Yesterday I indicated that I would tell you about Castellers today, and so I shall. They are my favourite among the many traditions here in Barcelona, so I am delighted to be able to share them with you.
You will find them on crowded squares on festive days, such as La Mercè, and can recognise them by their white trousers, a coloured shirt, usually embroidered with the team’s name, flag, etc, a long black sash (‘faixa’) wrapped tightly around their lower back and one or more ‘mocadors’ (handkerchiefs) around their neck and often also around their faixa. The colour of the shirt of a team of castellers, will indicate where they are from. Red is the colour of the Castellers de Barcelona. Green, the colour of the Castellers de Vilafranca.
But what do they do? Is that the start of a wrestling match (below) you may ask? Those two men certainly look like they are trying to get a good grip of one another!
And indeed they are, for castellers are castle builders, and the ‘castles’ are made of human beings. Here, let me show you one of those ‘castles’ with a sequence of images. Scroll through them slowly, and think of the weight each of these people has to bear, and the importance to find physical (and mental) balance to keep everyone from falling…
… imagine also the heat of the sun beating down on these people, and also on the crowd, who has gone silent…
Isn’t that amazing? Eight tiers of people creating a single tower that rises above the buildings of the square! What? You only see seven tiers? So do I, but we mustn’t forget, that underneath the layers of the people we can see,there is another layer of men, each strong as an ox, and who create the base for this ‘castle’ to be built on. How much weight must they be bearing!!
There are many different types of castells: single file towers (such as the one I showed you here), double, 3 or 4 thick, etc. All are wonderful to watch being ‘built’. It makes you hold your breath while they are building, and the exhilaration is great when the top has been achieved and the child is able to raise his or her hand signalling they succeeded to build another castell. But often they do not manage to achieve their goal, and the tower wobbles and the various tiers (of people) start to fall. On those instances, you can hear the crowd take a collective sharp intake of breath, and when the tower has come tumbling down, but all the castellers are alive and well, a loud applause rings out across the square in relief, and to encourage the castellers to try again another time.
You can see castellers doing their thing all over Catalunya, all year round, during any festivity. If you are visiting the area, ask if any castellers are due to perform where you are, it is well worth having a look! The atmosphere is incredible; you won’t regret it!
The castellers I have shown you, are the Castellers de Vilafranca del Penedès, who were guests at this weekend’s La Mercè celebrations. They are famed for being able to make very complex castells, have achieved in their history most of the constructions that have been seen in any performance, and have represented Catalan culture abroad numerous times.