Mosaic / Special Topics / Study Abroad / September 29, 2010

Knox Abroad: Barcelona’s Mercè festival

The Mercè, a Barcelona festival named after the city’s patron saint, begins the week of Sept. 20, but it truly kicks off that weekend, from the 23rd to the 26th. There were a multitude of events, including human towers, dancing giants and fireworks, all held in different areas of Barcelona.

The Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona, where all the skaters hang out, got a jump-start on the festival September 18 with its all-day concert called Hipnotik. There were DJs, rappers, a freestyle contest, breakdancers and even a reggae band (reggae is all the rage around here). There were many stages all over the city, including at the Park de Ciutadella, which hosted the Festival del Llum, the Plaza San Jaume with human towers called “Castellers” and fireworks in the Av. Reina Maria Cristina.

“We were really close to the group called Poble Sec and it was very impressive, but at the same time I was afraid they were going to fall on us,” junior Mandy Bigham said.

People from all over the world, including Germany, Ireland and Japan, came to witness the Festival Mercè. One of the most popular events was the Correfoc, a parade of devils and dragons dancing in sparks of fire.

On the last day of the festival, you could sit on the pavement high up in the mountains by Mont Juic in the Plaza Espanya to witness a pyro-musical. In the Plaza Espanya, you could witness the Fuente Mágica (magic fountain) light up in various colors, listen to music such as Queen or the Beatles and watch fireworks in the backdrop all at the same time.

“This is the best weekend I have ever had. Seriously,” said Emily Close, a 28-year-old Irish spectator, after seeing the fountain show.

How did the festival start and why is it called Mercè? According to the official website (, its history began in 1687 although the festival did not take on its present form until 1902. In 1687, Barcelona suffered a locust plague and placed itself in the hands of the Virgen Mercè.

When the plague was over, the local government named her the patron saint of Barcelona. The Pope did not ratify the decision until two centuries later, in 1868. This marked the beginning of the September festival, but it was not until 1902 when Francesc Cambó turned it into an example for all of Catalunya. The festival suffered its good and bad points throughout history, particularly during the Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, but over the years has become what we recognize today as La Mercè.

In addition to the traditional events, it was easy to check out tons of new bands thanks to the Barcelona Musical Action, in which music stages were placed throughout the city. There were all kinds of music, like reggae, indie and hip-hop. They even had a French swing alternative rock band called Poutrelles Fever. During MTV week, Goldfrapp played in Park Forum. Ok Go and Belle & Sebastian played September 25 in the Antiga Fàbrica D’Estrella Damm.

“I went to see Goldfrapp out of curiosity. The festival was cool but tiring. Imagine four days of festival,” says 18-year-old Rafael Quezada Rivera, a study abroad student from Mexico.

Aside from the large events, there were some small and unexpected ones that had to be discovered in the streets. Near the beach, there was a street with candy wrapper decorations overhead, complete with Latin jazz and a crowd ready to dance. Nearby a traditional Spanish band was playing drums, a sax and an acoustic guitar.

“Sometimes it’s just best to relax and enjoy the little things,” Close said. “This was the perfect end to the perfect day.”

Zoe Hatton

Tags:  barcelona off-campus study Spain study abroad zoe hatton

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