‘Human towers are recognized by Catalan people as an comprehensive part of their cultural identity transmitted from generation to generation and providing community members a sense of continuity, social cohesion and solidarity’ said the UNESCO statement that approved the inscription of Castells in the Representative List Of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Castells are raised in a festive atmosphere, usually as part of the Festa Major, the annual Festival held in Catalan villages and towns. The local Castellers, and other invited groups, perform their Castells in the town hall square accompanied by the sound of gralles, a kind of flute with a shrilling tone. Watching live Castells is a breathtaking experience: one realises how high they climb one on top of the other and how much courage it takes to be part of a Human Tower, specially for the Anxenetes, the children (aged 6 or 7) who climb to the top. The aim of Castellers is not only to raise the tower, but also to dismantle it without falling down. If one of the members fails, the whole tower falls down, hence the importance of building a compact and unite structure, where everyone’s role is crucial. The members of the Colles (Castells Teams) that raise the Towers are amateurs and yet the Castells require rehearsals in which dozens and even hundreds or people take part in order to happen.
Castells can be 7, 8, 9 or even 10 levels high and to support them, the team form the Pinya, a human structure in direct contact with the ground. Pinya is formed by members of the Colla and also by other people who join in for support. The Colles not only receive help from the public, they also help each other. Prove of the popularity of Castells is that in the Catalan language, the expression “fer pinya” (make pinya) has become synonymous of working together.
Castells are an activity that to a large extent remains faithful to the spirit and practices dating back 200 years. Castells, however, have been able to adapt to new times and are a popular activity full of vitality. Prove of this is the popularity of the biannual Castells Contest in Tarragona, the only time when Castells are raised for the aim of competition and where the different Colles show to the world their amazing achievements with higher and more complex towers.
To bring the Castells experience closer to the public, Tarragona’s City Council, the city with the strongest Castells traditional with 4 different Colles, offers to the public a tour that includes assisting to the rehearsals to learn first-hand how towers are build. Check it out in the brochure Tarragona, Ciutat de Castells.