According to Catalan tradition, every year dating back to the 18th century, the people of Barcelona are to build a human tower, and every year they aim for new heights. The towers of people are split into three sections: Pinya (the large, bottom ring), Manilles (one or two additional/middle rings), Tronc (the trunk, several levels of people on the top). The Pinya stabilizes the full structure, and is also organized to soften the fall of the castellers on top. The very top is a small, forth section called the pom de dalt, the tower dome. The pom de dalt is reserved for children due to their low weight.
The name resembles French, as well as Spanish, being that Barcelona is in the Catalan region. Catalan is a mixture of French and Spanish, and so most of the street signs are in three different languages, and occasionally they will mix in English, which actually does help. My brother and I travelled to Barcelona together, and although we both took Spanish throughout lower and secondary school, his grasp on the language is much better than mine. However, I am somewhat well versed in French, and we both know English, so together it kind of worked.
Anyway, being a castell is an honor in the Catalan culture, and many train to do so. The tower is carefully organized and reviewed to attempt for few injuries and/or casualties. The pinya, however, according to our tour guide, often looks disheveled and random in order, unless you know the plan exactly. After setting up the base, the next tier climbs up in their order. To build a strong tower, the lighter people are reserved for climbing, and the stronger, broader bodies stabilize the base. The symbol of a finished tower is raised by the anxenta, a small child who climbs to the top and raises an arm with a flag to salute the crowds. Although the tower buildup is complete, the tower has to be taken down first without falling apart to be crowned a winner and absolutely done. Recently, children have been permitted to wear foam – padded helmets; otherwise there is no protective wear.
Traditionally, during the construction of the tower, a flutist and drummer accompany the process with the melody Toc de Castells. The tune follows the supposable process and phases of construction and helps with the communal emotions of visitors. The towers are built during large festivals, and the usual season is summer – autumn, or June to November. A few years ago, to commemorate the tallest tower built yet, a sculpture was placed in a local square near Las Ramblas showing the incredible height (see picture below).
The rest of our time in Barcelona was spectacular! We used the same tour group that I used when in Brussels, the new Europe Sandeman tours. Like in Belgium, the tour was fantastic, and actually probably a better tour guide here. We went to the beach and walked the coastline for two miles or so, and grabbed supper near our hostel. Then, we went out to a local restaurant to try a local drink – although we were looking for sangria, they didn’t have so we each tried something different.
On our second day, we headed up to Costa Brava for some scuba diving fun! Stupidly, I forgot my underwater camera in London, and although we looked once in Barcelona, we couldn’t find one. So, I took a few photos before and after, of us in our wetsuits and swim gear. The diving aspect took some adjustment, but I actually got the hang of it rather fast, and my brother certainly took some more time. Once under, about 33 feet down, we explored for a little while and saw some cool sea urchins, a few anemones and several schools of fish.
The following day, my brother and I were driving each other plenty nuts, and so we separated – it was also our last day in Barcelona. We both walked with all our things (just a backpack, really) across the city to Segrada Familia. I was happy to walk around the outside and not go in, as I had had my fill of churches on my big Europe trip, but my brother wanted to go in. We separated; he went in and I headed to Montjuîc to see the castle and Joan Miró Foundation/Museum. Both places were fantastic, and together with the price of the lift up the mountain, cheaper than the entrance fee to Segrada Familia (with student discount). My brother and I were then supposed to meet at 2:30 at L’Placa de Espana, but he wasn’t there. After twenty minutes, I gave him a call and apparently he sent me an email that somehow I was supposed to know to look at. Anyway, he was still at Segrada Familia, so he wanted to meet at the train station, where we would catch our bus at 6 or 7pm – those were the last two. During my leftover time, I considered heading to Park Guëll, but instead I went into the L’Placa de Espana colosseum, which is a shopping mall with a lookout onto the city, at the top, and had a really good smoothie place! Then, I walked up to the National Museum of Catalán, and had my wonderful taste of sangria before heading back down the 300 or so steps, which they provided escalators too, but I persevered and walked all the way up and down. Then, I took the metro to our train station for the 7pm bus, which apparently doesn’t run on Fridays – something I certainly did not know before. I was stuck in a 60 minute downpour rain from walking to the metro, to searching for the bus, finding there was no bus and getting back to the train station for a train to Reus Barcelona airport, in order to catch the flight – clueless to where my brother was and soaked head to toe. Whilst on line for train tickets, my brother snuck up behind me and we caught a last minute train to Reus, and from there a taxi to the airport, and arrived five minutes before our flight was called and security closed – it was tight, but it’s a small airport and there were no other flights there, so we made it. Barely.
We got back to London around midnight, and caught a bus back to central London, and then walked the rest of the way to Ramsay. Overall, we had a really lovely time in Barcelona, and I really appreciate that my brother came to visit – although we did kind of drive each other insane.