Catalonia’s human towers could rival any city skyscraper – not for their height, but for architectural ingenuity and overall “wow factor.” What’s a human tower, you ask? Picture this: a 36-foot-tall (10.97 m) structure completely constructed from human LEGOs (not those human shaped LEGO people either, actual people).
Catalonia in 360º: “Castellers”
If this sounds like your perfect idea of adventure, hop on the next plane to Tarragona, Spain, where the “Concur de Castells” competition takes place once every two years, during the first week of October. Whether you’re participating in the action or watching from afar, this event promises to be a memorable adventure, with a live audience of more than 20,000 spectators and over 30 teams (Colla) of 100 – 500 people from all around the world.
The tradition of building castells (human towers) was believed to have had their origins in the traditional folklore dance of Valls (a city near Tarragona), at the end of 18th century. During these dances, small human towers were customarily built to signify the end of a routine. Eventually, however, the activity became a popular sport on its own, especially after the first 9 level castell was built.
Today, the competition brings together Castellers (castle builders) of all ages to construct towers ranging anywhere from six to ten levels high. Points are rewarded based on the height of the final tower, as well as its level of difficulty to construct. Generally, a successful tower is constructed by first having a strong base (pinya) of men, which supports the upper levels of lighter children and women.
The assembly of a castell is completed once all castellers have climbed to their designated places and the top most casteller, or enxaneta, raises one hand with four fingers erect – a gesture that is said to symbolize the stripes of the flag. Once this motion is completed, the enxaneta begins his or her descent from the other side of the castell, and is followed by the remaining levels of castellers until everyone reaches the ground safely.
Although the construction of a castell is a marvel, an adventure and a performance all in one, it is also an important part Catalan tradition. In fact, in 2010, UNCESCO recognized castells as amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – a title your LEGOs will never be able to obtain.