Catalan human castles declared UNESCO element of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage declared the Catalan tradition of human castle building, or ‘castells’, as an element of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition was also awarded to the Mallorcan ‘Sibil·la’ chant, the traditional dance Flamenco and the Mediterranean Diet.

CNA / Margalida Armengual / Sarah Garrahan

November 16, 2010 10:39 PM

Nairobi (Kenya) (ACN).- The Catalan tradition of human castles, called ‘castells’, has finally been recognised by UNESCO as an element of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage made the decision during the UNESCO conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The ‘casteller’ community has been awaiting the committee’s decision for years, as the candidature was submitted in 2007. In addition to Catalan ‘castells’, the Mallorcan Sibil·la chant and the traditional dance Flamenco were also added to UNESCO’s list of over 300 cultural elements from all over the world.

The human castles, or ‘castells’, were presented as one of the most genuine and unique cultural practices of Europe, an excellent example of Catalonia’s “strength, balance, values and wisdom”. In addition to the rich technical and historical elements of the ‘castells’, the candidature included the cultural values of individual and collective self-improvement, goal setting, solidarity (among members of the same group as well as other groups) and the integration of all ages, conditions and capacities into the same project.

The aspiration to become an element of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was first announced in April of 2007 in Valls during the first ‘Nit de Castells’ (Night of Castles) celebration. Last February, UNESCO confirmed that the ‘castells’ candidature was “technically complete” and thus ready to be decided on by the committee. The aspiration gained support from around the country, especially from the Catalan Parliament and political parties, which got the project off the ground in 2008.

Despite everything, UNESCO called for an official candidature proposal from the Spanish State. So in July of 2009, the Historic Heritage Council (an organisation comprised of representatives from all Spanish autonomies) finally gave the approval for the ‘castells’ candidature. The request was presented to UNESCO on the 28th of August in Paris.

The Castellers, cultural heritage

The 5th session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage took place at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. There, the committee made the decision to include ‘castellers’ (human castle builders) into their prestigious list of cultural elements. The Catalan delegation was very enthusiastic about the decision.

Representatives from the Castells Heritage of Humanity Committee form a part of the Catalan delegation, among whom include the president of the Colles Castelleres de Catalunya, Miquel Botella, the director of  the Centre de Promoció de la Cultura Popular i Tradicional Catalana, Ramon Fontdevila, the editor of Castells magazine, Jordi Roigé, the head of the Heritage Centre for UNESCO in Catalonia, Lluís Garcia Petit, the president of the Catalan Parliament, Ernest Benach, and the Catalan Minister for Culture and Media, Joan Manuel Tresserras.

The Mallorcan Sibil·la chant also recognised

In addition to ‘castells’, the Mallorcan Sibil·la chant was also declared a UNESCO element of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The chant is one of the most awaited moments of Christmas Eve mass in Mallorca. Dating back to Medieval times, the chant is comprised of prophetic verses about the apocalypse of the final destruction of the world. It is traditionally sung by a young girl or boy wearing a white veil, a white or coloured tunic, a coloured cape and a hat with coloured feathers. The cantor holds a sword with both hands throughout the chant.

The Sibil·la tradition dates back to Jaume I’s (King of Catalonia and Aragon) Mallorcan conquest in 1229. The city was defeated twice, the 2nd as part of the Inquisition, and was finally restored in 1692.

Since then, the Sibil·la tradition has taken place on Christmas Eve in churches throughout Mallorcan villages and cities. The survival of the tradition has been attributed to the geographical isolation of the island from the Peninsula and its strong tradition of singing on Christmas Eve. The tradition did not survive in mainland Catalan speaking territories after it was forbidden after the Council of Trent. The chant was revived in Barcelona’s Santa Maria del Mar church a few years ago.

Flamenco and Mediterranean diet, as well

UNESCO also recognised the traditional dance, Flamenco, from Southern Spain. The candidature was presented by Andalusia, Extremadura and Múrcia with support from the Spanish Government. Flamenco was finally recognised after the committee denied its application 5 years ago.

UNESCO also inaugurated the Mediterranean Diet into its list of cultural heritage elements. The proposal was presented by Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco with the objective of promoting the gastronomic cultural heritage that Mediterranean territories share.