Human towers rise as the Castellers de Vilafranca perform at Salisbury International Arts Festival

4 Jun

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Human towers rose up in front of England’s tallest spire at the weekend, as the daredevil Castellers de Vilafranca wowed crowds at the Salisbury International Arts Festival.

In one of those quirky traditions that goes back 300 years, the performers climbed onto the shoulders of the stronger members to build towers stacked six-people high, with the smallest, lightest Castellers – the youngest was just six years old – balancing what we estimate to be a vertigo-inducing 30 feet above the crowds.

The bottom of the pile was supported by some chunky Spaniards, and you could see the sheer strength and determination the feat required etched onto their faces.

Festival Chronicle’s own six-year-old, Chronicler Milo, was taken along to witness the spectacle. Would he climb to the top of that tower? “No way!”

The Castellers of Vilfranca, founded in the Catalonia region of Spain in 1948, have become famous in recent years especially for building their towers in front of international landmarks including Paris’s Eiffel Tower and on the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper.

Now they’ve added Salisbury Cathedral – with England’s tallest spire – to the list, and there were plenty of photographers and film crews – including a unit from BBC TV’s The One Show, who demanded the best spot and sort of got in everyone else’s way – to capture the moments.

A castell is complete once all the castellers have climbed into place and the last member has climbed to the top and raised one hand with four fingers in the air to symbolise the Catalan flag.

I had to be quick to spot – or snap – the climax, as there was no way the six year old toppers were staying up there for one second longer than they had to.

Regional pride was a big theme of the display – Catalonia will be holding a referendum on independence from Spain next year, and I suspect the prevailing view of the performers is there’s no way you’d catch their neighbours from Madrid or Valencia trying this.

The event was performed against clear blue skies. Besides nerves of steel it seems the performers – who rounded off their display with the unfurling of the Union and Catalan flags and the singing of Catalonian songs – also brought some much-needed Spanish sunshine with them.

The 120 members were flown over from Spain specially for the hour-long spectacle, and local families provided accommodation.

The 16-day Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival runs until Saturday, June 8, with plenty of music, theatre, comedy and exhibitions still to come. For details log on to www.salisburyfestival.co.uk

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