Human Towers Representative of Catalan Identity

 

Human towers, or “Castells” in Catalan, are castles carefully constructed by its participants stretching as high as 10 stories with a small child to top it off. Human towers are a typical Catalan tradition that started in the 18th century in Valls, near Tarragona, about 40 kilometers west of Barcelona.  During this time period, the cultural activity spread to other nearby villages. Traditionally, “castell” performances were taken place on Sundays in the town hall plaza, to bring locals together.  Nowadays, they can be seen on many festival holidays throughout the year, most notably during the summer holidays from June to September.

The journey to the top

It wasn’t until about fifty years ago that the practice spread to the rest of Catalonia.  Then, “colles,” or groups of castellers, started to compete in events.  Since 2010, it has been recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” activity.

Symbol of Catalan Culture 

The motto of the Castellers is “Força, equilibri, valor i seny,” meaning strength, balance, courage and common sense.

Catalan identity is strongly associated with the morals and values held by castellers.

  • Strength: One who participates on the team, a casteller, is usually a rather tough person accustomed to dealing with excessive physical exertion.
  • Balance: Equilibrium is crucial both individually and as a team, for construction purposes and developing trust in their teammates.
  • Courage: An essential element for all castellers, particularly important for the child participants.
  • Common Sense: Reasoning and planning are key to the construction and disassembly — any error can be fatal.

Catalan people identify very closely with these morals, and the tradition that is carried on is treasured to carry on their heritage.

The Structure

Each tower consists of three main parts — the “pinya” (base), “tronk” (rings of castellers, several levels), and “pom de dalt” (dome).  The base is a large ring which is the most fundamental structure for the construction of the tower.  All of the weight from above depends on the strength of those below, it softens falls, and is vital to the organization of the following process.  The pinya acts as a safety net.  For higher towers, often one or two additional rings are added as a base.  These are called “Manilles” and are situated just above the base.

The “pinya” or base.

The next steps are to build the rings, the “tronc” — meaning trunk in Catalan.  There are several levels with a specific number of people in each ring.  They are the main part of the castle, and each floor is named by its level — lows, seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths.  Rings can consist of up to 9 people.

The beginnings of the construction of the layers.

Finally, for the “pom de dalt,” a child (and only a child) climbs to the top of the tower.  For safety purposes of the other castellers, only a child is allowed due to their low weight.  In accordance, the child is equipped with a helmet.  Constructions can vary slightly in complexity depending on the height desired to be achieved in the castell.

The castle is marked by the catalan symbol held up by a child.

Construction

The technique of its construction is very precise, and each member is trained accordingly.   Upon first sight, the base may appear to form at random, with people grouping at once without a clear-cut organization.  However, if you look carefully, the members forming the base have distinct positions and functions.  The base is formed very slowly and carefully.  When the signal to proceed is given, bands begin to play the traditional music “Toc de Castells” and the crowd begins to silence.

From this point on, the construction is rapid, to put the minimal amount of strain possible on the layers below bearing the weight.  The assembly reaches its end with the “enxaneta” climbs to the top of the tower and raises one hand lifting four fingers, symbolizing the catalan flag’s stripes.  Then, the disassembly begins, from high to low until all have reached the ground. This part, despite the cheering and “relief” from the crowd, is the most dangerous sequence of the event.

Ask our reception for information about upcoming events to see if there will be any castells to be seen during your trip!  It’s truly a wonderful, jaw-dropping event to witness, and is a true symbol of Catalan culture.  

Photo Credits: Gustave Deghilage, Juame Escofet, Gustave Deghliage, Carlos ZGZ, Castellers de Eslplugues, Sole Perez 

2 thoughts on “Human Towers Representative of Catalan Identity

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