Castells are the most impressive and fun to watch of the Catalan traditions I’ve come across. Every festival and event creates a fantastic excuse for these teams of hardy locals to get together and create incredible human towers.
Made up from teams spanning all ages and sizes, the towers are created from a strong base, with a circle of members supporting the bottom levels, then more of the sturdiest castellers stand on their shoulders to form the first elevated level.
Above them, more levels are formed as more team members stand on each other’s shoulders, gradually decreasing in size until the smallest casteller (usually a young child of 5-10 years old) clambers up to the top and raises their hand in the air, then swiftly descends; followed by the rest of the tower.
The towers take some time to build, and everyone needs to be sure of the strength of the base before the levels are built. In competitions, the teams have a few minutes without music to build their bases, and if it’s decided to be not 100% steady they de-construct and start again. Once the music starts though, they have to continue and attempt the finish the structure they began.
The most dangerous part of building a castel is in fact its deconstruction and the careful descent of the upper members. They slip down each other with seeming ease, and you notice the look of relief on their faces as the ones above them climb down and the weight they bear gets less and less. Then finally when everyone is safely down they celebrate and congratulate each other on their success.
It really is a sight to behold; human strength and endurance pushed to the limits – and the bravery and skill of the upper levels as they climb up the tower like monkeys. And then a scary moment as the tower wobbles; one of the teams cries out – the crowd gasps and holds their collective breath until the tower steadies itself.
Occasionally the towers crumble and fall, but it is rare in competitions, and the base of people supporting the tower also helps to break the fall of anyone unlucky enough to take a tumble. The youngest casteller always wears a helmet, but usually, they are the only ones.
Teams of Castellers in Barcelona
There are 5 teams of Castellers in Barcelona who perform regularly at events; based in different areas of the city:
Castellers de Barcelona
Castellers de la Vila de Gracia
Castellers de Poble Sec
Castellers de la Sagrada Familia
Colla Castellera Jove de Barcelona (the young castellers)
There are various other teams in the rest of Catalonia so if you are travelling around the region you may come across other performances for festivals and other special events.
What do Castellers Wear?
When performing, each of the teams performs in their own colours, with a bright coloured shirt and a supportive sash wrapped tightly around their back and waist to provide some support. They have white trousers and often wear supports wrapped around their wrists to help with grip.
If you’re lucky to catch a casteller performance you can enjoy the spectacle up close, and you may even be able to watch a practise session. If you like in Barcelona you could even apply to join a team of castellers!