La Mercè is the major Barcelona festival of the year, highlighting very Catalan traditions. Originally to commemorate the feast day of one of the city's patron saints, Our Lady of Mercy (24 September), the event has expanded to over three days of festivities. At the opening ceremonies on Thursday night, the huge papier maché figures known as gegants paraded and danced through the crowd in the old city. Over the weekend, the wines and cavas (sparkling wine) of Catalunya were exhibited in a festival along the harbour. Tasting was reasonably priced, and buying wines was pretty cheap - a reserve bottle for 6 euros!
Friday and Sunday we watched castellers representing each Barcelona neighborhood vie to construct the tallest human towers. The base is made with a sheer mass of castellers locked together (we should note that in our pictures, the first layer you see is actually the second level). Note the helmets on the kids - that's apparently because one child actually fell and died a few years back - and the castellers biting on their collars - that is so their shirt doesn't start to slip as someone is climbing up on their shoulders. It was an amazing spectacle... although admittedly, not for the faint of heart, as when the castellers start to shake and the tower begins to sway, the crowd is collectively holding its breath. We actually saw 2 different towers collapse, and everyone was okay, but seeing a pile of people including kids free fall from several stories high is just absolutely terrifying.
Another example of how gutsy - or crazy - Catalans can be is the Correfoc, or fire run. The Gates of Hell, ironically erected near the Cathedral, open with huge fireworks and drums booming. Diablos, again representing different neighborhoods, run around with torches and spray the crowds with fireworks. The streets are packed so ash and sparks are continuously falling on everyone, and apparently, later at night, the diablos actually start chasing people! In all fairness, the announcements for the Correfoc do actually carry a warning for wearing proper attire: long pants and long sleeve shirts of non-flammable material, hats, and goggles if you got'em (How is that for PPE?!).
The adjunct BAM festival hosted free concerts all three evenings in cool venues all over the city. We got to see Goldfrapp in the massive Parc del Forúm, Ok Go and Belle & Sebastian overlooking a historic Estrella Damm factory (brewed in Barcelona since 1876), and a couple of smaller bands next to a Christopher Colombus monument. One evening we went home at 3:30 am and were still considered early birds for it!
Even Pepper got a little into La Mercè festivities. The city park where we walk her was filled with special light displays, tapas stands, and a disco area. The fantastic laser show we wandered into near the entrance, which went off on its smoke and light display every few minutes, did make her suspicious.