Photography exhibition on Catalan human towers commemorates their first anniversary as part of World Cultural Heritage

‘Castells’ or the traditional human towers originally from Southern Catalonia and generally built during town festivals were included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO last year. An exhibition at the Palau Robert in Barcelona will celebrate this first anniversary. It reflects on the tradition’s cultural and social value, and its role as one of Catalonia’s best known symbols.

CNA / Sara Gómez

November 17, 2011 08:12 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The photography exhibition ‘Castells and Castellers. Intangible World Heritage’ pays tribute to the Catalan tradition, the human towers, which are built during town festivals and originated in southern Catalonia. The photo exhibition also pays tribute to individuals and groups that have made castells (Catalan for castles). They have become a symbol of Catalonia and one of the cultural treasures of humanity. The exhibition, on display at the Palau Robert of Barcelona until March 16th 2012, coincides with the first anniversary of the inclusion of castells in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity named by the UNESCO.

The tradition

The Castellers is a traditional Catalan celebration that consists of building human towers to symbolise a castle (‘castell’ is the Catalan word for ‘castle’, and ‘castellers’ are those building castles). The art of castells demands those involved to climb each others’ backs until they succeed in building a human tower, which can reach different heights and use a variety of combinations. They can be up to nine stories, with different formations combining one to four people per level.

The first references of the tradition as we know it today were found in the southern part of Catalonia and date back to the eighteenth century. The town of Valls claims to have given birth to the tradition, but it is also deeply rooted in the Penedès, which is also famous for its wines. Throughout the twentieth century, the celebration expanded its influence to most of the Catalan speaking areas and has now become one of Catalonia’s most popular traditions.

The participants are organised in groups that generally represent their own town or neighbourhood. They usually perform on specific dates or at annual festivals, as well as in contests where they face other colles (the Catalan word for castellers groups). Those from Valls, a town in the province of Tarragona, or those from Vilafranca del Penedès, in the province of Barcelona, are two examples of the more than 60 groups of castellers found in Catalonia. In fact, the Castellers de Vilafranca, which wear a green shirt and white trousers as their uniform. have been considered in recent years the colla that performs the most spectacular castles. This summer they went to India to participate in a local festival and show their art.

Images to honour the culture of effort

The exhibition is on display around the gardens of the Palau Robert in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, and gathers a selection of photographs previously published in the book ‘Castells and Castellers. A collective will’, which was also presented during the first anniversary of the castellers’ recognition by the UNESCO. The photo exhibition looks at images and texts highlighting castells’ intensity and spectacular nature, a unique combination of strength, balance and artistic beauty which captivates visitors from all over the world.

The images and texts also examine the history, the technique used by the castellers’ and the values of these human constructions. Strength, balance, wisdom, courage, perseverance, trust in others, the culture of effort or team work are some of the messages that photographers José Carlos León, Rafael López-Monné and Lucas Valecillos have illustrated, as a way to oppose the current idea of individualistic culture.

Castellers as a symbol of Catalonia

Aside from the castellers’ international recognition achieved after its recognition by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, both the Catalan Minister for Business and Employment, Francesc Xavier Mena, and the Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, stressed the social work of castells as a value transmitter and as one of the best examples in Catalonia of effort. In the context of a financial crisis like the one affecting Europe at the moment, the two members of the Catalan Government stressed that “castells prove” that “a united country that works as a team and improves day by day has a guaranteed future”.