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One of Catalonia’s most famous traditions is that of the “castells” (castles), which are human towers that are lifted by building different levels of people until reaching insane heights that can go up to ten stories. There is no mechanical help, and tens and even hundreds of people can take part in it. The “castellers” are the people who carry out this activity, which is over 200 years old.
Acknowledged as Immaterial Cultural Heritage by Unesco, his origin is believed to be around the area of Tarragona, Catalonia’s second most important province after Barcelona. During the 20th Century this practice spread all over Catalonia. The “castellers” are grouped in “colles” that normally take the name of its place of origin.
A large area, totally free of traffic, with different places to explore, most of them in the open air. That’s the Poble Espanyol de Barcelona, an iconic visitor attraction in the heart of Montjuïc. Every Sunday, there’s a different activity: theatre, dance, music, magic, treasure hunts, etc. Throughout the year there are loads of activities to ensure you have a great day out with the family: Carnival, a Giants’ Parade, a Puppet Festival, the Click and Go Fair, the Main Festival, the Medieval Fair, Christmas at the Poble, Halloween... and new additions, including a fantastic flower festival and Midsummer Eve party tailored to all the family. In short, a wide range of activities for all the family.
Seeing them rehearse and, most of all, joining in, is a thrilling experience! The human towers – castells – are one of the most authentic and unique cultural manifestations in Europe and consist of the building of human towers up to nine and ten tiers high.
Castells have been awarded World Heritage status by Unesco and are part of Catalan cultural identity while conveying values of social cohesion, solidarity and personal betterment.
Do you want to find out about these everyday people who are able to do extraordinary things? Do you want to find out first hand what it means to be a casteller?
You'll be able to see a rehearsal and find out about the world of castellers accompanied by a member of the team. If you wish, you will also be able to join the pinya (base tier) of a tower.
Running since 2012, Llum BCN is a festival of light that aims to counter the darkness of winter with the splendour of light (llum means 'light' in Catalan) reflected on some of the city's most beautiful buildings and spaces. This year the Llum BCN festival has not only doubled in size, it's also moved to a new home: Poblenou, a district currently immersed in an intense process of transformation.
Over a dozen well-known Spanish and international artists have created installations that bring transformation by using light in six of the most emblematic locations in Poblenou; this year's guest artist is the Canadian Monique Saboya, who brings a selection of immersive art projects. At the same time, to demonstrate the city's emergent creativity and talent, students from 14 Architecture, Art and Design schools have prepared special artworks based on the creative use of illumination. Both series can be seen by following an easy-to-walk itinerary around the district.
For many Barcelona culture lovers, summer means one thing: the Grec Festival, a wide-ranging arts event that sees the city through one of the hottest months of the year and into its traditional holiday period. Theatre, dance, music, circus and children's activities fill Barcelona's venues, although it is the iconic Teatre Grec, an outdoor amphitheatre in Montjuïc, that not only gives the festival its name but also provides the location for some of the most atmospheric performances. Each year, an extensive programme is put together by the organisers, a wide-ranging selection that features national and international artists and offers cultural experiences for all tastes and ages.
In the Catalan towns of Bagà and Sant Julià de Cerdanyola, situated in the Natural Park of Cadí-Moixeró, December 24 doesn't mean the arrival of Father Christmas. Instead, to mark the longest night of the year, the two municipalities come together to celebrate the ancient festival of Fia-Faia. Declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015, this pre-Christian tradition starts with the lighting of a bonfire up in the mountains in a spot that's visible from below. Torches made from a plant thought to have cleansing properties are lit from the bonfire and carried down to the two towns, creating a beautiful river of flame. Later in the evening, all the torches are left to burn in the centre of each town, and a poetic line is recited: 'Fia-faia, que nostro Senyor ha nascut a la paia' – 'Fia-faia, our Lord has been born on straw'.
The feast day of Catalan patron saint Sant Jordi (Saint George in English) on April 23 is one of the most festive in Barcelona. Across the region, it's celebrated as a day of love and literature; according to tradition, men gift a rose to their lover while women buy a book for their partner. City streets are filled with book and flower stalls, and people stroll around enjoying the special atmosphere.
Many local organisations mark the day in their own way: this year Casa Batlló covers its façade with roses, while Casa de les Punxes holds activities that explore the legend of Saint George and the dragon. You can also try the innovative Sant Jordi bread, a soft loaf that's made with cheese, spicy ‘sobrassada' sausage and walnuts to create the colours of the Catalan flag.
Barcelona is noted as a literary city; not only is it an important centre of publishing in both the Spanish and Catalan languages, in December 2015, UNESCO named Barcelona among the latest intake for its City of Literature programme. You can appreciate this facet of the city by taking a literary tour, or going to one of the special Sant Jordi events: Món Llibre, held the weekend before Sant Jordi (Apr 14, 15), is a literary festival for children and young adults held at the CCCB and MACBA; Sant Jordi Dialogues (Apr 19-21) are dedicated to authors, both national and international, in conversation about their work; and the Night of the Dragon (Apr 22) pays tribute to Catalan authors whose birth or death anniversaries fall this year.
Experience one of Catalonia's longest-running cultural traditions, an annual event that in 2008 UNESCO declared to be part of its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage: the Patum of the north Catalan town of Berga. The festivities, which date back to medieval times, take place during the week of Corpus Christi and originated as part of the Catholic Church's efforts to educate congregations about the holy scriptures; in the face of general illiteracy, theatrical representations of the fight between good and evil were employed, and over time, these became more elaborate and the focus of the celebrations.
A patum is defined as a figure that represents a fantastical creature and appears in processions and traditional festivities, although it's also the sound ('pa-tum') made by the drums that play a key role in the numerous parades involved. Today's Patum is an amazing sight, with celebrations featuring fireworks, live music, acrobatics, characters including eagles, dwarves and giants, angels and demons, and locals dressed in period costume.
The festival of Sant Joan (Saint John in English) is one of the most popular festivals among the residents of Barcelona. It commemorates the arrival of summer, and the occasion is marked with bonfires and fireworks, as has been the traditional way of doing it for generations.
Throughout the city people burn piles of wood and old furniture, while fireworks and firecrackers fill the air throughout the night. Music and popular festivities flood the streets, the squares and the beach. The coca de Sant Joan (a sweet flat bread traditionally topped with fruit and pine nuts, although other varieties are also available) is a must-try. It's a delicious dessert that's typical of the night of Saint John and is usually eaten accompanied by a glass or two of cava. And even though this is really the shortest night of the year, for many people it is, without a doubt, the longest one.
Of all the memorable Catalan traditions, which include 'fire runs' and dancing 'giants', it's arguably the human towers that have the most impact on those watching them. To enjoy a true festival of these castells, head to Vilafranca de Penedès for its annual festa major at the end of August, which commemorates the town's patron Sant Fèlix.
This year, four of Catalonia's leading casteller groups take part, including the local Castellers de Vilafranca, the Colla Vella dels Xiquets and the Colla Joves Xiquets, both from the nearby town of Valls (another keen casteller place), and the Minyons of Terrassa. Each human tower is an exemplary example of team work, from the crowd forming the supporting pinya at the bottom via the columns formed as each level rises and culminating with the youngest members of the crew scampering right to the very top to crown the construction, which is officially completed once the smallest of all (l'enxaneta) raises his or her hand. Cue thunderous applause.
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