issue 25 - May 2006 - hotlist

by Michelle Bienias

Photographer: fotopanoramic.com.

When: April 30, 2006 13:00h

Where: Balcony of the Town House, Plaça de la Vila, Vilassar de Dalt, Catalonia, Spain. Vilassar de Dalt is 23km north of Barcelona.

What: Human Castles (Castells)
Forget running with the bulls or throwing tomatoes. For the people of Catalonia, building human castles, or “castells” in Catalan, isn’t just an odd sport but a tradition dating back several hundred years. Catalonians believe that the construction of human castles demonstrates teamwork, perseverance and success.

Teams train to become castellers and compete against other teams for the title of the highest castle. The goal for each group is to build the highest and most difficult castle, and groups train up to several times per week. Castles can rise as high as nine or ten human stories in height (such big castles are mainly built in south Catalonia, such as Tarragona, Valls and Vilafranca) and falls are inevitable. Most castellers are protected by insurance.

click here to view fullscreen

There are three parts to a castle: the base, or “pinya”, of the castle is formed by a group of people who stand pressed together with their hands intertwined and can hold up to 300 people; then people stand on top of the base to form a tree-like trunk, or “tronc”, with a certain number of people on each story; and a “pom de dalt”, or knob-like structure is formed at the top, usually crowned with a small child as they are more agile and light. When the child reaches the top, he or she waves, signaling the completion of the castle. The end result looks like a human wedding cake. Teams who create the highest castle without anyone falling are considered the winners.

Every castle has a name with two numbers: The first one means the width, the second the height. For example 2 of 7 means a seven-level castle with two people per level.

Juan López, the photographer who shot the accompanying panorama, explains that "the castle in the panorama is a 4 of 8: four men for the base (and most of the trunk) and eight people high, counting from the ground (first level is hidden by the "pinya", the pack at the base) up to the top (the "acoixador" and finally the "anxaneta", the kid who raises the hand)". He also points out that some of the castellers in the pano are wearing dark blue shirts and others light purple ones. “That's because there were two different groups of castle-builders: from Mataró and from Tarrassa (two different towns). These groups are rivals, and compete to build the best castle possible, but also often collaborate and help competitors build their own castle.”

The accompanying photograph shows a monster castle, a 3 of 10, one of the biggest possible.

The castle season runs from June to November. You can read more about castells and specific events at Castellers de Barcelona.

How: fotopanoramic used a Nikon D70, a Peleng 8mm fisheye lens, NodalNinja pano head, a Manfroto 682B monopod, ptgui stitching software and pano2qtvr to build the QuickTimeVR files.

“The girl beside us, near the lamp, is a newspaper photographer, that got really amazed when we started shooting pics,” López says. “She told us ‘I was wondering what you would do with those silly pics of the wall and the sky’.”

Related Links:
- The group behind the castle panorama, three local photographers, have put together a VR tour of the Catalan town Vilassar de Dalt that is well worth a visit.

- The same photographers have created a mini-gallery with other panos (more castles, the giant paella, giants' meeting) from the 2006 Sants Mŕrtirs town festival.

Email Juan Lopez of fotopanorama: juanlopez[at]telsia.com

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