The tradition of building castells originated in the Ball dels Valencians in Valls, near the city of Tarragona, first documented in 1712. Over the course of the 18th century, they spread to other towns and cities in the area, including Vilafranca del Penedès and Tarragona, though it wasn't until the last 50 years that the practice of building castells began to spread to the rest of Catalonia.
While in Catalonia, the Ball dels Valencians began to focus more on the acrobatic nature of building ever taller human towers; their more religious and allegorical origins remain in a similar tradition, the muixeranga, which is performed in the Valencian city of Algemesí, and in other places in the Valencian Land and Catalonia, where it is often called the moixiganga.
In 2015 the Coordinadora de Colles Castelleres de Catalunya hosted 99 groups, including Castellers de les Gavarres, Castellers de Vilafranca, Jove de Barcelona and Minyons de Terrassa who were able to construct the best human tower to date, the "4 de 10" (10 levels of people with four in each level).
In Catalan, the word castell means castle.
A castell is considered a success when assembly and disassembly can be done in complete succession. The assembly is complete once all castellers have climbed into their designated places, and the enxaneta climbs into place at the top and raises one hand with four fingers erect, in a gesture said to symbolize the stripes of the Catalan flag. The enxaneta then climbs down the other side of the castell, after which the remaining levels of castellers descend in highest to lowest order until all have reached safety.
Aside from the people who climb to form the upper parts of the tower, others are needed to form the pinya, or bottom base of the castell, to sustain its weight. Members of the pinya (most often men) also act as a 'safety net' if the tower structure collapses, cushioning the fall of people from the upper levels. It is not uncommon—when not in competitions—for other colles to assist in the pinya when a small colla is attempting a specially demanding structure in terms of people needed.
The castell is built in two phases. First, the pinya—the base of the tower—is formed. People forming higher levels of the tower move to a position from which they can easily get to their places in the tower. This is done slowly and carefully, and as subsequent base levels are completed the castellers in the pinya determine if their base is solid enough for construction to continue. Then, when the signal to proceed is given, bands begin to play the traditional Toc de Castells music as a hush comes over spectators of the event. The upper layers of the tower are built as quickly as possible in order to put minimal strain on the lower castellers, who bear most of the weight of the castell. The disassembly of the castell, done amidst the cheering of the crowd, is often the most treacherous stage of the event.
A 'rising' castell consists of successive layers added from the bottom by lifting the castell into the air, stage by stage and is regarded as taking a great deal of practice, skill, and strength.
Typically castellers wear white trousers, a black sash (faixa), a bandana (mocador), and a shirt in a color characteristic of a given colla, often bearing the team's emblem. For instance, Castellers de Barcelona team wear red shirts while Castellers de Vilafranca wear green shirts.
The sash (faixa) is the most important part of their outfit, since it supports the lower back and is used by other castellers in the team as a foothold or handhold when climbing up the tower. This tasselled piece of cloth varies in length and width and depends on the casteller's position inside the tower and also on choice. The length of the sash ranges from 1.5 to 12m and usually is shorter for those higher up in the castell. Performing castellers usually go barefoot as to minimise injuries upon each other as they climb to their positions and also for sensitivity when balancing and to have better feel and hold each other.
The arrangement of castellers can be into a multi-tiered structure and the highest has a height spanning of nine or ten people from ground up. The motto of Castellers is "Força, equilibri, valor i seny" (Strength, balance, courage and common sense).Strength: A casteller is usually a stocky person. The first castellers were peasants that were accustomed to holding great weights and were under much physical exertion.
Balance: For supporting other above in the castell while relying on those below for support requires a strong sense of balance and trust.
Courage: The most important characteristic for castellers, especially for young children forming the highest levels of the castell.
Common sense: Rehearsing and performing requires a great deal of planning and reasoning. Any error can cause the structure to fail and break apart.
Accidents are rare during the construction of a castell; however, as in every other crowded cultural event, ambulances are stationed nearby in case a person needs immediate attention. Fatal accidents do occur, such as on July 23, 2006, in Mataró a young casteller fell off the formation of a castell and died. Prior to this, the previous death of a participant was in 1983 in Torredembarra.
Castells are primarily described by the number of people in each level and the total number of levels and sometimes also by a style of formation. Levels are composed of between one and five individuals standing on the shoulders of the level below.
Common terms indicating the number of people for each level of a tower:Pilar ("pillar"): one person per level
Torre ("tower"): two people per level
Tres : three people per level
Quatre : four people per level
Cinc : five people per level
Numbers of levels most commonly built:Sis : six levels high
Set : seven levels
Vuit : eight levels
Nou : nine levels
Deu : ten levels
Very high towers and ones with a small number of people on each level normally need extra support from the base or bottom levels. These base levels are frequently indicated as part of the name of the tower. Three kinds of base levels are most commonly used:Pinya ("bulk"): the ground-level base, often composed of several hundred people. All towers have this, but it is never mentioned in the name.
Folre ("cover"/"lining"): a second-level base built on top of the pinya. It is always mentioned when used.
Manilles ("handles"/"handcuffs"): a third-level base built on top of the second-level folre. It is always mentioned when used.
The word agulla ("needle") refers to a high column of one person per level which is built inside the main tower. When the castell is being dismantled, the agulla must remain standing until the outside part of the castell is already down.
Another aspect of castell nomenclature refers to how successfully the tower was completed. Four terms are used:Descarregat : the tower is completed to the top and successfully dismantled
Carregat : the tower is completed to the top but falls during dismantling
Intent : the tower falls before it is completed to the top
Intent desmuntat : the tower is not completed to the top but is successfully dismantled (in case of a predictable fall)
Pilar de sis: one person per level in a tower of six levels. If nothing else is mentioned, this means that the tower had the bottom base-level pinya (as always) and was successfully dismantled (descarregat).
Torre de nou: two people per level in a tower of nine stories.
Cinc de nou amb folre: five people at each level in a tower of nine levels, with a second-level folre built on top of the base-level pinya.
Quatre de nou amb agulla: four people at each level in a tower of nine levels, with an interior agulla.
Quatre de nou net:four people at each level in a tower of nine levels without folre ( a second-level base ) built on top of the pinya ( ground level base ).
Tres de deu amb folre i manilles: three people per level in a tower of ten levels, with a second-level folre and a third-level manilles.
Quatre de deu amb folre i manilles: four people per level, with additional support in the second and third levels. This difficult construction was achieved for the first time ever in November 2015, by the Minyons de Terrassa team.
cap de colla ("band leader"): The head of each team, who decides which castells the team is ready to attempt and directs the construction of the castells from the ground. The cap de colla is always accompanied by a number of assistants and advisers.
cap de pinya one of the band leaders's assistants who takes particular responsibility for the allocation of places in the pinya, ensuring even force is applied to the base of the castell. The cap de pinya will allocate first, second and third hands, first and second dice, laterals etc. depending on the size of the castell.
pom de dalt ("top bunch"): The top three levels of the castell: dosos, aixecador, and enxaneta.
dosos ("the twos"): The level sustaining and locked together by the aixecador and surmounted by the enxenata. Generally kids.
aixecador ("riser"): The person who helps lock together the dosos so providing a stable platform for the enxaneta who stands astride the aixecador. Almost always a child.
enxaneta ("rider") : The topmost casteller, a child.
In Valls, is being built Món Casteller. The Human Tower Museum of Catalonia. The project is designed as a plece of reference for the human tower universe where experiences can be lived out.
See the complet page: Món Casteller. The Human Tower Experience.Xiquets Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Castellers de París (Paris, France)
Castellers of London (London, England)
Castellers d'Irlanda (Dublin, Ireland)
Castellers de Mont-real (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Castellers de Lo Prado, (Santiago, Chile)
Koales de Melbourne, (Melbourne, Australia)
Castellers BXL Foyer, (Brussels, Belgium)
Xiquets de Hangzhou, (Hangzhou, China)