to do during the Barcelona's big party.
One of the most anticipated parts of the Mercè festivities is without a doubt the programme of concerts and DJ sets. Every year Barcelona vibrates with the sounds of top local and international groups that you know and love, and of course it's always great to check out new acts to fall for and add to your playlists. This year there are a total of 89 concerts from groups representing 14 countries, who will fill the official stages with their own particular sounds. Check out all the free music at Plaça dels Àngels, Plaça de Sant Jaume, Plaça de Joan Coromines, the Moll de la Fusta, the Antiga Fàbrica Damm, Plaça Catalunya, Av de la Catedral, Av de Montjuïc, the Parc del Fòrum, and the new 'Mediterràniament' stage at Bogatell beach. From pop to hip hop, electronic to reggae, everyone will be able to dance to their favourite beat.
La Mercè and Culture Festival of Stockholm (this year's guest city) have jointly produced the show that will be projected on the facade of City Hall. It's a creation by audiovisual communication studio NueveOjos, which has developed the script with David Lillo, of the Central Attic of Screenwriters. For the first time, the 'mapping' at the Mercè takes the form of a fictional story. The project, directed by Mariona Omedes, tells a love story between two buildings where it will be screened: Barcelona's City Hall in Plaça Sant Jaume and Arvfurstens Palats, home of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Catalan illustrators have also collaborated on the project.
This year's Mercè pyromusical show is a special one: not only does it bring the festivities to a spectacular close, but it also bids 'adéu' to the tricentennial celebrations that commemorate the end of the 1713-1714 siege of Barcelona. Fireworks, audiovisual projections and scenic elements come together in this event that has become a Barcelona classic. Don't think you've seen it all already just because you went last year or the year before, because this year there are new surprises you haven't seen in previous editions: with the help of projections on a giant screen, the show takes you through 300 years of the history of Catalonia via the dreams of creators who have helped make Catalonia better-known throughout the world: from Salvador Dalí and Antoni Gaudí to other important figures such as Pau Casals and Joan Miró.
Although the the human towers are a tradition with roots in the south of Catalonia, the Mercè converts Barcelona into the place to be to see the 'castellers' in action. Every year these daring groups come to the city to pay tribute to the patron saint with their best efforts. Of course the hosts of the party will be there as well – the Barcelona Castellers will build towers along with other invited guests: Terrassa Minyons and the Vilafranca Castellers. If you hang out waiting for groups of castellers in Plaça de Sant Jaume, you'll get to see them parading in from the Palau de la Virreina.
The Asia Festival celebrates its 13th edition this year with a total of 11 international performances over the course of 6 days on 8 different stages in Barcelona. And the best bit is that 10 of them are free. (The performance of 'Don Quixote, the Knight-errant' from the Guizhou Peking Opera costs just €6.) More than 150 artists representing 13 Asian countries are set to participate. Where can you see them? In the Plaça dels Àngles, the Plaça Joan Coromines, the MACBA auditorium, the Francesca Bonnemaison space, the Plaça de la Catedral, the Ateneu Barcelonès, the Modernist Sant Pau building and the CaixaFòrum. You've got plenty of chances for a meeting with Asian culture.
In the early 20th century in the Parc de la Ciutadella there was a funfair called Saturno Park. La Mercè is getting in on the vintage trend and bringing back an amusement park like those that were around in the 1950s and 1960s. It's taken the collaboration of many to pull it off. The company Comediants, directed by Jaume Bernadet, introduces us to characters like Madame Brigitte Rebost and Don Genaro Estraperlista in a show that involves all the senses. Meet Herta Frankel's magnificent puppets, take a spin on the carousels, ride the ponies, enjoy all the extravagant attractions of France's Régis Masclet, and the 'Automatàrium' show from the David Berga company, featuring automatons that seem so real that they just might be at that. At Saturno Park you'll get non-stop surprises, humour, dance, street theatre and more. And the park doesn't close at night, when you'll find singing busts, lights and colours in the waterfalls... all the fantasy and magic of a park that lives on.
As usual during the Mercè festivities, Montjuïc Castle hosts contemporary circus arts from Mercè Arts de Carrer. Some 30 circus companies from around the world gather at the castle for three days to perform various techniques and disciplines. Companies from here as well as from Sweden, France, Argentina, Mexico and the United States will show off their stuff. The Montjuïc Castle Combined Circus has been coordinated and directed from Stockholm by director and choreographer Hans Marklund. Coming from Stockholm are Jan Unestam, Patrik Elmnert 5 & Toni Pezzo, and Anton Graaf & Einar Kling-Odencarnts. Catalan artists include Guillem Albà, Les Capgirades, José Luis Redondo, Irene Estradé and Sergio González.The Ateneo Popular 9Barris bring a combo of six international and local companies of trapeze artists, jugglers, rope walkers and acrobats.
Although the beasts involved in the 'correfoc' (fire-running) have a long tradition of breathing fire, the 'correfoc' as it is known now was born in 1979 and started out as part of a Show of Fantastical Beasts that included mainly Catalan groups outside of Barcelona. The show, with beginnings in traditions such as the dance of the devils that was being performed as early as the 14th century, was born again with the name 'correfoc' and became an instant hit that ended up defining the Mercè festival but that also grew quickly to become part of most of the big celebrations all around Catalonia. The route of this year's 'correfoc' goes from Plaça de Antoni Maura, along Via Laietana and Plaça Antonnio López. You're advised to follow the safety precautions so everyone can enjoy the night without incident.
On Wednesday the 24th you get the honour of bearing witness to La Mercè at its most traditional. If you didn't celebrate too hard the night before, you'll want to get to Plaça de la Mercè for the 8am wake-up call of the grallas (traditional Catalan reed instrument). At a quarter past, it's an exhibition of blunderbusses and the start of the parade route. When the 'trabucaires' in their traditional dress carrying the blunderbusses arrive at Plaça Sant Jaume (10.20am), it's time for the offical start of the day with a formal ceremony full of symbolism. At 11am the end of the offical ceremony is marked by the sound of the starting gun that signals the entrance of the 'gegants' and the XXI Show of the Dance of the Giants, and the walk of the dwarfs and giants. At noon it's time for the dances of the eagle and the city giants. At 12.30pm the grallas sound again to signify the start of the city 'castellers' who will build their human towers in Plaça Sant Jaume. In the evening, at 6pm, head to Plaça del Rei for a choral concert, or watch the parade as it leaves from C/Pelai. And that's not all. There's still the traditional Catalan sardana dance at 7pm, the gralla concert and the Toc a Plegar – the last dance of the giants before they go home to the Palau de la Virreina and wait for their next big event, the Santa Eulàlia festivities in February.
The first edition of 'Van Van. Mercat Gastronòmada' takes place on September 19, 20, 21, 23 and 24 in the Parc de la Ciutadella, as part of the Mercè festivities. For five days (with the 22nd as a day off), the Parc de la Ciutadella fills up with food vans and trucks spread out all over the park where cooks from various countries and food specialities offer visitors a wide range of quality, healthy and affordable eats. This project attempts to make good use of public spaces as a form of celebrating and sharing through good food. It's a civic street project that turns squares and parks into a giant dining room.