Castells - Colles Castelleres de Catalunya

History

During more than two centuries of development, castells have evolved noticeably and they have experienced extreme situations, from being about to disappear, a hundred years ago, to the current best of times.

Origins (1770-1800)

Human towers are an evolution of a folk dance called ball de valencians, which used to end with the raising of a human figure. When this dance, native to the Valencian Community, arrived in Catalonia in the 18th century, it became firmly established in Camp de Tarragona, Penedès and Garraf. The final figure that ended the dance became more and more important – the incentive was making it higher or more complicated, not only to better oneself but also to outdo other dance groups. In Valls, such competition ended up making the final figures separate performances, until they became what we know today as castells.

First clubs (1801-1850)

Making the tallest construction was the aim of the first human tower builders in Valls, who, at the beginning of the 19th century, were already organised into two colles, or human tower clubs: the Pagesos (Farmers) and the Menestrals (Tradesmen). The Valls colles travelled all over Camp de Tarragona and Penedès from June to October, taking part in town festivals.

First golden age (1851-1893)

During their first century of existence, human tower-building evolved for the better: the clubs achieved historic milestones, such as raising nine-level castells, and the activity enjoyed great popularity in its traditional area. This period is known as the first golden age of human towers.

Decline (1894-1926)

At the beginning of the 20th century various phenomena occurred leading to the stagnation of human tower-building: there was heavy migration from the countryside to the cities to find work, modern sports like football began to win fans, and the sardana dance from Empordà became established throughout Catalonia. All this happened while human towers were going out of fashion up to the point of almost disappearing.

Renaissance (1926-1936)

Since they began and for more than 130 years, castells had been almost exclusive to the colles, or clubs, from Valls – normally two of them –, which, during the 19th century, used to travel all around the region where the constructions were popular: Camp de Tarragona, Penedès and Garraf. However, after some difficult years, there was a revival of human towers from 1926 onwards, precisely due to the appearance of the first permanent clubs not from Valls, in Tarragona and El Vendrell. This altered the map and promoted new competition that would lead to strong growth of the human tower-building, with the recovery of eight-level constructions. Also during this period, the clubs began to use uniforms to differentiate themselves from one another.

Human towers under Francoism (1936-1975)

The three years of war (1936-1939) were a serious setback for human tower-building, which, despite all, did not stop. Nor did the subsequent dictatorship bring a ban on human towers, which, at the time, were not seen as a symbol of Catalan identity, but simply as a traditional local spectacle. However, after the war, the regime did force some colles from the same town to merge into a single organisation. During the fifties and sixties normality was restored and human tower-building gained vitality, with great rivalry between the Valls clubs and the other ones. Towards the end of the dictatorship, human towers underwent a social change that would make them what they are today. Castellers de Barcelona, born in 1969, was the first group outside the traditional area and also the first club whose human tower builders did not get paid.

Taking back the streets (1976-19920)

The transition to democracy brought a social movement to take back the streets and promote Catalan culture. In this context, new colles continued to emerge outside the traditional castells area. New models of club were offered, such as Minyons de Terrassa, founded in 1979 and the first colla to fully integrate women. It was at this point when human towers absorbed many of their current values, making them an altruistic, integrating activity that began to be seen as a symbol of Catalonia. In 1981, Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls completed a nine-level human tower, almost a century after the previous one, opening the door to what has been called “the second golden age” of castells.

The best of times (1993-Present)

The world of human towers underwent a real explosion during the nineties, with the multiplication of the number of clubs, the media attention, and, after 1993, the achievement of constructions never seen before, such as the first ten-level castells (in 1998). The recognition of castells as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010 confirmed the prestige of human tower-building, which, over the last few years, has extended over almost all the territory of Catalonia. In addition, during the last decade, human towers have also become known internationally, not only through performances by Catalan clubs throughout the world, but also with the appearance of human tower experiences in places as far away as Chile and China.

Origins
(1770-1800)
First clubs
(1801-1850)
First golden age
(1851-1893)
Decline
(1894-1926)
Renaissance
(1926-1936)
Human towers under Francoism
(1936-1975)
Taking back the streets
(1976-1992)
The best of times
(1993-Present)
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