Day 35, Part I – Catalan Castellers

Day 35 = Sunday, April 15, 2012

This had to be one of the most exciting days of our trip, I said to Quinland as I started writing this post. She disagreed, vehemently, but I still contend that it was. When else have we seen hundreds of people work to make human towers? Not until we’d seen the castellers.

After an early start (ha!), we went into town at 11:00 to see a castellers performance. We got there early to stake a claim to a good spot; it ended up being such a good spot that all the casteller family members hung out there with all their backpacks and strollers and snacks. Because we were right there in the midst of them all, a super nice casteller guy told us all about everything we were seeing.

First, there were three teams of castellers performing. They took turns making towers with two people on each level, then three people on each level, then four people on each level. We didn’t realize it at first, but one-person and two-person levels are the hardest to build.

To build a castell (the Catalan word for castle), the team members first build a very strong base which can involve several hundred people. The men at the center of the base join hands in the air; others support the raised arms from underneath. Still more people support those arms, and so on, until a huge base is built. It may serve a dual purpose of catching the climbers if the tower collapses. The first level of castellers climb on the shoulders of the base and stand on the support in the center; the raised hands support their behinds from behind to keep them upright as the successive layers of the tower are added.

At this point, the climbers who will make up the various levels of the tower line up and get ready to climb. Once they make the base and first level, the rest of the tower is built steadily but quickly, so that the bottom guys do not tire out. The climbers get successively smaller: young men, young women, teenagers, little children. The littlest ones – who climb four- or five-stories high – wear helmets, thank goodness. Everyone climbs by digging their toes into the waistbands of the previous levels and then climbing onto shoulders. The waistbands are extremely long lengths of fabric that are tightly wound to provide back support as well as toe-holds. Each level holds itself steady by holding onto each other’s shoulders as well. (We saw many with their shirt collars clenched in their teeth; we aren’t sure, but we think it is so they don’t suffocate if their shirts are pulled tightly by climbers.)

Once the littlest child reaches the top and lets go with one hand to salute the crowd, the tower is completed. However, in competition scoring, the tower is not truly done unless it can be completely dismantled without collapsing. (Apparently the disassembly is the trickiest part, as each level slides down the outside of the levels below them, just like sliding down a firepole.) In the entire afternoon, we only saw one tower collapse. It imploded, so no one fell far, and everyone was caught safely by the people making up the base.

But I am rambling on when you could see for yourself! Click on the first photo in the gallery below to see full-sized photos of the Castellers da Vilafranca building a six-level castell. It is truly a sight to behold.

More later on our visit to Barcelona’s beaches later that day! (Okay, don’t get your hopes up – the weather was lovely when we headed out, but quickly went downhill. Luckily, like good Oregonians, we brought a kite…)

3 thoughts on “Day 35, Part I – Catalan Castellers

  1. Oh, you lucky ducks in Barcelona – obviously, 2 days I spent there was not enough. Never saw no castle builders – I and dearly like castles.

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