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La Mercè Festival Through the Lens of a Barcelona Local

March 03, 2023
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
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La Mercè Festival Barcelona Photographed 

One thing about CEA CAPA’s onsite orientation that stuck out to me was that we should, without a doubt, stay in Barcelona for the festival of La Mercè. This would be a great way to connect with our host culture and enjoy unique activities that the city has to offer. 

Writing in charlk on one of the pop-ups in Placa de Ciutadella.

La Mercè, taking place in Barcelona, is a 4-day festival that honors the Catalan patron saint. The festival began in 1871 and is deeply rooted in the history and culture of Catalonia. I was told that it rains every year during La Mercè because the other saints are angry that they weren’t given a grand festival like this one. Lo and behold, it down poured the first night throughout the opening. It was so interesting to gain knowledge about Catalonia’s beliefs, such as this, as well as their folklore, culture, and history. Being able to celebrate La Mercé deepened my understanding of the Catalan people and their way of life. 

What I Captured

The Giants of La Mercè


In photo 1, you can see four Giants that we took a picture of within an exhibit. These big-headed figures, always with a partner, performed dances for us all throughout the weekend. Most were off-stage, but some dances were executed on a stage, despite them being extremely tall. I had never seen something like this before and was surprised to find out that this tradition is as old as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.  

Aerial view of Barcelona

Photo 2, titled L’Espagne A Vol D’Oiseau, translated roughly to Spain As The Crow Flies is an 1856 photograph from the Photographic Archives of Barcelona. This was one of the many exhibits that were free for entry this weekend. Seeing all of these old photographs helped me to understand the simplicity of life in Catalonia during this time. It is fascinating to compare that to the hustle and bustle that we see in Barcelona today. Fun fact that my friend learned in her photography class at CEA: people are hardly displayed/are blurry in old photos because they did not stay still long enough to be captured.  

Dancers performing La Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance.

Photo 3 took place before the opening ceremony of La Mercè. These dancers are performing La Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance. This performance is heavily connected to Catalan identity and nationalism. The dance takes place in a circle, with people of all ages, although the majority tend to be of the older generation. Their hands hold one another, and their arms remain lifted throughout the dance, representing the Catalan values of harmony, brotherhood, and democracy. At one point, Franco prohibited this dance, making it even more special to the Catalan people now. Watching this part of the festival was extremely meaningful to me, as I wrote a research paper on Catalan personal identity and its relationship to culture, using La Sardana as a feature that I intensely investigated. Despite spending many hours gaining information about La Sardana, it was not until I watched the dance in person that I truly understood its importance. It’s a memory of their freedom; it’s an expression of it and a way to tell their stories.  

One of the Human Towers we saw in the square.

Photo 4 is one of the Human Towers that we saw in a square. Different teams take turns climbing, using each other for support, until the last child reaches the top. The tower pictured is at least six, maybe seven levels high. The Human Towers continue to represent the Catalan values of unison and spirit. What a cool way to display culture, and thankfully, nobody fell! This cultural tradition allowed me to understand the adventurous and optimistic spirits of the Catalan people. 

Fire runs (Correfoc) is another essential element of La Mercè.

Correfoc, or “fire-runs,” seen in photo 5, is another essential element of La Mercè, taking place the second to last night. Most spectators wear protective cotton clothes during this night-time parade, as the performers, dressed in devil and dragon costumes, dance down the street swinging sparklers and breathing fire. This was an incredible event to watch, just make sure to be prepared for it as the locals were. 

My Pictorial Purpose

La Mercè was a wonderful festival and I recommend staying in Barcelona for it! Not only did I have so much fun exploring with my friends, but I also gained a new understanding of Catalan history, through photographs, texts, and museums, and culture, during the execution of various dances, towers, and runs. After experiencing La Mercé, I began to appreciate living in Barcelona in a different way.
View from Castell de Montjuic. You can see all of Barcelona!
This city is so much more than Gaudí’s architecture or soccer games at Camp Nou. There are hidden levels of history and culture that can only be seen when you look at them through the lens of a local. Celebratory events, such as La Mercé are the perfect way to strengthen this knowledge and deepen your connection with your host city.  

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