The Brave Castellers Of Palma

Castellers - a sight you wont want to miss in Malloraca. We stumbled across a human castle on our trip to Palma and were blown away by this amazing feat of gravity. Mallorca has always been an island of culture to us, there is something to explore in every corner and always something waiting to be discovered.

We turned the corner into a little Spanish square only to be met by a wall of people. But, those behind us pressed forwards and before we knew it we had been sucked into a crowd of hundreds, packed tight and shuffling in a definite direction.

The noise was a low hum, like something was about to kick off and if it did we’d be right in the thick of it, but then all went quiet. Folk were straining their necks to see, then one fella got on the back of his pal – boy, this must be some spectacle for a guy to give his friend such a good vantage point like that. Hang on, there was another one, and another, and all had had the decency to remove their shoes before clambering to stand on the shoulders of their friends.

We had, in fact, stumbled upon a Castell. So that explains the odd dress code – I thought we’d come across some weird kind of homage to a 70’s disco, with their white trousers and deep satin sashes – although not a porn-star moustache in sight. But as this second tier of a human tower was being formed, those at the base shifted and someone in the huddle issued a signal that gave the green light to keep building. A band began to play.

Mallorca is full of exciting things to explore - get off the beaten track in the city and discover the hidden gems of culture that lurk around every corner.

Young men and women, obviously not old enough to carry the heavy paunches from a lifetime of fried pintxos, climbed nimbly up and took their places upon the shoulders of their stockier lower team mates. This stage moved a lot quicker than the creation of the base Pinya, but the idea is to construct a human tower of 8-10 levels, 3 or 4 people per level, and deconstruct it consecutively without a collapse. So, the next 7 or 8 levels need to move quickly before someone looses their balance.

My heart was in my mouth as the castellars became smaller and younger the higher the tower grew and, whilst these youngsters moved with speed and dexterity, the parents looking on have one hand on their mouth, and one crossing their chest.

Mallorca is a place for families, so much to see and do in this little corner of the Balearics.

Across the Plaza d’Espana was another team in different coloured shirts, watching, waiting for their components to fail so that they themselves could be given an opportunity to perform a more creative castell and succeed.

Since 1712 castells have been a festival tradition in Catalonia and in 2010 UNESCO rightly declared them a Masterpiece Of Intangible Heritage Of Humanity. These teams boast generations of castellers and their pride is tangible – their motto of ‘strength, balance, courage and common sense’ is easy to recognise in their focused expressions. Some teams that compete at the bi-yearly event in Tarragona, Spain, have up to 400 members and build towers 3 stories high. Here in the capital of Mallorca, however, the squad is much smaller but this did nothing to ease my indigestion.

The band kept playing and the final child, enxaneta, climbed like a tarantula up the slightly swaying column of Spaniards. Through the gap in my fingers I just about saw her hand raise in signal, 4 digits to symbolise the stripes on the Catalan flag, then the decent began. This child had no difficulty dismounting her peers and off the human platform she jumped into her proud fathers arms receiving praise and kisses. But, somewhere around the 6th level, like a pre-quake tremor, the wobbling began. The 7th tier was almost deconstructed but before the last child was down the whole tower began to crumble and the band abruptly stopped. Slowly the blur of red and white began to unravel themselves from one another and tangled limbs were returned to their owners.

Fatalities aren’t a common occurrence in this kind of competition and every team mate was checked quickly for injuries. Everyone was fine and a buzz of friendly banter transmitted from the pack, they’d had a fail but they were still in play and who knew how their competitors would conduct themselves. Just a small distance away a mass of blue and white formed a rugby scrum, the crowd went quiet and it all began again….

I felt a great pride as a spectator to witness this event, albeit by accident, and I will be the first to admit that the level of camaradarie brought a lump to my throat. To think of the hours and commitment that go into the preparation and practise for this kind of skill, and all for the entertainment of others. But that is the beauty of Spain, this isn’t the first time we’ve stumbled across some sort of celebration or custom taking place in a parc or plaza. It’s like each evening holds a serendipitous opportunity to discover a new tradition or custom if you’re just prepared to venture off the beaten track a bit and walk the neighbourhoods the the natives frequent. Spain has a way of honouring its celebrations and customs and it is a magical thing to get caught up in it all – you could turn one corner and witness an impromptu dance-off between stiff limbed pensioners to a marching band, turn another and see a procession of paper-mache floats going up in flames. Tonight it was a tower of humans – a mesmerizing display that will stay with me forever.

Images : Makamuki0

Spain is a melting pot of History and culture and around every corner you will stumble across a bit of magic that makes Spain what it is today. Palma is no exception and if you're lucky you may get to see one of these Castells being formed in one of their Plaza's. Visit Spain - you won't leave disappointed!

Wander Mum

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Jurga says:

    How extraordinary! I have never heard of this tradition and read this with interest. What a great find!

  2. Arianne says:

    Great article Alex!!! Glad to hear fatalities aren’t common but scary nonetheless! How awesome you got to experience it 🙂

  3. Mel Butler says:

    I love stumbling on things they always make for great stories. This is really cool and never knew about it. I bet it was really fun to watch.

  4. jo says:

    My daughter would love to see this as she loves acrobatics of all kind. Those kids are awesome! #CityTripping

    1. Alex says:

      It’s mesmerising. For adults too. X

  5. I have heard about this but never seen it – it must be terrifying if it is your child that has to climb to the top (I wouldn’t be able to look!) I bet it was an amazing spectacle how lucky you stumbled upon it!

    1. Alex says:

      Our hearts were in our mouths!!

  6. Lolo says:

    What a fun tradition and so interesting to read about it!! #CityTripping

  7. I’ve read about this before but never seen it in action. What an amazing event to stumble across. Hoping we do when we return to Spain! #citytripping

  8. This is so cool I’ve never heard of it! I lived in Spain and never saw this once, though that was 20 years ago ;). Pinning! #citytripping ps – doesn’t surprise me this type of thing goes on in Spain!

    1. Alex says:

      I know – so typical of the spanish eh.

  9. What an incredible sight to stumble across by accident. I’m glad the children at the top are wearing helmets. I don’t think I could bear to watch if they didn’t!

  10. Cheryl says:

    Neat! I was in Mallorca when I was a little girl – thanks to all those bucket shop travel agencies in England, I think it cost my father $40 each for air and 5 nights hotel. Sadly I never saw a casteller. Nor did I when I spent a few months in Madrid years ago. I assume its more of an island thing.

    1. Alex says:

      No it’s more mainland, but not Madrid, more Catalan areas.

  11. tots2travel says:

    I love the way it’s the dinkiest, cutest, bravest wee tot at the very top. Go Junior!!!

    1. Alex says:

      I know! No fear.

  12. I started reading this a while ago Alex and had to come back to finish as I was intrigued to find out more. This is one of the amazing gems of travel isn’t it. The being off the beaten track. What a discovery. I have to say you told it so well I felt as though I were watching to. Brilliantly fascinating post. Bravo! X

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks Nicky – it was a sight to behold. Goosebumps and the lot! You’re always so kind with your words, and thanks for sharing!

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