Castells - Colles Castelleres de Catalunya
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The human tower calendar changes every year and there are often alterations at only a few weeks’ notice, so the best way to find out when and where you can see castells is to check the performances that are going to take place on a specific date a few days in advance. Bear in mind that human tower activity does not happen all the time, as colles follow a season, although it is unofficial.

When and where?

Traditionally, this season began on Saint John’s Day (24 June) and ended with the Saint Ursula meeting (the Sunday after 21 October), but this calendar has been extended, and nowadays human towers can be seen virtually all year round, although the time of year with least activity is December and January.

The number of performances has also grown: each year more than 10,000 castells are raised. In the summer, for example, there are dozens of performances every weekend. It must be borne in mind that human towers, like any amateur activity, usually take place at weekends or on public holidays. The importance of the performances varies, although there are some which, by tradition, attract the most spectators year after year.

Just as the calendar has expanded with time, the map has also spread: you can find castells almost any weekend throughout most of Catalonia.

Not to be missed

The most unusual

Besides the performances when you can see the biggest human towers, there are some that are exceptional for other reasons: because they have castells at night, because they are held in unusual settings or because they have a particular feature that makes them special. These are just a few examples.

How do they work?

A typical human tower performance consists of three human towers and a farewell pillar by each participating colla . In each performance there can be one, two, three, four or even more clubs, although the number is normally three. The groups raise their human towers in rounds, following an order of performance that is agreed or drawn before the start. Usually, if the club cannot achieve the human tower it tries to build, it has the right to have another go.

However hard you look, you will never find any written Rules of Human Towers governing the activity. But that does not mean they do not exist: castells are built according to unwritten conventions known and accepted by everyone.

The only performance that does have explicit rules is the Concurs de Tarragona, which basically tries to compile the traditional rules of human towers in writing and apply them, although with some differences.

Who’s won?

Although an outsider seeing different “teams” coming together in the same square might think otherwise, castells are not a mere competition, and there are no winners or losers. The colles make the human towers basically to push their own limits and achieve new challenges. That is why it is quite usual for several clubs to leave the square happy after a meeting: all of them feel like winners because they have achieved their objectives.

However, some human towers are clearly more difficult than others. The casteller s , or human tower builders, are aware of this and often, as well as improving their own achievements, they also feel the attraction of performing better than the others. This is especially clear at meetings where clubs of a similar standard or with traditional rivalries coincide.

Which human tower is most difficult?

Unwritten criteria and conventions also come into play in this case. The joy of the human tower builders and the strength of the applause can be a good guide, although if you want an accurate assessment you can use the Concurs de Tarragona points table as a reference.

Music

Human towers cannot be understood without the music of the gralla (a traditional Catalan kind of pipe) and the drums. The toc de castell, or human tower tune, is the best-known piece: it is the one played when the human towers are being raised and it marks time, so it is used as a guide by those making up the construction. But, if you are at a castells meeting, before you hear the human tower tune you will hear the toc d’entrada a plaça, or tune for entering the square. Many other human tower moments also have a corresponding song, like the toc del pilar caminant, or walking pillar tune, and the toc de vermut, or aperitif tune (played at the end of the performance).

Advice if you join the base

Take off your watch, your glasses, your earrings and your rings. If there is a fall these can be dangerous.

Do not raise your head! If you think you will not be able to contain your curiosity, it is best if you watch from outside. Being in the base requires maximum concentration.

Let the gralles , the shouts of the cap de colla , or club skipper, and the ambient noise guide you on the progress of the human tower.

Push with your chest rather than your stomach, and only when you are asked to from the front. When you hear “Dóna’m pit!” (“Give me some chest!), you will know it is time to push.

Take advice. Everyone has had a first time and those with more experience will be delighted (sometimes only too delighted!) to tell you what you have to do and how to position yourself.

If there is a fall, do not bend down and carry on pushing forwards.

Enjoy the experience. You are bound to want another try!

Enjoy a rehearsal in person

Human towers are one of the most spectacular examples of ephemeral art in the world; that is what makes attending a castells meeting a unique experience for spectators. But now you have the chance to go even further and experience it for yourself! The human tower clubs open the doors of their headquarters to show you all the work that goes into one of what the American television network NBC has described as one of the “most unusual pieces of teamwork” found anywhere.

Book a visit to a rehearsal and find a unique, exclusive way of penetrating the world of human towers!

Terrassa festival

This is one of the first major performances of the season, held on the first Sunday after Sant Pere’s Day (29 June). The two local clubs, Minyons de Terrassa and Castellers de Terrassa, perform, as well as a third guest colla . It is usually a good chance to see big human towers.

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Les Santes in Mataró

Since 2000, the Les Santes meeting has become increasingly important in the human tower calendar. In recent seasons this has been thanks to Castellers de Vilafranca, who have made it the first chance of the year to see gamma extra or top-ranking castells . It is held on the Sunday before the holiday of Les Santes (27 July).

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Vilanova i la Geltrú festival

Plaça de la Vila in Vilanova i la Geltrú is the scene of the town festival, that takes part during the first weekend in August. As well as the local colla , two more top clubs perform. The castells are on Saturday afternoon, a good excuse for continuing the day with dinner and one of the evening events.

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La Bisbal del Penedès festival

Every 15 August, the small town of La Bisbal becomes a centre for castells , in one of the most authentic dates in the calendar, known both for the human towers that can be seen there and for the high temperatures.

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El Catllar festival

El Catllar does not have its own colla , but it has been passionate about human towers since the 19th century. On the occasion of its town festival, the castells meeting takes place in the afternoon of either the third or fourth Saturday in August in one of the most crowded squares in the world of human towers. It has become, on its own merits, one of those dates that fans never like to miss: top-class guest clubs, strategy and rivalry are its ingredients.

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Arboç festival

This is one of the most traditional performances in the calendar, with a top-class bill. It is held on the fourth Sunday in August, with three of the top clubs in the world of human towers as well as the local club. As well as castells , it is also worth attending the performance of the Ball de Diables, or Dance of the Devils, held just before the castells meeting.

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Sant Fèlix (Vilafranca del Penedès)

The classic meeting. Every 30 August, Vilafranca del Penedès invites what it considers to be “the four best clubs in the world of human towers” as guests. Tradition, rivalry, the most difficult human towers and an imposing setting fill up what many consider to be the classic square for castells with thousands of fans to enjoy one of the most exciting spectacles of the season.

Although 30 August is the big day, the human towers in the Vilafranca festival begin earlier, on the 29th, with the eve-of-festival performance, and end the following day, the 31st, on Sant Ramon’s Day. In this case, it is the local clubs that take part.

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Santa Tecla (Tarragona)

Tarragona’s festival has two performances in which the most difficult castells are often seen. The most traditional is the Santa Tecla meeting, which is held on the day of the city’s patron saint (23 September) with the four local colles . In recent years, however, a meeting has been added on the first Sunday of the festival, with performances by the two best local clubs and two top-class guest clubs.

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La Mercè (Barcelona)

On the Sunday nearest to 24 September (Barcelona festival) the La Mercè meeting is held with guest colles . It is one of the most heavily attended performances, particularly by tourists. You need to be on time because sometimes the crowd is so big that access to Plaça de Sant Jaume has to be closed. There are also human towers in Barcelona on 24 September itself, with performances by the local clubs.

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Concurs de Tarragona

The most exceptional performance in the calendar takes place in the shape of a competition on the first Sunday in October in even-numbered years. It is the only meeting where there are definite winners and losers, where castells are worth points, where a jury checks carefully that the rules have been followed and where spectators pay for admission. It is the day when human towers are an open competition.

If you want to go to the Concurs, you need to plan in advance because the 6,000 tickets sell out a few hours after going on sale. This is the biggest human tower spectacle in the world. During its three days, you can see 42 clubs performing.

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Mercadal meeting (Reus)

In odd-numbered years, in the afternoon of the first Saturday in October, Plaça del Mercadal in Reus brings together some of the best clubs in the world of castells , who perform together with the local Xiquets club. It is a good chance to combine shopping and good human towers in an afternoon.

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Santa Teresa’s Fair (El Vendrell)

On the nearest Sunday to 15 October, for many years now Plaça Vella in El Vendrell has hosted a meeting full of tradition, where you can see the most difficult castells in a knowledgeable environment.

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Santa Úrsula (Valls)

The big day for Plaça del Blat, the very centre of the world of human towers – the setting where, 200 years ago now, the first human towers were seen – is Santa Úrsula’s Day, the performance which takes place on the Sunday after 21 October. It is an exhibition of the pure essence of castells , the most authentic rivalry and the most difficult human towers by the two Valls clubs: Vella and Joves. One of the unusual features about this square is that only the colles from Valls perform there.

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Sant Narcís (Girona)

Minyons de Terrassa put Plaça del Vi on the map of the most important squares in 1998, when they built the 20th century’s first four of nine without auxiliary base there. Since then, on the Sunday before 29 October, it has provided the best chance in the north of Catalonia to see the most difficult human towers.

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Tots Sants (Vilafranca del Penedès)

Castellers de Vilafranca close their season organising this meeting in their square, which hosts the last big attempts of the year: many of the best performances in history have been seen on a 1 November. While for Sant Fèlix the guest clubs are “the best in the world of human towers”, the idea is that Tots Sants should provide the best shop window for the up-and-coming clubs.

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Minyons de Terrassa meeting

All that needs to be said to understand the importance of this meeting is that it has seen the first two of nine completed and the first three of ten completed in history. It is the last big meeting of the season (third or fourth Sunday in November), which means it is often necessary to wrap up well when you go there.

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Every ten years

In the years ending in 1, the Festes Decennals de la Mare de Déu de la Candela is held on 2 February in Valls, the scene of the biggest human tower performance. All clubs from the world of human towers perform simultaneously, creating a spectacle of colour.

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At night

Most meetings take place at midday on Sunday, but there are exceptions. The Completes performance, in Valls, on 23 June, starts at a quarter to eleven at night. It is a performance forming part of the festival of Sant Joan in which human towers are mixed with fire. One of the most spectacular images is when the two Valls clubs maintain their pillars for several minutes while the sky is filled by a firework display.

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Marking the beginning

Saint Joan’s Day traditionally marked the beginning of the human tower season. Every 24 June, the festival meeting is held in Valls, where the two local colles have their first face-to-face meeting of the year. The same day, in the afternoon, you can also see castells in Tarragona, with the participation of the four groups from the city.

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Human towers and bullfighting

The Millars meeting, in Roussillon, France, is the oldest in Northern Catalonia. Since 1997, at the beginning of August castells have been constructed as part of a bullfighting fair, which, every year, brings together more than 50,000 people to see human towers, pasodobles and bullfighting.

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Human towers without a club

Every 9 August at Llorenç del Penedès, the residents of the town, although they do not form a colla , build castells dressed in ordinary clothes in a meeting beginning at midnight. Once the performance has finished, those attending can enjoy a slice of watermelon before the party starts.

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In a unique setting

Tarragona’s summer festival, on the occasion of Sant Magí’s Day, has one of the most traditional meetings. Every 19 August, the four city clubs raise human towers in Plaça de les Cols, a unique setting that allows the earliest arrivals among the audience to see the human towers from the Cathedral steps. You need to go prepared for the heat!

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Joined by the Eix road

Marrecs de Salt, Sagals d’Osona, Tirallongues de Manresa and Castellers de Lleida – four colles joined by the Eix Transversal road – have held a human tower meeting since 1999. It is organised in mid-September on an itinerant basis and is notable because of the good atmosphere between the clubs, who end the performance with a joint castell de germanor, or human tower of friendship.

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Walking pillars

After the human tower performance, the La Mercè meeting on 24 September in Tarragona has a particular feature. The four city clubs raise a four-level pillar that goes up and down the 20 steps of the Cathedral and attempts to cover 500 metres before reaching the City Hall, in a time ranging from 10 to 15 minutes.

In Girona, Marrecs de Salt also have their own special walking pillar. On Tots Sants’ Day, at night, every year they try to climb the 90 steps of the cathedral.

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Women only

During the First Spanish Republic, Bellprat, a village in Anoia with 91 inhabitants, had the first democratically elected female Mayor. Since 2009, the municipality has paid tribute to Natividad Yarza with a human tower meeting held at the end of October with the unusual feature that the trunks of the castells consist entirely of women.

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