Although Barcelona is a great place to be year round (and there is no shortage of bank holidays and festivals), I feel very grateful to have been here for two important events in the city, Diada de Catalunya and the La Mercé festival. These events happened within 2 weeks of each other, and the city had amazing celebrations for both!
Diada de Catalunya
The National Day of Catalonia or La Diada Nacional de Catalunya is celebrated every September 11th, a historic date in the Catalan calendar. The event commemorates the defeat of Catalan troops in 1714 who fought during the War of the Spanish Succession. Last year, around 1.5 million people gathered together on Barcelona’s streets to peacefully demonstrate under the motto: “Catalonia, new European state”. They were asking for a Catalan state, independent from Spain. This year I was able to witness a similar historical event – an estimated 1.6 million Catalans joined hands across the entire length of Catalonia (around 300 miles) to create a human chain. It was called the “Catalan Way,” and the idea was to span, point-to-point, the entire land mass of Catalonia. This chain went through many parts of Barcelona, and I was able to see the “completion” of the chain at 17:14 (symbolizing the year 1714) in Plaça de Catalunya. It was amazing to see the crowd, decorated in Catalan flags and chanting together for the independence of Catalonia (I had the chant, “In, inda, INDEPENDÈNCIA!” in my head for weeks).
I really did not know what to expect from the five-day long festival that I have seen advertised ever since I arrived in Barcelona. It turns out it was one of the greatest events I have had a chance to be part of, and am a little sad it is actually over. There were free open air concerts all over the city, from pop and rock to electronic music, and traditional music, thanks to the BAM (Barcelona Musical Action) Festival. There were also events ranging from castellers (human tours), to parades, to fireworks on the beach.
My favorite event by far was the correfoc, a “fire-run”. From the description online and in the La Merce program, I was expecting a kind of parade. The program also read: “Those not familiar with the tradition should not be too daring. Always wear appropriate clothing: long sleeved shirts, always cotton (never synthetic material), a hat and neckerchief, and comfortable footwear. Avoid shorts and high-heeled shoes”. While I was neither familiar with the tradition, nor daring in general, I took the warning with a grain of salt. It’s not like I was going to get THAT close to the fireworks.
I arrived at the Jaume I metro stop with plenty of time to spare in order to get a good spot on the side where I would be able to see the dancing demons and drums as they paraded by. There were people all over in the middle of the street, walking around, chatting in circles, not seeming to care that the parade was going to start in 10 minutes. I started getting antsy – what was going on? Where would be the best spot to actually see this thing? Why was no one moving? All of a sudden “Hell’s Gates” opened to signal the beginning of the parade, and a large vehicle similar to a fire-truck started rolling through the crowd with drummers atop dressed as demons. Still, no one was moving except to step aside and let the truck barely pass. The drummers were amazing, and they stopped right near me while the drummers continued playing and getting the crowd riled up.
Fireworks started shooting from Hell’s Gates, and pretty soon I could see the demons dancing down the street through the crowd, and directly in my direction. Still, no one was moving. The demons got closer and closer with what I can only describe as very large swirling sparklers through the crowd. I think it did not hit me until they got close enough to see clearly that this WAS the parade, and spectators don’t watch from the sidelines….they were actually part of it. Meanwhile, here come the demons flinging fireworks and sparks in every direction while I stood there with short sleeves, jeans, and sandals. I had nowhere to go really, and I had no choice but to be part of the madness.
All in all, it didn’t end up being SO bad as far as danger goes. I had the time of my life once I got a spot up on the sidewalk to watch from a little further away, although some of the demons and animals “parading” by took no mercy for those on the sidewalk. They shot the sparklers wherever they wanted, while me and the little group I had found on the sidewalk huddled into each other, trying to no avail to escape the sparks.
It seemed endless, lasting for I would say about an hour and a half. In the end, I had a few burn holes in my shirt, some singed hair, and a small melt hole in the screen of my phone. I didn’t care; it was truly one of the craziest and most unique things I have seen! Looking back, there is not a shortage of information and “warnings” about the correfoc – I wish I had researched and read more about it so I could have been right out there with the devils, dancing along to the beat of the drums.