One of Catalonia’s most famous traditions is that of the castells (castles) – human towers that are lifted by building different levels of people until reaching breathtaking heights of ten levels. The people who carry out this activity are known as castellers and the tradition is over 200 years old.
The human towers are built traditionally at festivals in Catalonia and the Valencian Community, where several colles castelleres (groups who construct towers) often succeed in building and dismantling a tower’s structure. On November 16, 2010, castells were declared by UNESCO to be among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The tower is made up of layers, the first of which is called the pinya and is both the tower’s base and a kind of human safety net. Subsequent layers then clamber up over each other until finally a small girl (called la enxaneta) climbs up to top the tower. Castells are normally between 5 and 8 layers high. The record for a human tower is 10 levels and has only been achieved three times in total. Even though it sounds dangerous, the teams are well coordinated so that even when a tower collapses, it happens in a controlled manner. Still, teams are considered to have been successful if they can build and deconstruct their towers without a fall.
Traditionally, this tower-building spectacle takes place as part of larger festivals, but nowadays there are numerous performances with the occasion of fiestas, celebrations of patron saints, popular fairs and festivals. Most shows take place in city squares, usually around midday, but you can occasionally find late afternoon or, exceptionally, evening performances. The most important date in the castell calendar is the biennial Concurs de Castells in the town of Tarragona.
Cover photo: Castellers de la Sagrada Família