The festival program of la Mercè is extensive and I am sure that temporary visitors or newcomers to Barcelona feel a bit lost about where to focus. These days provide a rare opportunity to see living Catalan folk culture in the centre of Barcelona and I therefore recommend you the activities as of below.
The name in Catalan (within brackets) takes you to a summary (in Catalan) about each activity where the exact address or route, respectively, can be found under the headline lloc.
Friday, September 19
At 19.00, Giants, fire spitting beasts, devils and other fictitious figures dance in a parade (Seguici popular) from Palau de la Virreina, on the Rambla, to the Plaça Sant Jaume. At 19.15, when all figures have left the Rambla, members of the bakers’ guild hand out sweet bread (La Festa del Pa). Later on, at 19.45 when all figures have reached the Plaça Sant Jaume, they will be presented through short performances accompanied by bell ringing and fire works (Toc d'inici i repic de campanes). Also, at 19.00, the musician Jaume Sisa will announce that the festa major has begun (Pregó de festa major). The ceremony takes place inside the town hall but can be followed live on a TV screen in the Plaça Sant Jaume.
Personally, I am not a big fan of the sardana, but it is a cherished symbol of the Catalan culture. For that reason, I assume that many local people will join the dance in the Avinguda del Catedral, at 19.00 (Sardanes amb la Cobla de Sant Jordi - Ciutat de Barcelona).
On the contrary, during the dragon parade (Passejada de dracs i bèsties de foc), starting from Plaça Sant Jaume at 21.30, heading for the Rambla via Plaça Nova, C/ Portaferrissa, and then going back again via C/ Ferran, you will have an exciting but noisy experience.
Saturday, September 20
The stick dance (ball de bastons) is the most energetic but also most popular of all Catalan folk dances. Between 11.00 and 12.50 you will see a lot of bastoners on and around Plaça Sant Jaume (Ball de bastons i Cercavila bastonera).
From 12.00 to 14.00, several couples of giant figures will be paraded through the Old Town (Ciutat Vella) and the quay area (moll) ('Homenatge a Jaume I: Cercavila de Gegants'). Since it is now 800 years since king James I (Jaume I) was born, the giants do not only come from Catalonia, but also from other cities which used to belong to his kingdom, eg. Perpignan in France and Valencia.
The afternoon will be dedicated to the Fire Run (correfoc). At 17.00, the timbales players (Tabalada del Correfoc) drum their way from the Rambla, via the Avinguda del Catedral and later Via Laietana to C/ Manresa. From there, at 18.30, children dressed up as devils (Cercavila de foc dels Petits Diables) will dance along Via Laietana up to Porta Cambó. This is an opportunity to show diables to small children, since the participants have sticks with spinning fires which spark, but do not crack.
At 19.30, when the dragon parade (Cercavila de Dracs i Bèsties del Correfoc) starts, you will hear the first loud explosions, and it will get even noisier at 20.15 in Av. Francesc Combó where the so called Gate of Hell (La porta de l'Infern: Inici del Correfoc) marks the start of the Fire Run. In the this (Correfoc), finally, as many as 40 groups of devils will dance through Av. Combó to Via Laietana and from there to Plaça Antoni Lopez and provide cracking fire for anyone who wants to join them under the flames. If you plan to do so, make sure to wear a hat, a long sleeved shirt and a neck scarf to avoid serious burns.
Sunday, September 21
This spectacular Sunday program starts at 10.30 with a parade of Falcons – those who build the acrobatic version of human towers (Cercavila dels Falcons de Barcelona) – from the Avinguda del Catedral to Plaça Sant Jaume. In that square, at 11.15 there will be performances ('Matí de falcons') by groups from Barcelona and Vilafranca del Penedès.
For those who prefer dance, at 11.00 in the Avinguda del Catedral there will be a competition between different groups of sardana dancers ('58è Concurs de Colles Sardanistes').
The highlight of the day will be the castellers assembling traditional Catalan human towers in the Plaça Sant Jaume from 12.00 onwards (Festa castellera de les colles convidades). Be prepared for a square full of people. Except for the local Castellers de Barcelona, also the Minyons de Terrassa and – the best ranked group – the Castellers de Vilafranca, will take part.
The afternoon is rounded of with a parade (Processó de la Mare de Déu de la Mercè) where the entourage of dancers and monsters which follow the Patron Saint will provide entertainment for the audience. It starts at 17.00 from the Plaça de la Mercè and takes the carrers Ample, Avinyó, Ferran and Bisbe in order to finish at the Avinguda del Catedral.
Monday, September 22
On the Monday, there are not any folk culture activities but, as during the other days, the program is full of concerts, fairs and happenings etc. And the three exhibitions related to Catalan traditions - as described at the end of this entry - are of course open.
Tuesday and Wednesday, September 23-24
The folk culture part of the festival program culminates during these two days, so I make my recommendations as a seprate entry, which you can find here.
Throughout the days there are three exhibitions related to the popular culture of la Mercè. The opening hours are 10.00-20.00 and entry is free of charge.
Dragons and other fire spitting beasts are genuinely Catalan, and until September 23 there is an exhibition about them (Mostra de dracs i bèsties de foc) in the vestibule of the Town Hall (Ajuntament). Children will like this.
Figures of giants are equally Catalan, and until September 23 some of them are exhibited at the Manning courtyard of the Casa de caritat (Mostra de gegants de Barcelona). Children will like this as well.
Until September 24, in the Palau de la Virreina there is an exhibition about the dancers and typical characters who follow as the Patron Saint Mercè’s entourage when she is being paraded ('El Seguici Popular de Barcelona').
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N.B. The links to address descriptions are removed once the activity has taken place ('aquest acte està caducat', in Catalan).
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