Published on August 14th, 2012 | by Adrian Simpson0
Castellers del villafranca! La Merce Mayhem
In Britain the end of ‘summer’ isn’t really something to be celebrated, the probability of rain changes from highly likely to definite and the transition is often greeted with complaints of the dark nights closing in on us and the fact that we now have to wear a pair of gloves to bed . But as we Brits are scanning the shops for our new winter coat, the Catalonians are celebrating the end of summer and whole-heartedly greeting a cooler autumn with La Merce, Barcelona’s largest street party.
The festival first took place officially in 1902 and is held in honour of Mare de Due de La Merce, the patron Saint of Barcelona. It’s jam-packed with a whole host of arty events, such as street performances of music and drama and giant puppets roaming the streets, and we all love a bit of artiness don’t we? But it really wouldn’t be a Spanish street party without a strong element of danger and a complete disregard for health and safety regulations. Ah! So this is where the fire-run and the human tower building come in!
‘Correfoc’ translates literally to ‘fire-runs’, this should give you a slight inkling of what you will be doing during this part of the festival. There are usually 2 different types of Correfoc that take place in the evening, a junior one and an adult one, the latter being a little more intense (a little tip at this point- wear protective clothing or stand back, because the likelihood is that you will be sprayed with flames erupting from the mouth of the fire breathing dragon- I kid you not…). The Correfocs are performed by 'The Devils’, a community group that dress up as, well, devils, and roam the streets with a collection of hand held fireworks in their deadly grasp, soon to be sprayed in to the crowd. This mayhem is certainly something that must be experienced, but if this hellish vision is not entirely your idea of heaven than there are plenty more unique events on offer, which leads me quite nicely to the ‘Castellers’- or, to you and me, the human towers.
This event is one of the most popular during the festival, and takes place in Plaça de Sant Jaume. The aim of the Castellers is to build a mighty high human tower, and if that’s not enough to pop your heart in your mouth and your stomach in your bottom, then get this, it is then a requirement that a child (yes, a human child) climbs to the very top of the human structure and stands up. Crikey!
So, instead of mourning the loss of what appears to be a non-existent summer, why not do as the Spaniards do and celebrate the new season in style? (and by style, I mean fear of being hit with a firework.) This year the la merce festival will take place Friday 21st September ‘til Monday 24th September with a whole host of events to kick start the cooler days with a bang, metaphorically and literally- seriously watch out for those fire crackers…