The construction of impressive human towers, called ‘castells’ in Catalan, is a Catalan tradition. It is so special and typical for Catalonia that UNESCO included it on its list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in November 2010.
This tradition started in the 18th century in the little village of Valls, located close to Tarragona and Barcelona. Peasants used to form small human castles at the end of the dances during the local celebrations. Little by little, different groups, called ‘colls’, were formed and began competing with each other to build the highest possible tower. In the 19th century, the building of the human towers became independent from the dances, but the spectacle is still accompanied by the traditional ‘Toc de Castells’, played by a flute and drums. This music serves to indicate and help the people within the castle to coordinate, as it marks the different stages of the construction.
The ‘castells’ can take very different forms, but always consist in three parts. The lower part (“pinya”) is often formed by many people in order to give stability and sustain all the weight from the upper levels. Another small ring of people is often formed on the first and sometimes second level (“manilles”) and the actual tower starts on the second or third level. The upper levels can consist of up to 9 people or one single person per level. For detailed information about the structure of the castells, click here. Although it may seem like the ‘castellers’ (the people building the tower) need a lot of power, technique is the most important part. They train very often to get good results.
Nowadays, they perform during festivities. You can check the calendar with upcoming performances in Barcelona here. This weekend (June 15th and 16th, 2013), the association in Barcelona celebrates its 44th birthday with some special events. During performances, they wear traditional costumes: white pants, a shirt in the color of the ‘coll’ (red in Barcelona) and a ‘faixa’. This last one is very important because it supports the back of the castellers and helps the others to climb up.
The last levels of the castells are always formed by children because of their little weight. Traditionally, they put their hands in the air and show 4 fingers, which represents the 4 stripes on the Catalan flag. They only stay on top for little seconds, before climbing down again at the other side of the castell. Altogether, this seems a difficult thing to do, but 96% of the towers are built and unbuilt successfully!
On the website of the Castells de Barcelona, you can see different videos.
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