Have you ever been casually strolling through a plaza in the city, and suddenly see a large crowd of people surrounding what looks like a mosh-pit? Then out of nowhere, BOOM, an actual human tower emerges from the masses of people, and a child, maybe 5 or 6 years old maximum shimmies to the top, stepping on heads, shoulders, whatever it takes. Once he or she reaches the top, they blow a kiss, and back down they go, and the rest of the tower follows suit.
A wonderful Catalan tradition
That strange and wonderful Catalan tradition is called Human Towers, or Castellers, and is a sport revered by everyone in Catalonia.
I asked Vila de Gracia Castellers team member, Kristyn Johnson, to give ShBarcelona the inside scoop on this peculiar sport.
SHBCN: How did you find out about human towers and how did you join?
Kristyn: I found out about human towers through a family I was working for. The parents of the family have both been a part of the tradition for a very long time and they invited me to go with them and check it out. I went to a practice one night and was hooked. I have been going ever since and have now been on the team for about 10 months.
SHBCN: How often do you have tournaments or competitions?
Kristyn: The schedule of the competitions varies throughout the season. The year starts off more relaxed, with a steady build into the summer, then there is a huge peak during Festa Major in August. After the festival, we have a short break, and another build up until the finale which finishes the season in November. The team practices 2-3 times during the week and performs 2-3 weekends per month.
SHBCN: How are the practices run?
Kristyn: The team is organized with a president who runs the logistics and structure of the organization, a cap de colla, (like a head coach) who runs the practices, and a technical team of around 20 members who organize the positioning and structure of the castells. The practices begin with the children and training for new members. After that, the official practice gets underway. The team starts with smaller castells as a warm up, and work their way up in difficulty, finishing the night with the most difficult ones. The team often separates the towers working on the bottom half or the top half, and then puts it all together. The practices usually last between 2-3 hours depending on the night and the point in the season. There are many different positions on the team based on height, weight, strength, etc. The team needs people of all sizes in order to accomplish the biggest and highest level of the castells.
Related article: Build a human tower in Barcelona: an unusual sport you need to know
Kristyn: The number of people on the team fluctuates throughout the year, depending on a number of factors, including timing, location of the exhibitions, work schedules of the team, etc. Usually, the numbers run between 200-300 people. I have learned an incredible amount about Catalan culture and consider myself very privileged to be a participant in this old tradition. The Catalan people are very community-oriented and have group mentality. They are dedicated and hardworking, and they love to celebrate and to enjoy themselves and what they have accomplished.
SHBCN: What is your favorite part about human towering?
Kristyn: I love so many aspects about human towers, so it is difficult to choose a favorite, but I would probably have to say the people. I have never encountered such a large and diverse group of people united together for a purpose. I think it is very unique to encounter a group of people with all ages, all sorts of backgrounds, working in many different fields, and representing the whole spectrum of personalities, who dedicate their time to experience life together. Human towers is about so much more than just the actual castells; it’s a family who accepts all of its members and provides an outlet for community, culture, and purpose.
Keep your eyes peeled, my fellow Barcelonans, for my friend Kristyn and her Vila de Gracia Castellers team, they wear blue.
Thanks again, Kristyn, we’re all looking forward to seeing you perform next season!