Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Castells in Tarragona

It's Castell Time!
The Concurs de Castells, held every 2 years in Tarragona.
The 'pack' - forming the pinya for a Human Tower.
I've written about Castells before, the amazing Catalan tradition of building 'Human Towers.' This time though, this is wasn't just a Sunday with a few teams competing in a village. This was the big event - the bi-annual Concurs de Castells in Tarragona! This even is the biggest gathering of Castells in the country and happens over two days, and I was lucky enough to be invited by the Xics de Granollers, my team that I support. By this time, I'd been taking photos of the Castells, not just one team, but following the events around and snaping many of the teams, most recently the Minyons from Terrassa, the first team in history to make a 10-storey tower. I saw them in their home city and they were simply amazing - not only did they make the usual, impressive structures, but they also made a moving 'pillar,' 4 people height, walking across a bridge from a starting point 100m away from where the performace was taking place. I had also seen one of the 'top' teams in 2017, the Castellers de Vilafranca, strut their stuff not far from my city of Sabadell. They was these guys were organised and how they make those towers so quickly and efficiently blew me away. It was like watching an apartment tower go up in time lapse, the base moved in and formed the 'pinya,' or base of the tower, and before you knew it people were climbing over each other and building the spire reaching for the sky. I saw my first 9-storey tower that day and was very impressed! Since all of this, I have published a book on Castells, filled with photos and short explanations of how it all works (in English and Catalan) and it's now for sale, so please check it out and maybe even order a copy for yourself, a family member, or for someone you know in a Castell team! Just go to matthewphillis.com and follow the pop-up or go to the LINKS page to get yourself a copy of this lovely little book.

One of the veterans of the Xics de Granollers.
The younger members of the colla - great kids that make such high towers possible.

The Graller players entering the stadium.
We want a home! Castells are now a symbol of independence.
So yes, I was off to Tarragona to see all of the teams compete in a big stadium - I'd been smiling for weeks before actually arriving and my face was already hurting! I couldn't believe it - this had been a dream of mine ever since coming to Catalonia and seeing my first castell! We all meet up in Granollers and got the bus together - free for the team, its musicians, families and its photographers (which included me!). We also go a t-shirt so that we'd all me decked out in the team colours. Many of the people on the bus were part of the tower building team, some had their family members coming along with them but most of these were also in the team - the Castell team is one big family. 42 teams headed down to the beautiful city of Tarragona, an old Roman city full of ruins from the Empire as well as views of the Mediterrean from its high vantage point. I wasn't here to visit the city this time however, and although I've been here 2-3 times, I made a mental note to come back just to see the city again. Getting off the bus, the teams gathered to sit in a park and have something to eat and some refreshments, which of course included a few pre-game beers, before walking up together as one huge, multi-coloured caravan towards our goal - the stadium. As a member of the Granollers team, I didn't need a ticket to get it, as I wouldn't be sitting anywhere. That's right, I was to be in the middle of everything! Walking into the middle of the stadium was amazing - I can't quite find the words to describe the feelings that ran through me, I was tingling in my fingers and open-mouthed, looking around me and feeling somewhat how a first-time competitor in the Olympics feels like when they first enter for the opening ceremony. I wasn't the only one - the first-timers and the veterans also felt the excitement of it all. When the National Anthem was sung, it was hard not to get tears in your eyes. It's a very sad song, about losing a fight not never giving up. A hush fell over the whole arena as Catalans stood and sun along to the words. I wasn't sure how to feel or what to do, as it's not my anthem, not my language, but a part of me knew it was. I took in the moment with a few photos and just looked on as they did their thing. Lately the Castells have become very political with the independence movement here in Catalonia, and I was in the centre of it all.

What an incredible view!

42 teams coming together to compete is an amazing scene.
Friends, family, we're all Castellers.
It's really a big gathering of comrades.
The competition in my opinion wasn't really a competition. Although points are awarded to the teams for the difficulty and completion of the towers, and there is a 'winner' on the day and an overall winner, I prefer to think of it as a spectacular way of showing what these people can do. It's not a sport, more a cultural event in my mind - sadly because there are points, prestige and money involved, teams try too much and sometimes fall and hurt themselves in the process. The competition was setup so that the top teams, the really big ones like The Minyons and Vilafranca, would compete on Sunday, while the 'lower' teams would compete on Saturday. I went on Saturday with my team, and although this was 'the quiet day,' the crowd and atmosphere was awe-inspiring. The spectacular went for the whole afternoon and into the evening, and I was a little tired, as was my trigger finger. It was constant, while 1 team went up, building their castle, at least 3 others were doing the same thing at the same time - I wasn't sure where to look as the colours melded together to form a soup of castellers in their brightly-coloured shirts. Although there were many different teams, and they were in a way pitching their skills against other teams, the real spirit came out and they did help each other build the pinya bigger to help stabilise the tower. This is the true spirit of the Castells - the moto goes "Strength, Balance, Bravery and Common Sense," and there should be room for "Camaraderie" and "Teamwork" in there too.
Stuck in the middle.


A young castellera coming down after a successful build.
A young casteller watching another team.
Watching from the stands.
The day come and went a little too quickly for me, something to do with the emotion of it all I'm sure. Everyone took frequent breaks outside to get fresh air, a quick chat or maybe even a little 'estrella' refreshment. We'd all come on the bus and so we all headed back on the bus together, full of pride that the job was well done and that Granollers was well-represented. Some people slept a little, others chatted about the day, and many shared photos taken of friends and family members. It was a great day for all, and one I'd repeat in 2 years time if the opportunity arises again. I don't know what else to say about Castells to be honest - if you don't know what they are or you haven't seen a performance, then you absolutely must! If you have seen castells and love them as much as I do, then get yourself a ticket for the next Concurs in Tarragona!

Friends, family and team-mates.
Love in the Pinya.
Towers reaching the sky.
The salute to the crowd!
I like to say a big thank you to all my readers, Instagram and Facebook followers for your support and comments. I would also like to mention again that I have published my first book and it's for sale online only. Click on the book cover below to get your copy! A little self-advertising I know, but you won't be disappointed by the book I promise you. The new castell season is about to start for 2019 so I'll be back out there on weekends, capturing the amazing people and their stories. Make sure you're following me - I am also working on a new books, so stay tuned!
There are no losers here, only winners.
The new book - click on the picture to get a copy!
UncleTravellingMatt. October 2018.

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