Saturday, September 16, 2006


We drove around vertiginous hairpin bends with sheer drops into deep valleys and found ourselves in a mountain fastness in the north of the Penedes region in Catalonia. Someone had told us that there was a gathering of ‘casteis’ teams. As the dusk fell they arrived, teams of men and women and children from towns and villages all over the region, there to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the local team.

Building a tower several storeys high from human beings is a pastime unique to Catalonia. On Sunday mornings people assemble in the main squares of the towns and construct these intricate columns, clinging on to each other and swaying dangerously. It is a dangerous sport. People fall and hurt themselves.

In the 1920s someone went to Czechoslovakia and came back with a Czech form of gymnastics that seemed to fit in with the tower building, and the Falcons of Catalonia were born.

It starts on a command from the master builder and the team lines up in their white trousers and coloured sashes. Little kids mill around, taking in the audience and the bright lights.

At the base of the structure are the strongest men of the team; on top of this base the layers build up, both men and women, then the young people, and finally, heart stoppingly, the very youngest of all race up the scaffolding of bodies and raise an arm in a triumphal salute. The child at the top of this pyramid is the same one as above – she could not have been more than five or six years old. My jaw dropped.

By this time the mass of bodies may be six or seven layers high, and teetering frighteningly. Sometimes it breaks away, leaving just a tower of people standing on each others shoulders, maybe six of them one on top of the other.

Other towers are built from a mass of bodies and hands and shoulders, with the non-participants leaning in towards the base, steadying the tower like flying buttresses.

There's something throat tightening about a community that quite literally supports itself on the backs of others, with its tiniest members fearless and trusting at its apex.

And then it’s over, the fireworks start, shoot heavenwards and tumble back, and everyone goes home.


Susan in Italy said...

Isn't that cool! It always freaked me out to see those cute little kids going on top of the whole tower o' people. Yikes!

Allison said...

It's cool but if you travel anywhere in Spain they all have their little quirks. I live in the Andalucian region of Spain and every Sunday morning if you happen to pop into my local town you see all the horse owners with their horses tied up outside the coffee bars before they move on to the other bars for the rest of the day. They then come back in the evening (even after dark) ocassionally singing at the top of their voices.

June said...

Freaked me out too! No way I would have let my five year old daughter do that! She is now twenty two and I still wouldn't let her do it.

Nice to hear from the Wild South, Allison - men and their hobbies eh?

June's daughter in Barcelona said...

Mum, didn't I tell you about the whole linguistic politics behind 'Castells'? If you don't go on to inform your readers I may have to report you to the Generalitat...

June said...

I thought you wanted me to take out 'castells' - was that not it?

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