I’m not one for history, so the walking tour of Barcelona had been a bit of a bore for the first hour. One highlight was seeing an under cover cop catch three
pretty girls pickpockets who stole a phone from a lady on our tour. She had no clue her phone was taken!
The second hour got interesting as Carson, an American living in Barcelona & our tour guide, started getting overly excited (in a good way) entering Plaza Sant Jaume. She was about to tell us about the traditions of human towers in Barcelona & Catalonia.
Now for a contradiction, a brief bit of history about human castles: Human towers date back to the early 18th century in Valls (near Tarragona). Unlike many cultural traditions, they aren’t a dying as the popularity of castle building only gained momentum in the 1960’s, spreading throughout Catalonia. In 2010 the art of human castles was enlisted in UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
I’d seen the viral videos of human tower collapses before, but didn’t know much about them.
I couldn’t believe it when Carson said the square we are standing in literally becomes a can of sardines in September. That’s when the five-day festival, La Mercè Festival, is held. The streets are packed with celebrations and the human towers are one of the most anticipated events of the festival.
She mentioned we have to watch the human towers on YouTube. Because I’m a good little listener, this is one of many I watched.
No doubt you’d have to get there early. It’d be great to stay in one of the apartments overlooking the square, many with the Catalonian flag hanging from the rails. No doubt a few go for hundreds of dollars on airbnb.
Any how, I certainly didn’t know that a young child is the one sent to the top of the tower (makes total sense though, right?) These kids are usually around five or six. Apparently, there is a minimum age? They do wear helmets, so while you might be pooping yourself about the thought of sending your kid soaring into the sky, these kids are cherished.
Once they get to the top, the kid will make a signal. This is usually pointing four fingers, representing the stripes of the Catalonian flag.
Carson then guided us through the cobbled streets of the city to a human tower monument. The tower is massive and was a tribute to the highest human castle completed in public, nine humans high!
Since that was built in 2014 two teams have gone ahead and got a tower to 10 levels high.
There are different names for the levels of towers and number of people on each level.
As the tour came to an end, I decided to look into watching a team practice somewhere, somehow.
Turns out it’s really easy to see teams of Castellers perform during the summer months!
After hunting around on a few sites, I figured out where I could watch human towers in Barcelona. Midday on a Sunday afternoon 20 minutes from here wI was staying. Too easy!
Thinking there would be maybe one tower go up I made sure to arrive early.
There was no organisation from what I could gather. Suddenly music started playing and a tower was coming up out of nowhere. My first observation was the pure amount of people forming the base.
The bottom level (the pinya) can be comprised of dozens of people and has two functions.
- For strength to support the upper levels
- Acts as a safety net if an accident happens.
It’s important to not, accidents are rare with few fatalities over the years.
apparently obviously practice for hours and hours. With dozens of people in each human tower team, everyone knows their role and when to execute.
Over the next 90 minutes, I watched nine human castles start from the ground up. Not all of them were successful.
Turns out there is one person who acts as the project manager of the castle, making sure everyone is lined up and in the best place for success as no one wants to see a castle collapse. You could see the agony on the faces of this manager, who has to make sure the pinya is solid then no one is in any imminent danger.
The children who form the top of the castles (known as the enxaneta) were carried around on peoples shoulders pretty much the whole time. Essentially their minders. This makes sense, they’re just children and can easily get lost and or squashed with so many humans around. As they scaled the humans, it was incredible how fast they climbed up people. The most coordinated kids I’ve ever seen! When the kids made it back down from the top of the towers, it was awesome to see how much praise they were given. Rightly so.
There are a few people performing traditional music near the tower that starts when the castle is all but assured of rising to the top successfully. The crowd then applauds once the enxaneta raises four fingers and the dismantling of the tower begins (everyone is still concentrating until the entire human tower is dismantled).
I saw one guy getting his sash put on, wholly this goes on tight. Must be somewhat hard to breathe but they act as important foot and hand holds
Watching the castles forming was incredible. For a public event with no fenced off areas, it was cool to see the crowd so well behaved and mannered. There must have been a couple hundred people watching, but the scene was so much more pleasant than the hoards of people five minutes away at Sagrada Familia.
The bottom three levels tended to be made up of guys, then there would be girls in the higher levels and finished with the children on top. The women only got involved in forming the towers in the 1970’s, with their physical build allowing taller castles to be built.
One other thing I noticed was the mean biting down on their collars. The shirts need to be as tight as possible I guess, like their sash.
The competition aspect was interesting. There was no competition aspect from what I could gather, but the different teams weren’t intermingling with one another although sometimes a few would help strengthen the bottom level.
After 90 minutes, I’d seen more than enough. Having expected just the one tower, this is definitely one of the best free things to do in Barcelona.
Where To Watch Human Towers In Barcelona?
The places vary week to week. These were the best three resources I found in terms of figuring out where to see human towers.
Other Barcelona Posts
- A tour of Barcelona’s Football Stadium
- Sporty things to do in Barcelona
- Is Barcelona worth visiting?
- Hiking trip to Montserrat