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
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.
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.