Many Catalan towns have competitions between castellers during their festa major, but the one of Tarragona on the day of la Mercè (September 24) is unique. Here, proper castells have been assembled since the end of the 18th century and the town musters as many as four local groups; the Xiquets de Tarragona (founded in 1970), the Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona (1979), the Xiquets del Serallo (1988) and the Colla Castellera de Sant Pere i Sant Pau (1990).
The first task on this day is to assemble traditional human towers and the groups (colles) take turns to make two each at the small square Plaça de les Cols. If you observe the movement of the crowd from the top of the cathedral stairs, it feels like colour streams of violet, pink, blue and green flowing back and forward, since the groups are easily recognised by their shirts of distinctive colours. The pink (on a closer look striped red and white) of the original Xiquets and the violet of the Jove dominate the scene since they have the most members. These two are also the most experienced groups, regularly assembling towers with up to eight levels.
In the second phase of the program – els pilars caminants de Tarragona – the task is to assemble a pillar (pilar; a human tower with one person per level) of four levels, walk up and down the 20 steps of the stairs in front of the cathedral and then continue, still in formation, through the narrow carrer Major down to the Plaça de la Font and the town hall. The age of each colla determinates the starting order, but while the oldest two groups started first and therefore had more spectators cheering for them, it was the stability and speed of the later two which really made an impression on me.
This discipline must be a Tarragona specialty. I am not yet an expert in the area of castells, but I doubt that, for example, Vilanova’s Bordegassos would be able to do this, although they outperform Serallo and Sant Pere i Sant Pau in classic castells.
To me, the walking pillars of Tarragona added a new dimension to the art of castellers and easily make it to the top positions of what people interested in Catalan popular culture must not miss.
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Technorati tags: Castellers, Catalonia, Festa, Human Towers