If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants
May 3, 2005 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Human Towers. An old custom of Catalan, Castellers build human towers several stories tall. Via the Cellar's IOTD. Site is in spanish, click on links with foto and video.
posted by Mitheral (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Decent summary here. My first thought: what if someone falls? Apparently the surrounding press of castellers with their feet on the ground serves not only to brace the tower in place, but to break the fall should anyone lose their grip.

The top of the tower is always a child no more than 70 pounds (30kg, maybe?).
posted by dhartung at 6:25 PM on May 3, 2005

I saw them doing this in Barcelona during a Sta. Eulalia Festival ages ago--loved it : >
posted by amberglow at 6:34 PM on May 3, 2005

Interesting, thank you. I was immediately reminded of a Clive Barker short story, "In the Hills, the Cities," in that story whole towns built huge walking creatures, consisting of thousands of people standing on each other and roped together, and fought each other to the death.
posted by marxchivist at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

That Clive Barker story is in his Books of Blood trilogy, and it's my favorite of the 15 or so stories in those books. The imagery has stayed with me for 2 decades.
posted by Bradley at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I actually participated in a castelling (practice) event on a hot autumn afternoon in a small town outside of Barcelona. I was part of the base of the castle and had folks walking on my shoulders towards the center. An odd experience similar to being on the Tube/Yamanote (or any mass transit) at rush hour but with folks above you as well as smooshed all around you. We also went to a National Casteller competition in a stadium which was broadcast live throughout the country (or at least Catalunya). It was a strange sight but interesting and rather entertaining. We saw some pretty cool towers that day, as you can imagine.

I'll see if I can dig up some photos to post on Flickr.

Slightly OT: There is a great scene in L'auberge Espagnol where three guys are laying on the couch drinking beer
and watching Castellers on TV. It's only brief but it really captures something very Catalunyan.

Thanks for the link, Mitheral!
posted by shoepal at 7:45 PM on May 3, 2005 [2 favorites]

(here are some photos from me and flickrland)
posted by shoepal at 8:11 PM on May 3, 2005

Actually, the language of the first site linked (collajove.com) is not Spanish but (not surprisingly) Catalan.
posted by Creosote at 8:17 PM on May 3, 2005

One of the reasons I love MeFi, it was surprising to me. I didn't even know Catalan existed. Explains why the fish did such a bad job of translating.

The Cellar's Catalan description of the amount of practice involved is pretty amazing.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 PM on May 3, 2005

I was lucky enough to be in barna visiting friends and saw this (not my photo, btw) in '99 - on my b'day, even. Memorable day...
posted by space2k at 9:18 PM on May 3, 2005

Further pictures here: self link (last three on that page, then a couple of pages more...)

(ObAdmission: Soc un casteller...)
posted by benzo8 at 1:24 AM on May 4, 2005

I immediately thought of that Clive Barker story as well. Totes creepy.
posted by jcruelty at 6:09 PM on May 4, 2005

Me lives now just 5 km from the world's greatest "colla de castellers", the Castellers de Vilafranca (he he, that should ignite some debate here in Catalonia!).

One of the most amazing things about castells is that the older/stronger people conform the foundations of the tower (obvious thing to do, btw), and with each floor of the tower, the age and weight is reduced, and the last person in the tower, called "anxaneta" is very, very young (sometimes they refuse to go up when they see the tower!).

Another beautiful thing is the relationship between the music (they play an old flute called "gralla"), that marks the different stages of the tower.

Loving castells is fairly new for me. At first I was uninterested, you know, folk stuff, but the first time I actually went to the "pla├ža" to see them I was humbled by the colossal proportions of the towers and the difficulty of raising the castle (in catalan, "castell"). In fact, a castle can be raised, which is just the first step, and then dismantled. So if you just can raise it, but you can't successfully dismantle it, then you still get the credit for it, although, of course, the thing is to dismantle it in a orderly manner!
posted by samelborp at 11:47 PM on May 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

samelborp's Vilafranca (who are regarded as the best, even by other colla's) are in the purple shirts in my photoset above. My colla, Castellers de Sants are in the gris (grey) shirts...

And I disagree slightly that capping a castell and then not dismantling it cleaning gets you any more than a sympathetic round of applause from the crowd. When the aixecador (I've never heard anxaneta before) kisses his hand and displays it to the crowd at the top of the castell, that really is just for show, for the punters... The colla will not count the round as complete in any way until it's been cleanly dismantled too...

I am a big guy, so I'm in the pinya, which is the first level - the foundations. Taller castells will have a folre, which is a second foundation level ontop of the first, and the tallest (the 9 and 10 level castells) will have a third layer - the manilles before the actuall castell appears. A tall castell is likely to have five people in each level - the penultimate level 2 and at the top the aixecador on their own. This means, us guys at the bottom may well have ten people directly on our shoulders, and maybe fifty-sixty people above us in total!

The music will not start being played until all the foundations are in place - it's at this point that the castell is "live" and a round is either completed or failed. If the cap de colla (boss) decides before the music's started that the foundations are not perfect, (or anyone in the foundations) can call the whole thing off and the colla gets to break down the foundations and remake them again.

One thing I love so much about the castellers is the social aspects, not just within a colla, but within the community, particularly on the days of a meet. Colla's are entirely voluntary, and some have too few members to attempt larger castells, and on the day, you can often find members of other collas in the pinya of a "competing" colla, just helping out - members of the public too.

Of course, frankly, castellers is all about the beer between the rounds, whilst watching other collas, but don't tell anyone I told you that!
posted by benzo8 at 2:19 AM on May 5, 2005 [6 favorites]

So it's the Catalan replacement for slow-pitch softball. Honestly this looks like a lot more fun.
posted by Mitheral at 1:19 PM on May 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Soon you will be seeing castells in the States as well. Last week a group of Catalan students in the University of California, Irvine created the first American colla and they plan to start training this week to be ready for their first public appearance in August.
posted by blogenstock at 10:03 AM on May 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

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