It's morning in Vilafranca – quite fresh – and we journalists are surrounded by lots of cheerful people in green shirts and white trousers; everyone wears the same uniform wardrobe and I hear happy murmurs from all sides. My attention is drawn to the little girl who will be the symbol of the „victory“ of the unusual „human tower“. She is quite serious for her age and is aware of her role. A small fieschia is wrapped around her thin waist and she is courageous, thanks to her dad, before the very beginning of a unique Catalan tradition. She absorbs his every word. „She is determined“, comes to my mind, „because determination cannot be calculated – regardless of age“, comes another.
AUTHOR: DZENETA ROVCANIN
We started solemnly walking to the City Square itself. We are accompanied by the music of the traditional instrument – gralle – and that is the moment when we all, if only for a short time, became Catalans – no matter from which part of the world we arrived in this part of Spain.
Art from human bodies in the being of every Catalan
When I think about the tradition woven into my being, I only think of the wedding customs established in every Balkan family. Although each ethnic group has „something of its own“, like the excellent Balkan folklore, I still come to the conclusion that we do not have quite the dedication as the Catalans: they pass on the heritage from generation to generation – they build „human towers“ with their bodies.
Castells are human towers built by amateur groups in Catalan cities. The shoulders of stronger men – from two to five – will serve those who are easier to climb. „Human towers“ are composed of several „levels“, usually from six to ten. The people who support the „base“ of the tower form the piña, while the Pom de dalt – the three highest levels of the tower – are made up of children.
In that mass, I notice several colors, that is, four colors of shirts. I naively think they are competitors, but more experienced Catalans correct me: „There is no competition between us, just good fun!“
There is no „bad blood“ between them – they insist on the narrative that „tradition knows no rivalry“ and that is the first lesson the world can learn from the Catalans. I finally believed what they told me during the exhibition itself: the people in pink shirts selflessly helped those in green to build the „base“…
Valls – the Catalan cradle of „human towers“
After we arrived in Valls – the cradle of „human towers“ and the birthplace of Robert Gerhard and Narciso Oller – and just like in Gerhard's compositions and Oller's “The Butterfly”, every step, in every pore – no matter it's a person or a building – you feel „warm and restless blood“ – an admixture of Spanish folklore, which is very similar to Balkan folklore.
This small town is about a hundred kilometers away from Barcelona, and unlike the hectic life of every larger city, Valls exudes warmth, a „homely“ environment – people are warmer, more affectionate… Therefore, I guess it is the home of this long-standing tradition, the „human towers“ – this very place – near the Spanish province of Tarragona.
Going to the newly founded Museum of Human Towers gave us a great thought dimension, an insight into tradition, by simulating the construction of „human towers“. However, even a simulation cannot faithfully convey all the feelings that pervade you while watching live ten floors of human bodies, determined bodies, which focus all their strength on their heritage instilled by their ancestors.
Villafranca del Penedès – the main stage of castellers and the home of good wine
Despite the „newer“ date of establishment, „Vilafranca Castellers“ has a longer tradition: they are „only“ eighty summers old and they spend twelve to eight months „training“ building „human towers“.
Their uniforms are a distinctive green and white color, and everything is complemented by a fieschia – a black belt that serves to protect the back, but also facilitates climbing during the exhibition itself.
Preparations the night before the „big day“ are very serious and everyone is equally dedicated – first comes the training, and then they enjoy good food and informal conversations.
If your first association with Spain or Catalonia is good music and wine – you are not wrong. Apart from the main stage of towers made of human bodies, Vilafranca is also the home of good wine – domestic, of course, as well as the home of good people…
„A small place with a rich history“ is the third thought that occurred to me when I stepped into the Basilica of Santa Maria. I arrived right before the mass and I sat down contritely on the prayer bench next to the Catalan woman who greeted me with a nod, and then silently wished me good health and happiness while touching my hand only lightly. The fourth thought that came to me: „Kindness is universal after all.“
These Romanesque remains with a Gothic touch leave you breathless, and also take you to another time – to the ancient squares, paved with cobblestones, and history lovers will certainly experience a return to the past, which must be enjoyed.
Right in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria, the gathering of the castellers began. The national anthem awakened everyone's emotions, immediately, and the inevitable gralla completed the beginning of the central ceremony, i. e. the exhibition. There were at least five thousand people in the City Square, and in light of the Middle East conflict – the Mayor's office unfurled a Palestinian flag on a nearby terrace, which stood right next to the Catalan flag – the crowd reacted very emotionally.
The construction of the „human towers“ itself is not time-limited, but the approximate duration of climbing is five minutes. Tension and anticipation were present for everyone, and after the successful construction of the ten-story „human tower“, numerous applauses followed. Finally, it is worth mentioning again: the youngest are certainly the bravest, and the determined six-year-old girl at the beginning of this text is proof of that. Children's climbing to the very top of the tower is the „icing on the cake“ – this is how the older Catalans pass on to the younger ones what has been in them since the very beginning – love for their ancestors and their tradition.
Was it worth it? Absolutely yes!
Read the Bosnian version of this text HERE. We owe special thanks to our good hosts – DIPLOCAT and Delegation of the Government of Catalonia to Southeastern Europe, without whom this experience would not have been possible.