Spain is unique in so many ways but the cultural aspect that makes this country stand out from the rest is their human towers. This impressive tradition is found in northeast Spain in the region of Catalunya. I got to experience it for the first time at La Festa Major in Sitges and I even shot a video of the human towers here.
Castells, or human towers date back to the 18th century in the small town of Valls, about 40 kilometres south of Barcelona, when the Spanish would dance on each other’s shoulders. The phenomenon grew into a competition of castellers trying to out-build themselves with higher and higher towers. It popularized after 1981, when the first 9-storey tower was built and today the tradition is an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
One of the most important components of a casteller’s attire is the black faixa, or sash, wrapped tightly around their lower back and which the climbers use for support. Along with the faixa, castellers usually wear white trousers with different coloured-shirts that symbolize the part of the Catalunya region they are from. In Barcelona, they are red.
The tower builds on top of the pinya, usually up to 4 or 5 storeys high. Anticipation is building for locals too – they come out to watch from their balcony or pier through their windows. It’s a thrilling experience but the vibe is intense and nerve-wracking – it starts to sway (hence, my crooked pictures) and I wonder if it’s going to come tumbling down like a house of cards!
The most exciting part is watching the anxenta, a small child about 8 years old who winds up at the top to salute the crowd, wave the Catalan flag or raise one hand. Some say this signal represents the stripes of the Catalan flag.
Where and when to experience: The castell season is typically June to November, which is perfect timing because you can get cheap tickets to Spain in the latter part of the season. Traditionally, the castellers perform their tower building during the main parts of larger festivals but sometimes you can find them randomly practising in the squares of Catalan cities.