A festival of giant proportions

By | Travel
Castellers- human towers, performed in Plaça st Jaume square. Credit@wikimedia

Located within its eastern borders, Catalonia is the autonomous region of Spain that is home to one of the largest metropolitan areas of Europe. Neighboured by Girona, Leida and Tarragona, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and a Mecca for innovation and evolution. Shored by the Mediterranean Sea, this beautifully designed city is a melting pot of cultures, heritage and creation.

Barri Gòtic, Barcelona’s gothic quarter, the centre of the old city, is the centre stage for one of Spain’s largest festivals. Deemed the festival of festivals, over one million people travel to witness the week-long festival. La Mercè celebration holds nearly 600 events, designing one of the largest street parties in Europe.

The La Mercè festival’s history is built upon tradition and religion. Celebrated since the middle ages, when in 1687, the city of Barcelona incurred a plague of locusts. The governor of the city, Consell de cent, voted to ask for the devine virgin’s assistance. After deliverance for the pestilence, the virgin of grace – Mare de Déu de la Mercè was made the co-patroness of Barcelona.

Gegants, Giant effigies on the streets of St Jaume square. Credit@ Stasiu Tomczak via Flickr.com

Gegants, Giant effigies on the streets of St Jaume square. Credit@ Stasiu Tomczak via Flickr.com

In honour of their patron saint, the people of Barcelona organise a festival unlike any other. Split into five spectacles: Barcelona music action, street arts, la festival of tradition, festival of the sky and the fire festival; transforming the city into a bustling stage for performers, musicians and modern installations.

An annual guest city is invited to partake in La Mercè, representing their own culture to the people of Barcelona, to encourage the respect and understanding of diversity. Dancers, circus acts, theatre and music are popular platforms, with Medellin, Istanbul and Montreal a few of the cities who have previously been invited.

Since 1871, a feast day has been held for Our lady of Mercy, usually on September 24th, while the programme of activities commences throughout the week. Traditional features that were introduced in the 20th century are still important aspects of today’s celebration. Gegantes, paper mache giants, effigies of kings, queens and nobles march through the streets, usually followed by small percussion groups, creating a rhythm the giants twirl to.

Beautifully constructed Gegants parade through the crowd. Credit@travellersinformation

Beautifully constructed Gegants parade through the crowd. Credit@travellersinformation

The castell competition, a building tradition of human towers. Takes place in the Plaça st Jaume square, requiring tremendous team work and planning, teams work together to make human towers that are climbed by a child who must stand at the very top. UNESCO categorised this as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Other demonstrations include; Catalan wine fairs, Empordà dancing, musicals and Correfoc.

Correfoc takes place at dusk, along the Via Laietana. Special community groups are dressed up as devils who parade the streets with bangers and hand held fireworks. Fire breathing dragons glide through the crowd who are sprayed with fire and sparklers in this adrenaline fuelled parade.

Pyro musical show, La Mercè festival, Barcelona. Credit@ Miquel Gonzalez Page via Flickr.com

Pyro musical show, La Mercè festival, Barcelona. Credit@ Miquel Gonzalez Page via Flickr.com

The Plaça st Jaume is a main stage for many events, every evening a projection show is displayed across the infamous square. Images area projected on sides of buildings and along the Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia and City Hall. The La Mercè festival is sponsored by private donators and the city so most of the events within La Mercè are free to attend, aimed for all members of the family.

The La Mercè festival has been designed to honour the patroness and her qualities of; mercy, compassion and help, as well as incorporating the main aspects of Barcelona. A city of innovation, multi-culture, creativity and imagination, this week long street festival, is the largest in the city, full of the energy and atmosphere that resides throughout the gothic streets of Barcelona.

What might be learnt from the Spanish nation and their passion for celebrating their culture?


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