La Merce 2011
September 28th, 2011 by

La Merce is a large festival that marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall, and this year was held over the four day weekend that just passed. I, personally, had a great time this weekend wandering from event to event but before I get into what I did, here is a short history from the official Barcelona website:

La Mercè, patron saint of Barcelona

The legend goes that on the night of 24 September 1218, the Virgin appeared simultaneously to King Jaume I, Saint Pere Nolasc and Saint Ramón de Penyafort. She asked all three to create an order of monks dedicated to saving Christians imprisoned by the Saracens. It was the time of the wars of religion.

Centuries later in 1687, Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts, and placed itself in the hands of the Virgin of La Mercè. Once the plague had been overcome, the Council of the City named her patron saint of Barcelona. The Pope did not ratify this decision until two centuries later, however, in 1868.

The origins of the Annual Festival

After Pope Pius IX declared the Virgin of La Mercè the patron saint of the city, Barcelona began to celebrate a festival in the month of September. La Mercè really took off in 1902, when under the leadership of Francesc Cambó, the festival became the model for those that are currently held all over Catalonia. However, La Mercè would continue to suffer advances and setbacks extending throughout the Spanish Civil War and the years of Franco.

The Festival today

With the arrival of democracy, La Mercè became a truly popular celebration thanks to the participation of organizations from all over the city. Today it is a festival held in a large number of public places with a program centered on Mediterranean culture. In less than a week, Barcelona brings together a huge variety of events among which one must choose: street art displays, processions, concerts, traditional dances … -

So, basically to me La Merce means lots of music and some pretty cool cultural events. There were 6+ outdoor music stages spread around the city, some in large plazas or parks and some wedged more intimately in small spaces between buildings. I really enjoyed walking between the concerts and catching a little bit of a bunch of different bands. It was especially enjoyable because most of the bands I had never heard of and when walking to a concert I didn’t always know what to expect. I think my favorites were a Japanese Jazz ensemble called Pe’z and a Canadian rock band called the Little Scream (the singer wore bright orange high tops. how could it be bad?).

One of the other highlights was a light show projected onto the city hall. None of my pictures do it justice but it’s pretty self-explanatory and worth watching the video.

Another thing that I absolutely loved and at the same time terrified me was a Catalan tradition called castell. It’s a competition between teams from different towns, the goal is to make the highest or most complex human tower. This wikipedia article gives a better idea of the rules and history than I could and is actually very interesting but basically the point is to as seamlessly and quickly as possible raise a tower and then break it down with as few missteps as possible. The tower is completed when the smallest child has reached the top and holds up four fingers. She then climbs down the opposite side of the formation with the rest of the team following her. The towers are built on top of much larger group of people with essentially support beams pushing in to disperse the weight and stabilize the core. The actual tower contains either 1, 2, 3, or 4 people per level depending on the tower being attempted. The world record tower is 10 levels (but the top three little girls count as three levels) and reach over three stories high.

Now, if you want to be really terrified watch the video below:

(Sorry, it’s actually my video and I couldn’t load it on this site and I also couldn’t turn it right-side up)

So, the video depicts the end of a tower as the smallest child holds up her four fingers, then as the tower begins to breaks apart, the second smallest girl becomes the top of a second tower within the first tower. It is one of the hardest formations and we actually saw this team try this formation twice, the first time they fell a little. Consequently and much to the annoyance of the people I was with I spent most of this two hour event whispering over and over again, “No child of mine. No child of mine.” As a person from the most litigious country in the world I could not grasp allowing your five year old to climb four stories of people without any protective gear and the very real possibility of falling (though I am told that it is very rare that anybody gets seriously injured). However, as much as each tower terrified me, it was also thrilling and a thoroughly enjoyable event to see.

Viva La Merce 2011

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