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Castellers: Catalan Human Towers

One of the most popular and oldest traditions in Catalonia is the famous castellers (or human towers). In this competition, various associations (called colles) from different cities compete to build the highest and most spectacular human tower. This show, declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is unique in Spain and can be seen throughout Catalonia, especially during the summer.

Would you like to know more about this special Catalan tradition and where you can see the castellers? Read on!

The origin of the ‘human towers’

The human towers are a Catalan tradition with more than 200 years of history, originating from the so-called “Ball de valencians“ (literally translated as the “Dance of the Valencians”). These dances always end with a human tower with a religious meaning. Around 1800, the human towers began to appear independently of the processions. In particular, the human towers were extremely popular in Valls, the true birthplace of the castellers, where several rival groups created increasingly higher human towers. The Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls is actually the oldest with a history of more than 200 years.

Today, there are about 50 active Catalan colles that perform regularly, and the attention from various media continues to grow. We have seen human towers in the craziest places, from the top of Montserrat to Paris and New York. The castellers have become a true symbol of Catalan identity and are an established and beloved tradition. The castellers were honored by UNESCO in 2010 as a World Heritage Site.

How do the castellers work?

A colla (the name of a castellers association) is formed by people of all ages and professions. They are ordinary people (from bakers to administrative staff, supermarket cashiers, teachers or students), but they all have a place and a role in the group. Nothing you see is random. In fact, before performing a human tower for the public, the castellers have practiced a lot to make the show go smoothly.

The name of the human towers is composed based on the number of floors, and the number of castellers who form each layer. For example, a human tower called “3 de 7” is divided over 7 floors with 3 people per layer.

Participants of a human tower receive instructions from the cap de colla, who instructs the group like a conductor.

Castellers at Plaça Sant Jaume Barcelona
Castellers at Plaça Sant Jaume Barcelona

To provide the human tower with a solid base, a solid base is first created, called the pinya. This consists of many participants who hold onto each other with hands and arms, and due to the linkage created, the weight of the upper floors can be sustained. The base, also formed by the audience, also serves as a cushion in case of a fall from the tower (which often happens).

Above this base, up to nine floors of people can be built. Each floor is set up on the shoulders of the people below. The upper floors are always composed of children, the higher the floor, the younger the children.

The castell (or human tower) is considered ‘completed’ when the last child, l’anxeneta, stands on top and waves to the crowd. Once completed, the castellers slide down in reverse order, to carefully dismantle the tower.

The jury of the show mainly focuses on the art and style of a well-built castell, and based on that, the jury chooses a winner among all participating colles.

During the construction of the castell, music is also played by the same colla which encourages the participants.

Video source: Ruben y El Mundo via YouTube

Seeing the human towers in Barcelona?

The human towers, along with the music, the tension, and the cozy atmosphere, are undoubtedly a very impressive spectacle to experience. If you want to see the castellers up close, I recommend you first check the agenda of the colles to see where and when they will be active. In Barcelona, you have the following groups of castellers:

Outside Barcelona, there are a number of very active castellers associations, but the most famous remains that of the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls.

At events such as the Festes de la Mercè, Diada de Catalunya or Sant Jordi, there are always castellers to be seen. Their shows are free to see and provide goosebumps and tension for everyone. In short, the human towers are a real recommendation and a very good way to get close to the Catalan feeling.

If there is no big festival during your visit to Barcelona, but you still want to see the castellers in action? Then visit one of the weekly rehearsals! This way you can still experience the human towers and even better, you can participate yourself! For example, visit the Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia (at Carrer Alzina number 7; metro Fontana (L3)). Check their website beforehand for the rehearsal schedule.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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