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Castellers, Barcelona's Human Towers

By Wednesday, November 12, 2014 , , ,

While in Barcelona for the Feste de Merce, we got to watch Castellers build human towers in the Gothic Quarter twice. Along with the Correfoc, watching the teams steadily build their lofty towers was the most memorable part of my time in Barcelona.


The base or pinya is formed first and usually comprised of burly men ready to both support the rest of the tower and also to break the fall of any unlucky castellers. Since it's only possible to see those above the level of the crowd, the pinya was hidden from my view and what appears to be the first level in my photos is actually the second.


Once the pinya is in place, the next layer moves in from the outside over their shoulders and the music Toc de Castells stikes up.




The castell is completed when the wee helmeted enxaneta climbs to the top, and raises a hand with four fingers symbolizing the stripes of the Catalan flag. Often, the enxaneta was only on the top for a moment, throwing his or her hand up into the air for an instant before climbing back down.

When the exaneta neared the top, about half the crowd started cheering, with the other half shushing them so as not the break the castellers concentration.

Catalonia was counting down the days until its referendum on Sunday 9th November 2014. This says something like "We need 46 days"





While the building of the castell is amazing, it's when they start to climb down you can really begin to see the strength and endurance of the castellers, as they start to shake in exertion as the higher layers climb down.


The teams were from different neighborhoods in Barcelona and they all wore a uniform of white pants, a shirt in their team colors, and a wide belt around their waste. The climbers would use the belt as a foothold, but I also suspect it provides support for their back and core like a lifting belt.


We saw one fall, another abort their attempt.

An announcer called out numbers and formations, and from what I could understand each team needed to complete the formation to proceed. Some of the formations had many people per level, and some there could only be two.


We saw the agulla formation, where a framework of castellers descend around a central column of people all on each others' shoulders. The ones we saw moved across the square in order to complete the challenge.
There was also a good bit of tushy grabbing.
All this took place in Plaça de Sant Jaume, crowded wall to wall with spectators, standing on their toes, straining to see over the heads of the people in front of them,  holding their cameras aloft to get that one perfect shot...and then thunderous applause as the towers dismantled themselves in triumph.

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21 comments

  1. So cool! They're so brave to make towers that high. I couldn't do it.

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    1. I can't believe they let little kids climb up that high! I don't think they'd be allowed to do something like this in the US.

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  2. Those photos really show the strength of the human body. I can't imagine even attempting to be in such a human pile. Loved this post.

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    1. Yeah, I remember trying to make human pyramids with my friends as a kid, and how hard that was. It must take such amazing strength and balance, especially with multiple people climbing up at the same time.

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  3. Hi Claire, this is one festival I've been wanting to see. I've been to Barcelona twice but missed it on both occasion due to timing. I should plan better next time. Anyway, this is the first time I read so much detail about it. I didn't realize that they have to go through series of formations and that each formation gets more challenging than the last. It even makes me even more fascinated. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It's so hard to book for this one because they only release the dates about a month ahead of time. It's always around the 24th, but I think the days depend on which day of the week the 24th falls that year. I hope you make it, the correfoc was something else!

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  4. Wow - so cool!! Very awesome that you are traveling like you are. Enjoy every moment.

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  5. Thanks for sharing. Must have been great to watch!

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  6. Oh wow, this looks like such a cool experience that's definitely worth seeing in person. Thanks for sharing and joining my weekly Friday Favorites link party! :)

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  7. Wow! You've seen a bunch of them. I seemed to miss them completely...what's wrong with me! Claire, Thanks for linking up with #WkendTravelInspiration!

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  8. We've seen these in Barcelona and congrats on getting such good photos. Between being jostled by crowds and clasping purse and camera to keep pickpockets at a distance, I've never gotten such good shots!

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    1. The crowds were something else! I had my husband with me, and he's used to me staring into my camera LCD and not paying attention to what's around me by now.

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  9. This is by far the most interesting thing i've ever seen! I'm so amazed with these kids and how much they must have practiced to get that! I've always thought cheerleaders were amazing, this is a whole new level!
    So amazing! Thanks for sharing :)

    Carina
    Running White Horses

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  10. Wow! That's crazy impressive. I wonder if their shoulders ache?! ;)

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  11. That is amazing! I haven't heard of anything like this before, what a cool event to witness! Thanks so much for linking up at the Monday Mash-Up!

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  12. Wow! How fascinating! What valence and strength is needed to do this--I enjoyed all your photos very much. In a way it reminded me of the Italian "Giglio" tower made for a feast day with men holding a band on a platform on their shoulders and then a long towers of wood and flowers on top.

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    1. I can't imagine holding up a band, it can be so hard to stay still when playing an instrument. I wonder how often people fall off during an especially lively piece?

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  13. Oh my gosh that is so cool and kind of crazy! haha wow - I love to see the pinya because it makes me feel a bit more confident about them being in the air ha!

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  14. great pictures! I remember having seen that, too. It truly is an impressive tradition :)

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  15. Wow this looks amazing and your photos are so cool! They must have abs and thighs of steel!

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