By Christina Madsen
La Mercè is an annual festival held in Barcelona that celebrates the Barcelona’s patron saint. La Mercè has been celebrated since the Middle Ages and is Barcelona’s biggest festival of the year. I was lucky enough to arrive in Barcelona just a few days before the festival started and was able to experience lots of unique Catalan traditions. The festival’s main events were on Sept. 24, but the festival lasted almost a week, with a ton of things to see and do everyday.
Here are my top three things I saw during La Mercè:
1) Castells – human towers
This is a really unique Catalan tradition in which castellers (the people building the human towers) work in teams, competing to build the tallest tower. It was really amazing to see how each person has a specific position and function. After building a solid foundation structure with the strongest people, people start to climb up the others and build levels of the tower. Only children are allowed at the top since they are lightest. Once they reach the top, they have to salute the crowds and then successfully climb back down. You could tell that everyone was kind of holding their breath as the kids had to slide their way down the towers, but somehow they managed to get down safely. The entire square was filled with thousands of people cheering on the castellers and it was such an awesome experience.
2) Correfoc – “fire run”
Even though it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life, the correfoc was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. My friends and I had heard that correfoc was a must-see event during La Mercè, but we were told to wear long pants, long shirts, hats, and sunglasses, basically anything that wasn’t flammable so that none of our skin was exposed. We were a bit skeptical and had no idea what to expect, but nevertheless we ventured out to see what this fire parade was all about. Before the parade began, there was a spectacular display of fireworks in the center of the square. The correfoc began when they opened the gates of Hell, literally; they opened these huge gates in the center of the square and released scary creatures like dragons and “diables,” people dressed like devils, into the streets. As the “devils” passed by, they spewed fireworks and showers of sparks at the crowds. This event seemed to drag on forever; after a while we tried to leave because we kept getting burned by the sparks, but since the streets were completely packed and fire-spewing devils were everywhere, we couldn’t escape. We found a small cafe to take cover for a while, but then had to venture back out to get home in time for dinner. By the end of it all we all had holes burned through our clothes and my friend even had a chunk of her hair burned off! It might sound like a nightmare, but despite those few moments of terror when we wondered if we would ever make it home alive, it was quite a unique experience that we will probably never get to do again.
3) Free concerts
Throughout the festival there were lots of free concerts all over the city too. One night my friends and I were exploring the city and found ourselves in the middle of a concert in one of the squares. Even though we did not know any of the artists, it was cool to hear some new music.