As summer draws to a close here in Barcelona, as kids return to school and the holidays come to an end, the city prepares to celebrate its annual festival, La Merce.

This year locals and visitors alike will be able to partake of over 600 free outdoor activities (weather permitting!). La Merce starts today and will continue over the weekend, right through to Tuesday when the firework takes place marking the actual day of the Mercè, co-patron of Barcelona. This year also sees the celebration of a 1714-2014 tricentenary.

The legend behind La Merce is not widely known, but goes as follows: legend states that on September the 24th, 1218, the Virgin appeared to King James I (known as Jaume I here) and his knights Pere Nolasc and Ramon de Penyafort and asked them to found a religious order to rescue the Christians imprisoned by the Saracens. However, it was not until 1687, when the city suffered a plague of locusts that the date acquired significance, when the Consell de Cent (city and regional council) instructed the Virgen de la Mercè to swing into action and save the day, but it was not until almost two centuries to that in 1868, that the pope ratified the decision to make the Virgen de La Merce a saint, and it was not until 1902 that the day became an official festival.

La Mercè 2014 will have two main stages. One will be at the Moll de la Fusta in the Port vell, as always. For the first time, a stage next to the sea will be used, at Bogatell beach. Montjuïc Castle, will be used for circus performances, and the Ciutadella Park will host the Mercè Street Arts (MAC).

In total, more than ten thousand people star in the Mercè this year, and the guest city this year is Stockholm, where Catalan artists were participating in the Festival of Culture last month, and it is now the turn of Swedish artists to come to Barcelona and perform.