What started out as paying homage to a Saint – Our Lady of the Sea – has now transformed itself into a full-blown "fiesta" in Barcelona, and if you're lucky enough to be visiting during the week of September 24th, then you 'll be able to experience the fun and games that accompany the celebrations. Many of the museums also have free entrance on the 24th.
The city transforms during the week of La Mercé and each neighbourhood closes streets to put up concert stages, street performing and other activities. The weekly events are always publicized in programmes – but interestingly, the council never translates these into English – only Spanish and Catalan, which goes to show hoe much of a "local" feel you get to the various activities – Mardi gras this is not. Recent years have seen many good groups play the various stages that are dotted around the city centre, and it's worthwhile checking the schedule as they're all free, and you can usually take in a fair few good bands. There is a great firework display along Barceloneta Beach, too.
One of the highlights of the festival is the "correfoc" or fire run, which is a dangerous parade of fire-breathing dragons that run through the Gothic quarter. In medieval times, the devil was said to roam the streets of the Gothic quarter, and this is re-created with much enthusiasm. Certain years the rain has stopped the fire-run form going ahead, so this leaves the various groups who organize the activity with even more enthusiasm for the following year. The event is well organized, but followers / spectators are advised to take precautions – no loose clothing or scarves – basically anything that could accidentally catch fire.
There is also usually a competition of the human statues that have cemented their place along Las Ramblas over the years, and this week is a great time to see the various acts and players at their best.
However, perhaps the most striking part of the festivities is the opening. The human castles "Castellers" gather in "Place de la Mercé" and this is something you do not want to miss – although it's difficult to see, as the place gets very crowded. They also broadcast live on TV. These human towers involve standing on each others shoulders, and reach dizzy heights, until a child reaches the top, waves a hand, and then begins the descent – just as daring and difficult as the ascent! Recent years have seen unfortunate injuries to some of the little ones, so a helmet is now obligatory.