“Castells” – The Human Towers of Catalunya

Castells, or Human Towers, originated in Catalunya and became very popular after 1981 when the first 9 tier human tower was built. There are Castell teams in and around Catalunya that perform for festivals and celebrations. They stand proudly in color-coordinated team shirts that stand for their city or town (red is for Barcelona). One of the most important pieces of the the Casteller’s outfit is a sash, or faixa in Catalan, that they wear around their lower backs. Not only does the faixa support the lower back, but it also acts as a foot-hold for people climbing to the higher levels. The Castell is considered a “success” when the team can assemble and dissemble the tower in complete succession. You know the Castell has been completely assembled when the enxaneta (normally a very young child, no older than 5 or 6) climbs to the top and raises 4 fingers to symbolize the Catalan flag… kind of reminds me of a Christmas tree with the star on top! (Note: I was thinking about how a conversation might sound like with a parent explaining to their 5 year son/daughter, “Well honey, today you are going to wear this outfit and climb up a 40 foot tower of people and raise four fingers in front of hundreds of on-lookers…oh, and don’t worry, the helmet is just part of the costume. Ok sweetie? (smile) Cookie?”)

Now that’s a good support system!

After the exaneta has made his/her way down the Castell, the other Castellers dismantle with a sort of effortless finesse by sliding down the backs of their teammates like a fire-station pole. Aside from the people who climb to the top of the Castell, others are needed to form the pinya or the bottom part of the tower, to sustain it’s weight. These are normally men and the idea is, that if the tower does collapse that these men will break the fall of the other (often much younger) ones at the top. The making of the pinya is slow and tedious and as subsequent base levels are completed the castellers in the pinya determine if their base is solid enough for construction to continue. When they have the “go-ahead” from the leader that the Castell will be completed, he/she signals the small band to play the traditional Toc de Castells music as a hush falls over the crowd. After the exaneta makes his/her Catalan flag symbol, everyone cheers, but quickly grow quiet as the most dangerous and treacherous part of the entire process is the dismantling (basically, everyone is holding their breath hoping nobody falls…especially as the 5 year old at the top, suspended 40 feet in the air is sliding down the backs of teammates like a little monkey).

Normally, the “Castell season” is April through September, but this weekend was Las Festes de Santa Eulália, or for short La Laia Festival (Note: for all of those who don’t know, one of my little girls is named Laia, she was named after this Saint!). The program festivities offers an array of activities and shows for children, including Los Castells. All of the pictures and videos in this blog of the Castells were taken in Placa de Sant Jaume in Barcelona. 

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