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Friday, June 1, 2012 (read 7789 times)

Castells - Human Towers in Catalonia

by Hannah

Castells are the tradition of building of human towers. In Catalan the word castell means castle, and the motto of the castellers (those that form the towers) is "Força, equilibri, valor i seny" (Strength, balance, courage and common sense). 

The castellers have a traditional costume of white trousers, a black sash, and a coloured shirt which usually has an emblem signifying a team alliance. The colour of the shirts often has significance; for example, the Castellers de Barcelona wear red shirts.  The black sash, known as a faixa, is more than decorative; it also supports the back and acts as a foothold for the climber.  Castells are normally performed barefoot to minimize injury, and to have a greater feel for balance.

The Castells have several different components; the pinya, which is thebottom base of the Castell, sustain its weight. Members of the pinya, who are usually male, would also cushion the fall of those on higher levels. The formation of the pinya is the first stage of the Castell – it most be done slowly and securely to ensure the stability of the upper levels.

The next stage of assembly is accompanied by the traditional Toc de Castells music, as other castellers climb up the pinya, usually this is done as quickly as possible to minimize the strain of the combined weight, which the pinya have to bear.  Then, the enxaneta climbs to the very top of the Castell; once in place, the enxaneta will raise one hand with four fingers splayed, which symbolizes the stripes of the Catalan flag. The disassembly is the most treacherous part of the Castell, where the castellers descend, starting with the highest, until all have reached safety.

The Castells have been around for centuries, and are not exclusive to Spain. Believed to have evolved from folk dances many centuries ago, the Castells originated from the religious inspiration of the Moixigangues or Muixerangues, which date back to at least the 14th Century.

These dances have long included a small tower or pyramid by the dancers, and through competition amongst the performers and evolution of the traditions, the towers are now constructed without the dancing.

Catalonia is known as the home of the Castells, with Valls and Tarragona boasting the first groups of castellers (the pagesos andmenstrals mentioned from 1805), closely followed by Valencian counterparts (the Pescadores and Valencia’s pagesos) between 1820 and 1830s. The Castells themselves also progressed; in 1846 Castells of seven and eight levels tall were recorded at the feast of Saint Joan. After a period of decline, the Castells and their performers saw a resurge in popularity in the 1920s, and have been enjoyed ever since! In 1981 the first Castell of 9 levels of the 20th century was built, and in 2010, UNESCO declared the Castells to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Keywords: castells, castellers, casteller, human towers, catalan human towers, spanish human towers, human towers catalonia

Posted In: Spain, Tourism, Culture


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