While in Barcelona I came across several unique traditions that I should like to share with you. Castelling is the subject of this blog
Castellers in Barcelona
I read about and then searched out the tradition of castelling. A castell is a human tower. Colles Castelleres are groups of people who do these towers. According to UNESCO castells are declared to be amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Seriously!! You will soon see why.
Various Colles exist across Catalonia, several of them in the city of Barcelona. They build ‘human towers’ at festivals across the province, competing against one another for the highest and most complex of towers.
The tradition originated in the Ball dels Valencians in Valls, and was first documented in 1712. It became the thing to do in the 18th century.
A Castell is considered a success when stages of its assembling and disassembling can be done in complete succession. The Castell is said to be complete when all castellers have climbed to their designated places and the enxaneta climbs into place at the top and raises on hand with four fingers erect, symbolically the stripes of the Catalan flag ( yes you may be beginning to see this strong theme of independence and patriotism in so many of the things happening in Barcelona). The enxaneta then climbs down the other side of the castell, and the remaining castellers descend highest lowest to complete the disassembly.
Complicated??? Yup. But once you see it, not only complex but truly fear inspiring. Regrettably I did not see a Castell created at a festival… missed my opportunity to see one on one of the festival days –most common timeframe for them to put a castell on for show—but within walking distance of my flat I was able to see a practice evening. Even though they were not wearing their traditional dress of white pants, red shirts and black belts, the practice show as amazing….and because we were able to view it from above, we got a real sense of how complicated the castell building is.
You will see that to our surprise the highest levels are created by castellers who are small children—very acrobatic children at that. They literally looked like little monkeys ascending and descending the castell. Aside from the children, girls, women, boys and men who create the upper parts of the tower, a bottom base, the pinya, is needed to act as a safety net to catch or cushion the fall if the castell collapses.
I have inserted a couple of videos.. please excuse the audio and commentary…not exactly the most professional documentation, but felt it was worth inserting to give you a real feel for the art of castelling.
Seeing this created is incredible and clearly well orchestrated and managed. There were huge posters on a wall in the practice we saw that indicated for each individual where they needed to be for each castell. Yes they don’t just form one kind….amazingly we saw about 15 different towers built. I think I counted the highest towere we saw created at seven levels.. the highest they can go is ten…imagine that. We saw towers built with 3,4 and 5 people per level known as pillars.
We soon discovered that the black belt of sash known as a faixa is the most important part of the costume and they wore them that night over their regular dress. The faixa supports the lower back and is used by other castellers. It is a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist. They range from 1.5 to 12 meters long. The longer ones are worn by the lower levels. Castellers go barefoot and they climb up each other by securing their toes into the sashes of the levels as a foot hold when climbing the tower.
The lowest level is made up of very strong, stocky men. Women and children form the highest levels we saw.
The motto of Castellers is Forca, equilibri, valor I seny, meaning Strength, Balance, Courage and Common Sense.
I totally got the Forca, equilibri and valor…but there is no common sense in my mind in creating 10 level human towers.