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Team Up With Tradition in Catalonia's Castell Festival

Published by Aaron JacksonCrabb, Writer

Country: Spain

The Experience

As May creeps into June, you should be packing your bags, buying a ticket and flying over the Atlantic to eastern Spain to participate in a festival called the Castells of Catalonia. It is at this time, in a tradition passed through the generations, that teams of “castellers” get together in small towns throughout Catalonia and construct what can only be described as “human towers,” up to 3-stories in height, as a dramatic form of competition and regional pride.

Participating in the Castells of Catalonia, you will be witnessing a tradition that began in the 17th century in a small village called Valls in France, and which arrived in north-eastern Spain in the 18th century. Historians claim the tradition was started by local dance groups creating human structures as part of their performances. But in modern times the Castells of Catalonia now involves more than 7,000 castellers within 54 teams across the region, and who raise an astounding 16,000 castells per year. The motto of these castellers is “Balance, Courage, Reason and Strength,” and it’s easy to see why.

The rules are simple: to be successful, the “colles” (teams) must successfully build and dismantle their tower of “castellers” (team members). All castells are constructed in three parts: pinya, tronc, and pom de dalt, and each part of the castell is as important as the next if the team wants to be successful. The “pinya,” or base, is formed of the strongest people to take the most weight, as it acts like a shock absorber in case someone up top falls. On top of the pinya, the “tronc” is built, depending on the style of castell being constructed. This takes a number of castellers as well as a number of levels to complete. Then comes the last section, known as “pom de dalt,” which is followed by the single crowning moment when a young child climbs up onto the top of the tower to salute the public. This final stage is known as “anxaneta.”

As a participant, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with the others, observing and forming the pinya as the music fills the plaza and the group surges together. The music will change into a different rhythm as the tronc, made up of one to five people, begins to take shape. Once this human structure is set into place, the music changes again, and the “pom de dalt” is formed. Every stage is filled with passion, hope and a commitment to complete the castell, and the energy and stress in the participants is obvious as they patiently endure the physical strain. Finally, the last casteller, known as the “anxaneta,” begins the slow climb to the top.

It is widely accepted within Catalan society that participating in building castells creates a positive bond between the participants. This creative tradition, once only allowed to men, is now open to women, children and foreigners to participate in raising castells each year. Whether the tower fails or if it is crowned, it is a moment of triumph for everyone involved, and that makes it a perfect excuse to come to Catalonia and experience a union between people that will last a lifetime.

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When to Go to Castell Catalonia

The tradition generally begins in June, ending in late November. Mark the following dates and months in your calendar to join special festival attractions within the region:

Starting on August 15, la Bisbal del Penedès, followed by Vilafranca del Penedès on August 30th.

In September there is La Mercè Festival in Barcelona.
In late October there is Diada de Santa Ursula in Valls.
There is a contest on November 1 dedicated to All Souls Day.
Then in late November look for Diada dels Minyons de Terassa in Terrassa.

Held every two years in Tarragona (on the first Sunday of October) is a castle competition called Concurs de Castells.

Odds n' Ends

UNESCO declared on November 16, 2010 that the building of castells in Catalonia be declared among the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This declaration by UNESCO raises awareness on intangible cultural heritage, and encourages local communities to protect them and the local people who sustain these cultural expressions.

As of 2010, the Catalan society deemed castell building as a highly positive contribution to community and expression. It is known that 98 percent of the Catalonian population knows about castells, and two out of three Catalans have seen the construction of a tower in person at least once.

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