Human pyramids in Catalonia
Castells have been a fixture of Catalan summer festivals for more than 200 years. (Guy Moberly/LPI)
Castells have been a fixture of Catalan summer festivals for more than 200 years.
However, this year will see the first programme of regular castell constructions in Barcelona, with performances taking place in the cathedral square on Saturdays throughout the summer. Here are some of the logistics that go into building a castell:
1. First, the “cap de colla” – the boss of the colla, or group – arranges everybody in position. He gives the most important instruction to the “pinya” – the people, sometimes in their hundreds, that form the giant scrum that holds the tower steady – of: “Don’t look up!’’ Anyone who is reasonably healthy can join the pinya as long as they’re aware that, on occasion, the tower will collapse abruptly on top of you. Luckily, serious injuries are extremely rare.
2. The “baixos” – that’s the men at the base – link arms and gird themselves to take a weight of up to 450 kilos on their shoulders. This enormous strain is one reason why a 10-storey tower with three men in the base was only managed for the first time in 1998. The small town of Vilafranca’s colla did it again in November of last year. They are currently the team to beat in the competitive world of castellers.
3. Another important level are the “manilles” – literally, the handles. These people provide a kind of human walkway, allowing the smaller, lighter members of the tower to climb up. It’s crucial to do this as quickly as possible, because the baixos won’t be able to carry the weight indefinitely.
4. When all the layers are in place, the “enxaneta” – a child who can be as young as six – scrambles all the way to the top. Until recently they didn’t wear helmets but, after a 12-yearold girl died in a fall in 2006, enxanetas are now given spongy protective headgear. Despite the risks, castellers insist that their sport is as safe as many others and a great way to develop Catalan virtues – hence the castellers’ motto “Força, equilibri, valor i seny”, or “Strength, balance, courage and common sense.”
See the castells at Avinguda de la Catedral, Barcelona, at 7pm on Saturdays through 15 September, except in August.
Trevor Baker writes regularly for the Guardian on travel, food and music. He is based in the Spanish city of Alicante.
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.