The famous Castellers de Vilafranca, els Verds (the Greens), were in London in April 2013 to celebrate Saint George’s day and demonstrate their gravity-defying human towers.
I came across them in Broadgate Circus, close to Liverpool Street Station, where they performed in front of a crowd of fascinated spectators packed into the surrounding bars. I have seen the Verds perform in their home town,Vilafranca del Penedès, but this was a great opportunity to see them closer up and without the jostle and crush of the massive crowds that are always there to support them in Spain.
They took a while to don their outfits: the famous green shirts with black sash and red scarf. The black sash clearly serves a practical purpose as well as decorative, acting as a form of back support for those at the bottom of the tower and also as something for the bare feet of the climbers to grip to.
Founded in 1948, the club now has over 400 active members, around 170 of whom travelled to London to perform this weekend. This traditional activity has its origins in the Ball de Valencians of the 18th century and is a common site in Catalan towns in Spain, especially in the summer months. The important cultural heritage of Catalan castells has been recognised by Unesco, and is a proclaimed masterpiece on its “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity“, along with the likes of Portuguese Fado, Indonesian Saman dance and Chinese shadow puppetry.
There are various styles and heights of towers, all requiring strength, balance and solid teamwork.
They also performed at the Millennium Bridge and Borough Market. Let’s hope they come back to the UK soon, but failing that just take a trip to Catalonia.
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