August 30, Catalonia's most important, annual casteller challenge - Diada de Sant Fèlix – was as usual celebrated in Vilafranca del Penedès, as a part of the local Festa Major. Here, only the four teams which regularly build human towers of nine levels are invited.
The "home team", Castellers de Vilafranca, already had a lead in the rankings and was in top shape. Boldly enough, they had decided to opt exclusively for special structures (so-called "gamma extra" in Catalan) and that paid off; three castells were built up and dsimantled (descarregats) - 4de9 amb l'agulla, 5de9 and pilar de 8 - and one construction - torre de 9 - was crowned, but collapsed during the disassembly. Taken together, that put on them on par with their year 2000 peformance, i.e. the team's seventh best all-time result. Therefore, it did not matter that this time they were far from making 3de10 - the important thing for me is that they keep on trying, again and again.
Minyons the Terrassa managed to crown one tower of the gamma extra - torre de 9 (c). They made an unsuccessful attempt to build a 5de9 but, by contrast, had no problem with 4de9 (d), 3de9 (d) and two pilars de 5 (d).
Colla Joves Xiquets de Valls have had a difficult season and must have been very content with their achievements this day. They opened with 5de8 (d) and could then, for the first time in two years, build and dismantle 4de9. Except for that they added 3de9 (c) and a pilar de 5 (d) to their score.
For Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls, finally, this will hopefully be remembered as a low-water mark. The team was expected to give Castellers Vilafranca a match, but almost everything went wrong. In the opening round, they failed with 3de9, and after that also with torre de 9. Their 4de9 was crowned but not disassembled, and the same happened with their pilar de 7 in the final round.
What I personally brought with me from this year's event was a feeling to have become an “insider” in the world of human towers, from the technicalities - not without pride, I happily answered questions from Catalans standing close to me - to the practicalities - as many other seasoned Sant Fèlix-visitors, I had with me a backpack full of food and drink. My only negative memories have to do with the teams’ results – a challenge like this gets less exciting when one team is so enormously much better than the others. I have not seen the press commenting on this, but judging from photos taken from above, Castellers de Vilafranca probably had twice as many "shirts" on the spot as the other teams and I guess that the guests were short of people since, this year, August 30 fell on a Monday.
Diada de Sant Fèlix is unique and everyone interested in Catalonia and Catalan culture ought to live it at least once. The event is admittedly long - this year it lasted for five hours - but do not let that deter you from visiting Vilafranca on this particular day: it is enough to see a number of castells to get a sense of the crowd, the expectations, the extremely high technical level and the joy when the teams are successful.
At the next big casteller event, the audience will exceptionally be able to sit down: Concurs de Castells in Tarragona on October 3. There – and with the exception of Minyons de Terrassa, who never participate - Catalonia's 12 best teams (plus two local teams from Tarragona) will show their skills. Castellers de Vilafranca are, yet again, the favourites for the title, but the battle for the places right below them will be very tough.
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In my text about Sant Fèlix 2009, I explained why Vilafranca rightly claims that their plaça de la Vila is Catalonia's number one square for human towers – la plaça més castellera.
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Diada de Sant Fèlix in the press:
Avui/ElPunt: Els verds, amos i senyors de la gamma extra
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An introduction into the names of the human towers:
A pilar is a single pillar of people, standing on each other's shoulders. A pilar de 8 has eight levels.
A torre consists of two people per level, except for the top two ones. A torre de 9 has nine levels, the top two ones included.
Bigger castells have names such as 4de9 (4 by 9), where 4 indicates that it consist of four people per level (the top three ones - pom de dalt - excluded) and 9 that it has nine levels (the top three ones included).
The dificulty of a human tower can be increased if it is dismantled via a pilar, then called agulla (hence: 4de9 amb l'agulla).
Human towers of nine levels always have one additional support structure (folre), or even two (manilles), on top of the base (pinya).
To crown or assemble a human tower gives the main part of the score (c = carregat), but for full points it also has to be disassembled in a controlled way (d = descarregat).