La Mercè festival barcelona

Art, Culture, and La Mercè: A Newcomer’s Adventure in Barcelona

Patrick Hourihan, an American college student, found himself immersed in the enchanting festivities of La Mercè for the very first time. This festival is a vibrant celebration of Barcelona’s patron saint, dedicated to fostering cultural and artistic expression, and it takes place in late September each year. Struck by the festival’s boundless creativity and the sheer joy it brought to the city, Patrick was inspired to share his experience with the readers of FrikiFish. 

Join us as we journey through the eyes of a newcomer and explore the captivating world of La Mercè, where art, culture, and celebration collide in a symphony of colors, music, and tradition. 

correfoc fireworks

Correfoc: dancing with fire in the streets

Translated as the ‘fire run’ in Catalan, Correfoc is a spectacular and lively street performance that captivates the senses. Performers don demon and dragon costumes, dance to rhythmic music, and brandish fiery props. 

The “Diables,” wear thick, protective attire and masks to shield their bodies from the flames. Some are adorned with horns and carry tridents or pitchforks. The “Dracs” are large, colorful, and intricately designed dragon sculptures that can be carried on poles or wheeled through the streets as part of the Correfoc procession. These works of art are adorned with elaborate details, including painted scales, moving parts, and pyrotechnics. They serve as a focal point of the event, captivating the audience with their vibrant appearance. In some Correfoc celebrations, the dragons may even breathe fire or emit sparks, adding to the fiery spectacle.

correfoc barcelona
Correfoc performance and celebration

The artisans who build these sculptures work closely with event organizers and artistic directors to conceptualize the design and appearance of the demons and dragons. They often draw inspiration from Catalan folklore, mythology, and traditions to create sculptures that are both visually striking and culturally relevant.

There was an exhibition of Correfoc demons In the Mercat del Born during the festival, allowing the public to see the intricate sculptures up close without the risk of getting burned.

devils at La Mercè
Demon exhibition at Mercat del Born, during La Mercé.

Now getting back to the performance itself, before the march commences, there’s a breathtaking display of fireworks, setting the stage for this symbolic battle of good versus evil, an embodiment of participants’ joyful celebration of spirit.

Remarkably, the event is not as perilous as it may initially seem. While there are inherent risks, the fire department is on hand, and participants wear protective clothing. 

This event quickly became my personal favorite at La Mercè. I ran alongside the performers and danced amidst the demons, reveling in the thrill of the moment. It struck me that an event like this would never be allowed in the United States, and it was precisely this sense of extraordinary thrill that I found so appealing.

If you plan to attend La Correfoc, I highly recommend wearing a thick sweatshirt, a hat, gloves, and other protective gear, which I regrettably did not do. Nevertheless, I had an incredible time, and to my surprise, the performers and marchers were remarkably interactive with the crowd. It’s an experience that defies expectations and leaves an indelible mark on anyone fortunate enough to witness it.

demons at La Mercè festival barcelona
Demon exhibition at Mercat del Born, during La Mercé.

Human Pyramids: A Towering Tribute to Catalan Culture

The tradition of constructing seemingly impossible human towers is deeply rooted in catalan culture. The foundation of the pyramid comprises a multitude of individuals forming its base. As the tower ascends, participants must become progressively lighter and stronger. Consequently, it’s not uncommon to witness a child, known as an “enxaneta,” ascend to the pinnacle of the tower upon its completion, symbolizing the Catalan flag. 

Added to the exhilaration of the towers themselves, is the friendly competition between Casteller teams. Picture this: different teams, some clad in dark red attire, others in stripes, all sharing a common goal – to build the tallest and most intricate human pyramid.

castellers La Mercè festival
Castellers during La Mercè Festival

In the western world, the phenomenon of human pyramids has gained popularity through social media. Personally, I was oblivious to this tradition until viral videos began circulating on social platforms. Before my visit here, I made it a personal mission to witness one of these breathtaking spectacles in person. 

The inherent sense of danger and the profound demonstration of human capability drew me to this event. It truly embodies art in human form, with each person relying on the next, much like a chain of dominos where one small mistake could lead to the pyramid’s collapse. I found myself deeply appreciating the rich roots and passionate culture of the Catalan people.

To my surprise, this event was even more crowded than the Correfoc. This can be attributed to the rich history and the sheer excitement surrounding the human pyramids. There was live music, and people waited for hours just to secure a vantage point. However, this event didn’t feel like a competition; it felt more like a collective celebration of Catalonia’s rich heritage. The camaraderie among attendees, along with the genuine appreciation and admiration for the beauty of the human pyramids, was palpable. Each incremental advancement in the pyramid was met with a collective gasp from the audience, making it seem as if the audience was an integral part of the pyramid.

This event undoubtedly lived up to the hype and was well worth the journey to experience firsthand. The construction of the ‘castells’ transcends mere physical strength; it is a testament to the power of teamwork and culture. It demands trust and a deep reliance on each other’s abilities. Witnessing this display of unity and trust was an experience I had never encountered before in person. If you happen to find yourself in Barcelona during La Mercè weekend, watching the Castellers is an absolute must. The passion and unwavering support displayed by the crowd make this event even more remarkable.

By Patrick Hourihan and Amelia Johannsen

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