Beirut, Lebanon: The Guest City for the 2019 Feast of The Virgin of Mercy, La Mercè

Nélida Nassar   12.12.2018

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The Barcelona City Council has announced that Beirut will be the guest city at the next major festival of the Catalan capital, which will be held from September 20 to 24, 2019. Beirut is the first Mediterranean city in this decade to be invited by the City Council to display its cultural and artistic offerings during the festivities honoring the patron saint, taking over from Lisbon, the guest city at the last edition.

A delegation from the Institute of Culture of Barcelona (ICUB) has traveled this week to the Lebanese capital to draw up the agreement between the two cities, to experience Beirut’s booming cultural scene, and to begin to select some of the shows that local artists will bring to Barcelona during the next feast of La Mercè.

The Origins of this “Festa Major”
Barcelona’s principal festival is dedicated to its co-patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy. Yes, this is why Spain has so many fiestas; there is a festival for every saint. Nostra Señora de la Mercè is credited with ridding the citing of locusts in 1687, and when la Mercè was appointed commander-in-chief of Barcelona’s military during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, the fortunes of this lovely seaside city turned around overnight. Between the La Mercè festivals of 2013 and 2014, Barcelona commemorated the 300th anniversary of this milestone event in its modern history. The recently inaugurated El Born Centre Cultural, which has opened in the neighborhood of La Ribera Born, along with Ciutadella Park and Montjuïc, are just some of the sites that hosted a variety of cultural events to celebrate Barcelona’s independence. While the Feast of La Mercè has been observed in Barcelona since the Middle Ages, it was not until 1871 that it became an official municipal holiday.

Giants, Devils, and Human Pyramids
Each day of the festival features its own parade filled with mythical characters, dancing giants and traditional drumming. No Barcelona festival would be complete without fire runners (correfocs) and human castles rising eight stories high (castellers). There’s a photogenic spectacle around every corner, from folk dancing (sardana) to parades of giant papier-mâché characters (gegandes). While La Mercè has a long history, some of its most prominent elements and events are just over a century old. In summary, one could say that Les Festes de la Mercè combine the best of what you might see at any number of Spanish festivals. For that reason alone, it’s a great primer for anyone who wants to understand why Spain is probably the festival capital of the world (perhaps tied with India). The best thing about this festival is that all of the street events are free and during it many museums offer free admission. So it is a perfect place to bring a group of friends or a large family.

A Reflection of Barcelona
Barcelona is a generous and robust stage for experiencing design, food, and life, and La Mercè is a reflection of this enterprising and creative city – a city which is in a constant state of evolution. But Barcelona doesn’t do this all alone; each year it invites a guest city (in 2015, it was Buenos Aires; last year, Lisbon) to bring its favorite dance and street theater companies to this festival of festivals. Now that Europe has awakened to the fact that Barcelona isn’t a paradise just in August, you will find an increasingly international audience coming to visit this festival each year.
Bravo Beirut for this honor!