The building of Castells is an extremely important part of Catalan culture, the people are proud of the traditional actitvity which is considered central to their identity.
“Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”
Catalans consider it to be an important form of Catalonian expression and vital to the community, seeing them being built, this is easy to understand. Apparently around 60% of the population has participated in the building of a castell.
UNESCO announced on November 16, 2010 that castell building be declared among the “Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
Its origins can be traced back to the 18th century, possibly from a dance performed by the inhabitants of the village of Valls. They initially started including tower building, which later became competitive.
We had witnessed some castell building on the first evening walking tour of Barcelona, it requires strength, balance but above all absolute faith in the other castellers. For this reason it is considered very effective for team building and many corporations have integrated it into their management team improvement strategies.
Several days later our disjointed band of travel bloggers had the opportunity to do a little team building of our own. We had excellent coaches, one of the Catalans strongest teams; Castellers de Vilafranca. They demonstrated a simple three person castell, displaying great poise, strength and agility in doing so.
After a short explanantion of the makeup of a castell it was soon our turn to try. Firstly we required to put on the broad, ribbon like lumbar supports before initially attempting to be the second tier. Confidence hig at our success we then attempted building our own two tiered structures. Our coaches were very patient with our mistakes but also stressed the importance of concentration as the result of a fall can be disastrous.
The structures we were building are known as Pilar which means one person per level.
“I was the second level weak link”
We also made an ill-fated attempt at a three tier castell with several people providing the all important base. However I was the second level weak link and when the young lady destined to be the top tier stepped on my shoulders all balance was lost. Fortunately our base ably completed its second purpose, catching us both and preventing any injury. Our coaches sensibly decided that a second attempt wasn’t wise, I blame all the wine that had been consumed with lunch earlier.
We were proud recipients of a red bandana each, one of the articles of clothing which are symbols of castell builders. My credentials as a Casteller maybe slightly dubious but the bandana is still recognition of my willingness to give it a go.
Our own modest attempts can be put into perspective when it is considered structures as high as nine tiers known as Nou have been built. These take immense co-ordination and there is a team leader known as the cap de colla that ensures everything is done quickly, safely and to plan.
To build the larger structures a large base known as the Pinya is formed, this provides the necessary support and a form of ‘safety net’ if the whole thing collapses. The second Folre and third Manilles tiers are then added which provide further strength and stability on which the all subsequent tiers can be built. Castellers must remain focussed, climbing carefully but quickly to avoid injury or tiring the other castellers. The topmost levels of large structures are always children, they are lightest and possibly not yet learnt to be scared of the height!
It was a great honour to meet some of these amazing people and to be involved in building our own small scale castells. Maybe our towers should more accurately be described as castelletes? If you are interested in finding out a little more about this great tradition of Catalonia you might start with the BBC.