Catalan Human Tower tradition

What are castellers?

Everything you want to know about Catalan human towers

The tradition of building human towers in Catalonia has existed for over 200 years: we call it Castellers. Castellers are people who build towers with their bodies and make different constructions called castells (castles). It’s such a deeply  rooted tradition that there are even competitions between teams of Castellers to see who builds the most difficult and amazing towers. It can be quite shocking the first time you see one. The largest one ever made had 10 people height and more than 11 meters (36 feet) of high. Amazing, uh? This weekend in Barcelona we will be celebrating La Merce Festival, and there will be several castellers sessions: if you are in town, you shouldn’t miss them! But we want you to fully understand what’s going on. That’s why today in our blog we are telling you everything about the most beautiful castles of the world: the human ones.

Human Castles: arming the pinya

Here is how human castles are built:

La Pinya. The base of the castle is made of dozens of members of the castellers team and even spectators that help to form it. Its function is to protect and reinforce the tower trunk. It’s the part that’s comprised of more people, and the most important: If the pinya it’s not correctly done, the tower has more chances of falling and people can get seriously injured, that’s why it’s important that the pinya is wide enough, to cushion any falling person. It also provides strength and stability to the tower, that’s why in some cases, when the tower is very high there is a second smaller pinya on top of the main pinya: it is called folre and supports the third level of people, and again, in really tall human towers, there can be a third and smallest pinya: the manilles, that is the people on top of the folre holding the fourth level of people. So if you hear through the speakers that they are anouning, for intance, a “tres de nou amb folre i manilles” get ready: what’s coming next will more than wow you.

The Music. Music is a very important part of the process of building a human tower, as it indicates the rhythm and the type of tower that they are going to rise. Usually there are at least one or two gralles (a Catalan noisy woodwind instrument) and a drum, but there can be other traditional instruments as well. The song they play is called Toc de Castells (Castles call) and it will only start playing when the head of the team gives his (or her) OK as the castle seems to be stable enough to be completed. If they are building a 7 level tower the music will start when the third level is going up, if it’s 8 levels they start when 4th level is going up and so on. If the tower falls before the musicians start playing, it doesn’t count and they can try again, but if they fall when the music is already playing, it’s considered a fail. When the enxaneta (the last children on the top of the tower) raises his/her hand after reaching the top of the castle, they start a different song for the descent.

Human tower namesThe name of the castle describes how it will be. Take for instance a 3 de 8 tower (tres de vuit – numbers are always said in Catalan, never in Spanish): the first number indicates how many people per level there will be (except for the pinya and the kids), and the second number how many levels will be (including the pinya), so 3 de 8 means that there will be 8 levels of 3 people on each. If the tower is only formed by one person in each level it’s called a pilar (column) and the name only indicates the levels: pilar de 8. There are some times that the towers has a pilar inside the main tower trunk: they are called towers amb agulla (with a needle).

Castellers performance: the kids

The kids (“la canalla”)The last three levels or “pom de dalt” (upper bouquet) are build up by children. The third level from the top is made of two children of upto 13 years old (els dosos – the 2s), who hold the acotxador, a child that crouches on top of them to be climbed by the last kid: the enxaneta, that crowns the castle. Acotxador and enxaneta can be as young as 5 or 6 years old, and they wear helmets to protect them from injuries if they fall. Each team has a Cap de Canalla and an Equip de Canalla (a Head and a Team): a group of adults with one leader that are in charge of the children while the castles are being built, during the rehearsals and during all the other activities organized by the colla castellera (the castle team).

Did they make it?. The best moment of a human tower is when the children start climbing and the public makes absolute silence until the enxaneta rises his/her hand to signal the castle has been crowned (“fer l’aleta“). Then the crowd goes crazy: a moment of total joy out-break. In a competition, that’s when a team starts getting points for their castle. Ideally they should build and dismantle the tower completely, but in some occasions the tower is only crowned but the castle collapses during the descent. That is called “fer llenya”. If the enxaneta gets scared and decides to descend before arriving on the top it’s called a dismantled attempt.

But wait! Would you like to know where you can see human castles? Share this post to discover it!

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So what about you? Head to the comments below and tells us: Have you ever seen a Castellers performance and how did it go?

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