While venturing through Andalusia, Spain last year I decided to make a quick side trip to Barcelona to meet up with friends from Australia who were holidaying in Europe. Organised rather hastily, I hadn’t done any research or made any plans other than to catch up with my friends. Little did I know, it was going to be very busy those two days in Barcelona. It turns out I had stumbled upon the city’s La Mercè Festival.
La Mercè is an annual city festival that honours the city’s patron saint, Mare de Deu de la Mercè. The festival, which lasts 4 to 5 days, sets the city alive with parades, events, music and lots and lots of people. In fact, this year’s event has just finished yesterday. For those trying to sightsee in the heart of Barcelona during the festival, it’s going to be tough going. There are crowds of people surging through major streets like La Rambla and Carrer de Ferran, transforming everywhere nearby.
After I had met up with my friends, we decided to unwittingly head towards to Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla. As we reached the square we began to sense that this part of the city was busier than expected. It wasn’t until we see La Rambla that we knew the scale of the crowds. The immense avenue that heads past the Gothic Quarter to the waterfront was a sea of people.
Once we joined the crowds in La Rambla, we realised that there was a parade going on, the Giant’s Parade. The Giant’s Parade is a popular event with kids, as oversized Gigantes – paper mache effigies – resembling kings, queens and nobles pass by. I really wish I could share photos of these fascinating idols, but sadly my hard drive with all the photos of my time here was corrupted and I’m left with the few shots still on my phone.
During the festival, a lot of city pride is shown. In particular, everywhere throughout the city centre you could see both the city flag of Barcelona and the regional flag of Catalonia. There were likely more flags this year than others because a few days later, Catalonia was set to have its regional elections. These elections were seen as an unofficial referendum on Catalan independence, further ratcheting up regional pride and flags.
Aside from the parades and crowds, there was also several fairs occurring in Ciutadella Park. This included a wine and food festival and many stages, offering free live music. Watching the live music you could especially feel the jovial, community atmosphere as people from all ages and walks of life sat or stood to enjoy the eclectic mix on offer. There’s also a “fire run” that looks a little crazy and something we sadly missed.
It’s strange to think that I visited Barcelona and failed to see iconic places like La Sagrada Familia or Güell Palace. Another visit to this famed city is certainly on the cards, so I can see the sights that make Barcelona famous. However, the opportunity to spend time with my friends surrounded by the immense and spirited La Mercè Festival felt like a unique one and such a wonderful experience.
For more information on La Mercè, you can see the city’s local guide here.
Have you arrived in a destination to find yourself amongst a festival or big local event? Please share your stories in the comments below.