Els castellers, the human towers that are so typical from Catalonia is something I have always admired. Not sure how they manage to climb one on top of another until you see this magnificent human structures. I was about to find out in Salt in Girona thanks to the hospitality of the casteller group els Marrecs de Salt.
We spent 2 hours with them learning about the castles, the structures and how they learn to climb and hold the structure, very instructive and a lot of fun, I would recommend it to everyone.
Castellers and castells
If you are interested in Catalan culture, the is no doubt that castellers are a big part of who we are, if something defines the Catalan character is that we take one step at a time, and with passion and effort everything is possible. To built a human tower you certainly need a lot of passion, effort and dedication, you need to feel the pressure and the warmth of the team to do something greater together.
Before we go into what we did in the Marrecs de Salt rehearsal, let me do a summary for you of what are the castles, the types and the most interesting facts about this discipline.
Parts of the castle
To understand the structure of a castell, a human tower is important to understand the parts and here I will define and explain each part:
Pinya: is the bottom part of the tower and helps hold the structure together, there are different strategic positions in the base. Some hold the people in the next level, called el folre or the third call manilles. The simplest castles do not have folre nor manilles, only the pinya and from there starts going up the tronc.
Folre: it is a second base right after la pinya, as mentioned not all castles have folre, generally speaking only what we call "castells de gama alta", sort of high-quality castles.
Tronc: this is the body of the castle, and each storey has a name such as 1s,2n,3rd but the names are in Catalan.
If you are interested in all the little details of how castells are built, this document is fantàstic and if you don't speak Catalan is self-explanatory with the drawings of the types of constructions and castles and even shows the musical instruments that play when castells are being built.
You will see that castellers have a particular way of dressing and all goes hand in hand with the activity they are performing and what is the easiest to wear for your colleagues to climb up and everyone can do their task in the castell construction. in the document above you will see a drawing of all the parts of the castellers outfit.
La camisa is the shirt, it has to be with lapel such as the one in the drawing, you will see that casteller put the lapel up and bite the edges of the lapel. I always wondered why and I found out with the Marrecs de Salt, if you leave the lapel as it is in the picture and you don't bite the edges, when someone steps on you the pressure on your skin rises due to the wrinkles that the cloth creates. I might sound very silly but the difference of pressure that you feel is enormous, with a simple step you make it easier for you to be comfortable during the time the castle goes up and down.
La faixa, a sash is what is used for two reasons, the first one to protect your back and another one is that helps the climbers to go up and down using your body, as the sash has folds you can even support your feet on them to help you get down until you touch the floor.
El mocador, this handkerchief is the symbol of the casteller group to where you belong and also to protect your wrists of sometimes they wear it in their neck too.
The trousers they were are elastic as they need to move freely to climb and they are normally white. The rehearsals though are done in jeans as they also comply with the needed characteristics to built the castles.
There is also the helmet the kids wear when they are at the top of the castle, mainly for three concrete positions called enxaneta, aixecador and dosos.
Marrecs de Salt
The Marrecs the salt are the oldest "colla of castellers" -castellers association- of the 9 created in Girona province. They started in 1995 in Salt and until 2015 their best human tower has been a 5 de 8.
Having the chance to go to one of their rehearsals was magic as you can feel the power of the team and once you are inside of the human tower being part of the bone and flash you feel that power.
Roger and myself we participated actively and we are happy to say we were part of their first attempt to do a 3 de 9 castle, we were at the bottom on what they call "la pinya", is where most people are and makes the pillars of the structure hold tight together.
Everyone has a task and it is vital they perform it well as every single move is a danger for the structure and it could fall, when you are inside la pinya, you can't see how the castle looks like you can just hear. There is some magic into that as well as you rely on the team to find out if it was a success or not. It was indeed, they managed to built the castle and go down perfectly, although it was only built until the 5th floor -without the top structure with the enxaineta-.
Roger wanted to try how it was to actually built a castle, and they have different tools in their rehearsal space to prepare future castellers on how to position themselves, how to climb and get the necessary experience before trying it out in a real castle. So Roger had to hold this wooden bars with his shoulders all straight to facilitate the climb, he managed to hold two lady castelleras on him, well done!!
I would like to personally thank Marrecs de Salt to open their rehearsal to us. It was very informative and fun and we participated to built the castells and it was a truly incredible experience to belong to the group.
And if you are wondering if you can join them too, it is a yes, they welcome anyone to their rehearsals although you should contact them in advance through their website and you can have the chance to participate and learn more about this local tradition.
Disclaimer: our trip to Girona/Besalú has been possible thanks to Patronat de Turisme de Girona and their partners. As always the opinion is my own.