We couldn’t get into our AirB&B apartment yet so we decided to go to the square for a drink and tapas while we waited. The square was the Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, sometimes called the ‘heart’ of Gràcia. I booked the apartment near the square for our three-night layover in Barcelona, knowing that we would enjoy this less touristy area while renewing our love of this great Mediterranean city. 

Approaching the Plaça we could hear shouts and music. Our pace quickened. We knew immediately that the ‘Castellers’ (tower builders) were performing. It was Whit Monday (Pentecost), a holiday still kept in Barcelona, but not the rest of Spain. Crowds of onlookers and supporters filled the square. We lodged ourselves against a wall where we could watch the proceedings and soon the Red Team began forming a base. Camera ready. The band played. Anticipation intensified.

I documented the tower builders, the Blue Team then the Red Team, men only, then mixed gender teams. Tower after tower reaching high above the crowd with the final climber, a youngster, attaining the summit and waving to the crowd and immediately sliding down the backs of the tower builders to safety on the ground. 

A man beside me spoke quietly in English. ‘Do you know the origin of the towers?’, he asked. They were from a distant past, he said, when pirates threatened or Moors from the South threatened. Townsfolk lived inside walled villages and used the human tower to look out for danger. They even spied on neighbouring towns that could be threats. 

The last tower came down and we found a table at one of the many terraces and ordered our tapas of pedrones, olives and tomaqet. 

Graham Mulligan