Fire, human towers and more fire!
It is safe to say that you’re never far away from celebrating one festival or another in Catalonia. In the space of a year I’ve seen a lot of festivals. A lot! Although most of them are unique and for different celebrations, there are certain recurring traditions. Fire for one thing plays a key role in the festivities, but there are also amazing feats of team work in the form of human towers, as well as huge dancing papier mâché giants.
In most of the Catalan festivals, fire seems to be a main element, which can be very entertaining but at times down right frightening.
Pyromania at its best, the fire run or correfoc involves devils running around the streets setting off firecrackers and different fireworks from their pitchforks. As you can imagine you need to be very careful, wear protective clothing and not get too close! There are different figures such as dragons and bulls with fire shooting out of their mouths or horns.
The correfoc is actually relatively new and started in about 1978 when a theatrical group wanted to revive some older traditions by putting on a fire show. As the audience unexpectedly started to participate in the performance, the fire run was born!
The human towers are great feats of teamwork, strength and definitely not for those prone to vertigo. It is amazing to see the speed and agility of the teams as they construct these tall structures in a matter of minutes. The different groups of human towers include the Castellers and Falcons.
Castellers are probably the most famous in Catalonia. Apparently they originated in the 18th century from Camp de Tarragona but there is also evidence that they developed from dances in Valencia or moixigangues. In 2010, UNESCO included castellers in their (deep breath) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Tarragona hosts a bi-annual competition in October with teams from across Catalonia and beyond. In Barcelona, there are currently six different groups who take part in various festivals. The highest tower in history was a staggering 10 stories high with 3 people in each level, achieved by the Castellers de Vilafranca.
These formations are more acrobatic in style with some involving movement. Falcons actually came from a Czech tradition in the 19th century. In Catalonia it was popular during the 20th century and has only recently been revived when the Barcelona Falcons performed for the first time in the 2003 Santa Eulalia festival. These are equally as impressive and take human pyramids to a whole other level!
If I was a kid at these festivals the gegants would be my equivalent of a scary clown. The giants are enormous papier mâché figures who perform a choreographed dance to traditional music.
This tradition dates all the way back to 1424 and was linked to religious processions. As time went on, it became less religious and more about local identity.
You can see the gegants in all major festivals especially during the Mercé in September.
The sardana is a traditional dance performed in a large circle accompanied by traditional cobla music.
Any time I ask about or even mention sardana to anyone here they always say it’s so boring. However, it’s a popular tradition with political undertones as it was a symbol of Catalan identity and unity during the Franco dictatorship.
To see when the main festivals take place in Barcelona and Catalonia and see these traditions in person, check out this handy calendar.