Castells: Human Towers from Catalonia
November 8, 2010 1:26 PM   Subscribe

The building of Castells, or human towers, is a tradition from Catalonia, going back to the end of the 18th century, starting in Valls. About a month ago, the annual Concurs de Castells took place in Tarragona, with groups of castellers competing to make taller and more complex towers. This video is a well-shot glimpse at the tower building, deconstruction, and some tumbles, possibly from the 2010 gathering. Via Kuriositas, which has more photos.

Though the reasoning behind the first castell is lost, the tradition carries on, and has spread to other parts of Spain. Interested in seeing a display first-hand? The group Castellers de Barcelona have a list of the seven most important venues and dates, and another overview of the castell tradition.

This 5 minute documentary on the Castell events in Vilafranca del Penedès has an overview of the day's events, including short interviews with some castellers. YouTube has other interesting clips, including more than 9 minutes of planning, practice and preparation, for those wondering how anyone could prepare for such falls.

Castellers have appeared previously on the blue. The main links are dead, but there are some great comments from MeFites, one who lived in the neighborhood of Castellers de Vilafranca, and another MeFite who was/is part of Castellers de Sants (Google Auto-Translate).
posted by filthy light thief (26 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
In the hills, the cities..
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2010 [9 favorites]

So that's where he got the idea.
posted by Iridic at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by Iridic at 1:39 PM on November 8, 2010

If one lies down it means the surrounding fields up to any roads or cities belong to it.
posted by Artw at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2010

There's also Muixeranga (video), which is apparently less about height and more about a range of figures (as described on Wikipedia). Also from the Iberian Peninsula, but from a small area in the Valencian Community, rather than Catalonia.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:55 PM on November 8, 2010

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.

Seems like a fitting name.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:14 PM on November 8, 2010

Can I just say that, as a parent, there's no way I'd want my kids anywhere near this. This is crazed!
posted by newdaddy at 2:37 PM on November 8, 2010

It's fine, they're wearing helmets. And they'll land on a mountain of people, who would really soften the fall.

It seems that some groups travel, as seen in The Feast of Catalonia on the Main Market Square in Kraków.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:49 PM on November 8, 2010

This is fucking cool! Take that, couch-potato sports fans!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:49 PM on November 8, 2010

I've got another great idea. Let's have a herd of bulls stampede through narrow streets while people try to outrun them!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:04 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mental Wimp: Let's have a herd of bulls stampede through narrow streets while people try to outrun them!

Not in Catalonia, at least not any more.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:26 PM on November 8, 2010

I wonder if this is what inspired Clive Barker.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:46 PM on November 8, 2010

Aw crap. Can't believe the first two comments escaped me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:47 PM on November 8, 2010

You must join our comment-pile and roam the hills forever!
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just came in here to say "In the hills, the cities," like the rest of my semi-autonomous somatohive.
posted by reverend cuttle at 4:36 PM on November 8, 2010

IIRC either Barkers editor or agent was convinced that he shouldn't bother trying to sell that story or should at least change the gender of one of the protagonists, as otherwise nobody would be interested. I guess that that has been shown to be not the case...
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2010

I dropped by to make a snide remark when I was assimilated by the collective. I went and read "In the hills, the cities." Here's a link. If you've never read it before, may I suggest that there are few better things you could be doing with the next few minutes of your life. I found there a peculiar, horrifying kind of awe.

Thanks for the links, filthy light thief. Those are some very lucky children.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:33 PM on November 8, 2010

It's OK people. It might seem irresponsible, but they actually only use surplus children.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

there is a fantastic documentary about this "sport" and the people who participate in it, Castells, by Gereon Wetzel, from 2006. Well worth checking out if you can find it. Sadly, the internet does not appear to have much information on it at all, aside from a overcompressed trailer on youtube with what are I believe German subtitles. Beautifully shot and simply elucidated.

The children are often absolutely petrified at the thought of climbing all the way to the top, and some of them pay for it with terrible injuries when things go awry. :( At the same time, it's an utterly fascinating way to thrust them into communal relevance; indeed, the adults talk to the kids of profound dependence on the little guys and gals to achieve greater goals.
posted by oog at 8:48 PM on November 8, 2010

Reminds me of the performances they used to do at the old Muscle Beach in Santa Monica
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:59 PM on November 8, 2010

upon reviewing the OP's links more carefully, i see the 9 minute "planning and preparation" youtube link is actually a scene from the documentary I mentioned.
posted by oog at 9:02 PM on November 8, 2010

All I could think of was the Aggie Bonfire collapse. When I read "tumbles" I thought for sure these would be individuals falling off the sides as they climbed up or down, but the video shows that it seems to be a progressive or systemic collapse of an engineering type, except the structural pieces are human beings. And some of them are children! And all they seem to have is some protective headgear!

By the way, the next time somebody talks about the European preference for the nanny state, I should show them this.
posted by dhartung at 9:55 PM on November 8, 2010

filthy light thief The ban only affects bullfigting. They actually approved and protected the "correbous" which is just what Mental Wimp said, and sometimes even with fire on the bulls horns.
posted by radiobishop at 5:28 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm the MeFite mentioned in the OP as having been in Castellers de Sants. (Here's my earlier post on castells. (The self-gallery links in that link no longer work. Sorry.) I no longer am though, as I left Barcelona for the south of Spain a couple of years ago, but my old colla is going from strength-to-strength, having recently completed a 4d9f - a 9 person high tower, with four people only in each main floor, and a folre (the second level of "base" visible in some of the video constructions)... Sadly, I, no longer, soc casteller...
posted by benzo8 at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

radiobishop - I have not heard of correbous before, thanks for the info.

benzo8 - thanks for the comments, then and now!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2010

To the windows, to the walls! In the hills, the cities....

posted by norm at 9:39 AM on November 9, 2010

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