Castells –a Catalonian word that means castles– are a cultural phenomenon particular to Catalonia and consist of erecting human towers. This tradition originated at the end of the 18th century in Valls, Tarragona, when rival groups of people called colles, began to compete in constructing the different kinds of human towers that we recognise nowadays.
There are three definite parts to a castle; the pinya or base the tronc or trunk and the pom de dalt or the crown of the castle.
The pinya is the horizontal base of the construction on which all the accumulated weight rests and is used to stabilise and strengthen the erected structure, as well as softening or breaking the falls if any should occur.
This vertical structure is the trunk and consists of a certain number of people on each store, varying from 1 to 9 people depending on the castle and this also gives us the name of the castle.
At the very top of the castle are the canalla (which means youngsters), and they make up the pom de dalt, the crown of the castle, and because they are more agile and light-footed they are the ones in charge of climbing to the very top. One or two supporting structures can be built on top of the pinya if the castle is very high. The one directly on top of the pinya is called the folre and the one on top of that is the manilles. So the folre is at second level and the manilles at third level height with respect to the ground. Every person who takes part in the building is called a casteller –castle-maker–.
The towers or castles are erected following very precise techniques and every castle is a law unto itself because of the different factors to be taken into account. As a rule the pinya is formed first of all, this involves a very strict order and discipline, everybody having an allotted station within the base group. Thereafter the different storeys begin to rise up. The strongest people at the bottom on top of the pinya and the most agile and lightest on the top storeys. The last person to climb the whole tower or castle is the anxaneta, a young girl or boy who, on arriving at the very summit raises his/her arm and salutes the public. This is the highlight of the event as the castell is considered to be crowned. But in fact the job is only half done the structure still has to be brought down safely. The erection of human castles has different variants, some are with the pinya with folre and manilles, others with different trunk formations or where the castle is erected from top to bottom, this is done by brute force lifting the canalla up first and then the other storeys below them successively.
As the castle is erected different tunes are played to identify what is happening. E.g. see the “toc de castells” (the castle’s reveille). The gralla –an old kind of pipe– and the timbal –a small drum– are the traditional musical accompaniment to castle performances and are as much an exciting part of it as the castle building in itself. The beginning and the end of each performance have their own special tunes (“toc d’entrada a la plaça” –entering the square: which urges the people to come and watch– and “toc de vermut”–refreshment time:that signals the time to have a snack after the performance–).
Traditionally castle performances have always taken place on Sundays at midday in the Town Hall Square, as one of the main features of the local holiday festivities. On these red-letter days three colles or groups meet and erect three castles each and a farewell pilar a pillar with only one person at each storey level. Nowadays castles can be seen on many days during the year, although the season kicks off strongly in June and fades out halfway through November. The most important venues are as follows:
Come to Catalonia to see them live-it’s well worth it!
Els Castellers de Barcelona (The Barcelona Castellers)
The Castellers de Barcelona group was founded in 1969 by people who were originally from the area where castle building had already been developed. Most of them were from Vilafranca del Penedès, which is about 50 kms away from Barcelona).
There had been different groups of castellers in Barcelona City throughout the 19th century, but they weren’t very successful in establishing the custom in a large city some distance from the grass roots areas in the Tarragona and Penedes counties.
Nevertheless once the Castellers de Barcelona were founded they soon became established in the Catalonian capital as a consolidated and deeply rooted social phenomenon. From the very beginning and continuing nowadays the Castellers de Barcelona have kept on demonstrating their skills at local festivities, inaugurations, congresses and other popular events.
Their debut performance on the 8th of June 1969 was a pilar de 4 a pillar 4 storeys high with one person on each one, at the presentation of the Monument dedicated to the Castells which is situated in the town of El Vendrell (about 60 km. from Barcelona). Present at that performance were great castellers groups who from their founding or reorganisation are still actively involved in castle-making such as the Nens del Vendrell (1926), la Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls (1946) or the Castellers de Vilafranca (1948). If we take into consideration the founding dates of the different groups, the Castellers de Barcelona are nowadays the fourth oldest group.
Even though the early days were not a bed of roses, the pastime of making castles was integrated gradually into Barcelona popular culture with the Castellers creating bigger and better structures. So by the early 70’s, 7 storey castles were regular performances. In the early 80’s, 8 storeys were the norm, and by the end of the 90’s, complex 9 storey castles were being done. This situated the Castellers de Barcelona in amongst the elite 9 high storey castle category which is awarded by the Coordinadora de Colles Castelleres de Catalunya,(Catalonian Castle Group Co-ordinators) which has 60 active associate group members at present.
But the going wasn’t always easy; such as the time we had to find new fixed premises for training in at c/ Rossend Nobas 33 Barcelona (from 1984 onwards) or when an important group of people from Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a village to the north of Barcelona, decided to leave in 1985 and found their own group in their village. From then on the colla rolled up its sleeves to consolidate the techniques and recoup the castle-making levels of beforehand while at the same time getting in touch with different institutional bodies and entities.
From a technical point of view the Castellers de Barcelona were doing 8 storey castles during the 80’s up to the 90’s and it was in 1995 when a great step was taken. The colla decided on attempting the 2 de 8 amb folre a fragile 8 storey structure including a folre. The folre is a smaller group of castellers who stand on top of the pinya–the base– to support the second storey of a high fragile structure. This castle, which is regarded as a 9-storey castle because of its fragility was successfully completed during the Barcelona local holiday (the Mercé; –Our lady of Mercy– on the 24th of September in Plaça de Sant Jaume).
This was the breakthrough to begin doing bigger and better castles, the next goal set was of course to build a real 9 storey high structure; a new challenge which only about ten colles have managed to fulfill. This 9-storey structure was completed on the 22nd of November 1998 during the Diada of the Minyons de Terrasa and was admired by both castellers and the attending public alike in the Old Square.
Since then the Castellers de Barcelona have erected these 9 storey castles frequently and are among the few groups that are capable of completing these complicated structures.
One of the most famous castles executed was the quatre de nou amb folre –four people on each storey and 9 storeys high with support: the folre–. This was done for the first time during the festivities of the Mercè in 1999 in Barcelona. Less than a year later after crowning this castle the Castellers de Barcelona managed to repeat this feat in one of the most exciting and memorable occasions ever.
The tres de nou amb folre the same as the quatre de nou amb folre but with three people on each storey was achieved for the first time the following year, in November 2000 during the festivities of the Diada of the Minyons de Terrassa. The tres de nou amb folre was crowned and safely brought down for the first time during the Mercè in 2001, a castle which the colla would repeat on different occasions, that very year and the following ones too.
The cinc de vuit five people on each of eight storeys was crowned and safely brought down at the festivities of the Mercè in 2003. This castle is nicknamed the cathedral because of its size and although it is only eight storeys high it is considered to be of great difficulty. It was mastered and was duly celebrated by the colla.
Since our foundation in 1969 we, the Castellers de Barcelona, have been performing in towns and cities within Europe.
Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at telephone number Spain 93.498.27.28 (office-telephone/fax and answering machine) and mobile phone 609.32.77.56.
You can also come along and watch us training at our premises, near the Clot underground station (red line No. 1 or mauve line No. 2). Training sessions are normally on Tuesday at 19.30, Thursdays at 20.00 and Fridays at 21.00, from February to November (summer holidays are normally taken in August).
If you want to consult our agenda, you will be able to know when we have performances and other events consulting the calendar (Actualitat/Calendari).
Play video : Let’s Build castells… (human towers)
Play video : How to make ‘pinya’ at castells… (human towers)