A Brief History of La Mercè

24/09/2021 - 11:02 h

Some short texts and a series of photos and posters sum up the history of La Mercè, a festival that the City Council first organised 150 years ago. The exhibition is open from 24 September on Passeig de Gràcia, and later at other festival locations.

It consists of four big cubes, with reproductions of images and posters on each of their sides showing the different stages that Barcelona’s biggest festival has been through, starting back in the early days with the very first edition in 1871 when Sardana dancers from the Empordà, and the Xiquets de Valls with their human castles all came to the capital, right up to the 2021 celebrations, all of which shows what a strong desire there has always been to keep the festival alive, even in the most difficult of times.

You can see the exhibition on Passeig de Gràcia on 24 September, and also on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 September at the Palau de la Virreina, the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Parc de Joan Miró.

At all these locations you’ll discover more about the history of a Mercè that first took shape as a people’s festival between 1871 and 1901. Artistic and folklore performances started to be featured from 1902 onwards, but times were uncertain during the first part of the 20th century.

Official and religious ceremonies were a part of the Mercè in the time of the dictatorship of General Franco, who wanted to turn the celebrations into yet another opportunity for the exaltation of the regime. Nonetheless, in the years leading up to the re-establishment of democracy, it became more of a people’s initiative and more festive elements were added.

The arrival of democracy in 1979 made it possible to rethink the Mercè, which from then onwards would combine tradition and folk culture with the performing arts, and would include innovative, modern shows. This new festival model was consolidated between 1992 and 1995, when it took on its current form with popular events such as the Correfoc (fire run), the Seguici Popular and the Toc d’Inici which include a whole host of popular cultural events, the classic Mercè procession, human castles and MercèDansa.

These multitudinous events characterised the festival at the end of the 20th century, but today a shift towards decentralisation and greater participation has taken the festivities out and about all around the city.