Human towers get Tarragona's Santa Tecla Festival underway

Catalonia's unique custom of building 'castells' made of tiers of people the main feature on first Sunday of southern city's annual festivities

Human tower erected in front of Tarragona's city council building as part of Santa Tecla festivities (Jordi Marsal/ACN)
Human tower erected in front of Tarragona's city council building as part of Santa Tecla festivities (Jordi Marsal/ACN) / ACN

ACN | Tarragona

September 16, 2019 12:27 PM

Catalonia's human towers, known as 'castells,' were out in force at the weekend for the opening of the Santa Tecla Festival, held every year in the southern city of Tarragona.

'Castellers' are a key ingredient at many local festivities in the country, and are just about mandatory in the Tarragona area, where the tradition of building human towers began.

The Colla Vella from the Xiquets 'casteller' group in the nearby city of Valls pulled off an almost perfect performance in front of the town hall in Tarragona's Font square.

Unfortunately that was not the case for the Castellers of Vilafranca, from the capital of the Penedès area just north of Tarragona, who saw one of their towers crumple and fall.

Also getting the first Sunday of the festival underway - and with a little more success than the Vilafranca group - were Taragona's Jove 'colla' and the city's Xiquets group.

The day also recognized the political situation, with a huge 'estelada' independence flag unfurled in the square that was passed over the heads of the spectators and 'castellers'.

The festival also condemned sexism, after a recent case of sexual abuse in Vilafranca's local festival, with a banner on the town hall proclaiming: "Zero tolerance with sexism." 

What are human towers?

Declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010, Catalonia's human towers 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.

'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, each with their own colored shirts, that spend months practising at building the tallest and most complex human constructions.