Catalonia's human tower groups hope new season can go ahead

Main 'casteller' event in Tarragona still not canceled as concerns about coronavirus crisis cast shadow over summer program 

Image of a ten-tier human tower by Castellers de Vilafranca group in 2018 Sant Fèlix (by Gemma Sánchez)
Image of a ten-tier human tower by Castellers de Vilafranca group in 2018 Sant Fèlix (by Gemma Sánchez) / Guifré Jordan

ACN | Barcelona

April 17, 2020 12:45 PM

Saint John's Eve on June 23, which in Catalonia is known as the Nit de Sant Joan, traditionally marks the start of the 'casteller' season, when summer weekends see groups known as 'colles' building spectacular human towers in squares around the country.

Although this year is no normal year because of the ongoing health crisis, the quarantine restrictions and the need for social distancing, Catalonia's 'castellers' are hoping that by the summer the situation will have recovered enough to allow the new season go ahead.

The Coordinator of Catalonia's Colles Castelleres (CCCC), the organization that represents the country's human tower groups, says the main concern right now is how and when the restrictions will be lifted and how it will affect the timetable for the new season.

"We can't imagine building human towers in face masks or having to keep a certain distance. In the world of 'castellers' these preventive measures are not applicable," says Sergi Font, vice president of the CCCC and board member of the Marrecs 'colla' in Salt.

Human towers are a feature of the many local festivals, or 'festes majors', that take place in Catalan towns throughout the summer, but many of these annual festivities due to take place in July and early August have already been postponed.

Concurs de Castells still to go ahead, for now

However, for the moment, the largest event in the 'casteller' calendar, the Concurs de Castells de Tarragona, which sees the country's 'colles' competing at making the most complex human towers, is still set to go ahead in the southern city in October.

The local authority in Tarragona has so far held off canceling the major competition as it waits to be seen how the crisis develops, but the CCCC says that it will support whatever decision the council comes to about going ahead or postponing the event.

"We're optimistic as we think it'll be able to go ahead. Another issue is to listen to the 'colles', to see if they are ready to reach a level they can be proud of," says Font, who adds that starting training in June or July leaves "very few months" to prepare for the event.

"The largest 'castells', which require a great many people, and which need to be tried out to see if everything comes together as it should do, will be scarce this year, if we can even go ahead with the season at all," says Font.

Concerns about youngest group members

Another problem Font points to is preparing the youngest group members, who he says need time to adjust, while Jaume Martí, head of the Joves Xiquets de Valls 'colla', says: "The small kids grow and we'll need new ones to be 'aixecadors' and 'enxanetes'."

While the largest and strongest members of the group provide the base of the human tower, called the 'pinya', the structures are finished off by a small child - the 'enxaneta' - who climbs to the very top of the tower and raises a hand to signal that it is complete.

Meanwhile, as with so many other sectors during the health crisis, 'castellers' are also feeling the economic effects, as all the groups have costs, such as rents or mortgages, to pay. "It's one of the biggest concerns for many 'colles', says Font.