Spain is a country rich in diverse traditions. Every province has it’s own culture and often it’s on dialect. One of the most famous tradition is the bullfighting, called in spanish “corrida” or the “Running of the Bulls”, which consists of running away from charging bulls through the narrow streets of Pamplona. There is also the festival of Tomatina in Buñol, where people throw tomatoes in a big tomato fight.
Another tradition that is perhaps less known, but very impressive nonetheless, is building human towers. This tradition originated in the 18th century in Tarragona, Catalonia. “Castells”, the name of this custom, consists of building human towers, by the “castellers” who stand on the shoulders of one another in a succession of stages (between six and ten). Each level of the ”tronc”- the name given to the second level upwards, usually comprises two to five heavier built men that are supporting younger, lighter-weight boys or girls. What is also interesting is that the process of building the tower is accompanied by traditional music. People use a wind instrument called ”gralla”, which is setting the rhythm to which the tower is built.
There are many ways of building the human towers, and a variety of techniques are used. Regardless of the used technique, building a castell requires “Força, equilibri, valor i seny” (Strength, balance, courage and common sense) as goes the motto of Castellers. Strength, balance and courage are self-explanatory. Common sense means that the people involved in building human towers know the dangers of such activity, and do a lot of planning in advance to minimize the risks of such a task. Castells integrate the society and teach teamwork. In Catalan “pinya”, which is the ground-level base, often composed of several hundred people, became a popular expression “fer pinya” that means to stick together and help each other out to achieve a goal.
The cultural value of castells was recognized by UNESCO and this tradition is now inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It’s power is so impressive that it even inspired Chinese people to participate in a human-tower building championship “Concurs de Castells”, which is held every two years in Tarragona, Catalonia. The Chinese team is named “Xiquets de Hangzhou” and were created by an initiative of of Qian Anhua, who discovered the Catalan tradition of castellers on a trip to Catalonia. He then decided to import this tradition to his textile company as a social activity for the employees. That is the power of culture!
Take a look at these stunning photos taken on the Concurs de Castells de Tarragona 2016:
Colla Vella de Valls starts forming their human tower base
Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona starts building a human tower
Castellers de Villafranca starts building up their second level of the tower
Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls build the next level of their human tower
Colla Xiquets de Reus support their human tower
Members of Colla Vella de Valls help team member who fainted
Castellers de Vilafranca is about to complete. Human tower can be built to a height comparable to a ten story building
Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona
Vella de Xiquets de Valls’s collapsing moment
and fall down…
Members of Xiquets de Hanghzou celebrates after completing their human tower
Maybe a video would be better in giving the scope of this impressive spectacle:
But the best way to experience the thrill of Castells is to visit Catalonia!