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Varying degrees of success at Vilafranca del Penedès' human towers festival

Saint Felix celebrations sees Catalonia's top four tower-building ‘colles’ attempt daring ‘castells’

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30 August 2019 05:50 PM

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ACN|Vilafranca del Penedès

Spectators were ripe with expectation on Friday at Vilafranca del Penedès, in the heart of Catalonia’s wine country, as Saint Felix day celebrations brought with them the country’s top human towers festival.

Four ‘colles’, or human tower-building groups, got together to woo the expectant crowd gathered at Vilfranca’s central square with their constructions: Castellers de Vilafranca, Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls, Colla Jove dels Xiquets de Valls and Colla Joves Xiquets de Tarragona.

These four ‘colles’ were ranked as Catalonia’s best human tower groups by the latest biannual competition in Tarragona, but at today’s show they were disappointingly unable to construct many of the most difficult towers they attempted – some of which have not yet ever been made successfuly.

This year’s Saint Felix festival saw many spectacular ‘castells’, some of which were particularly large at up to 10 tiers tall, but it also saw many failed attempts, including falls and aborted attempts due to instability that made the event longer than other years.

What are human towers?

Declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010, Catalonia's human towers -or 'castells'- are one of the country's most unique customs.

The tradition first documented in the 17th century sees large groups -known as 'colles'- forming tiers of differing numbers of people standing on the shoulders of those below them.

A human tower is only complete once a child called the 'enxaneta', who can be as young as five, clambers to the very top of the structure and raises their arm.

The towers are a common - and breathtaking - sight in towns squares all over the country, where they are built during local festivals to the sound of traditional 'gralla' flutes and drums.

'Castells' will often come crashing down, although the 'castellers' have their own human safety net in the dozens of team members supporting the tower's base, or 'pinya'.

There are 'colles' in towns and cities all over Catalonia that spend months practising at building the tallest and most complex human constructions.

Each 'colla' is distinguished by the color of its shirts, and 'castellers' wear traditional garb of white trousers and a wide black sash around the waist, providing back support and a foothold to help team members climb up or down the tower of people.

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  • The Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona building a human tower at the 2019 Saint Felix day celebrations (Jordi Pujolar/ACN)

  • The Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona building a human tower at the 2019 Saint Felix day celebrations (Jordi Pujolar/ACN)

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