Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Towering Above...

"Every age, every culture, every custom and
tradition has its own character, its own weaknesses
and strengths, its own beauties and ugliness..."
~Hermann Hesse

 When last I wrote, I mentioned that Mike and I had walked through the Boquería our Saturday afternoon in Barcelona. What I didn't mention is that prior to going there, we watched the castellars. If you've looked at the photos, you probably have guesses that castellars are people who form castells (castle).  The plaza was wall-to-wall people who were there to watch the teams build the towers, and we pushed as close as we could to get near them. 

The castellars have roots in 18th-century Catalunya, and while it has spread to other areas, it remains most popular in that province. The teams always wear white pants and black sashes, but each team wears a different shirt color. The sashes are the most important part of the uniform because they not only support the castellars' backs but also serve as a hand or foothold for those climbing higher. Some castellars wear bandanas (See photo below.), and only the child who tops the castell wears a helmet.  (Yes, a child climbs to the top.  See the photo above, and you can see the girl climbing into place.)

The castellars build the tower in two movements. The first is formation of the base (pinya, which means bulk). There can be as many as a couple hundred people on this level because it is the one that gives strength and stability to the tower. Ironically, the level doesn't usually get much attention, but it is so important because besides giving the stability, it also serves as a cushion should the upper levels fall.

(Note: In none of these photos do you see the base layer. If you look at the second layer above, you can see hands of the pinya supporting them.)

The way the castellars build the tower depends on the number of layers, how many people per layer, and the rising.  Some of the forms require the succeeding layers to climb up the backs of the lower layers. (See photos below.)  Another way to build the tower is to pull the castellars up through the middle of each layer, a method that requires strength to hold and to yank up.

The top layer is usually a child.  Once the child reaches the top, he/she raises four fingers and climbs down the side opposite the side he/she climbed up.  The other layers shimmy down in order.  For the build to be successful, every movement must go smoothly.

There are, of course, times when things go wrong, and the towers do collapse before the last layers get up.  As I mentioned before, the pinya is important in these cases as they do provide a buffer for the falling people.  As a matter of fact, the team pictured here did fall in on themselves during a climb. When recovered, they successfully built a seven-level castell.

The tallest castell built the day we were there was eight layers high.  From what I remember, the record is 10 levels.  In addition to the castells with multiple people per layer, there are castells that are one person per level, two per level, three per level, etc.

If you are interested in seeing a great video of a castell, click here.  If you'd like to see a castell fail, click here.

Next time:  Fire!

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