People of catalonia: Catalan culture, language, history, and politics

Catalan culture, language, history, and politics

We provide an overview of Catalan culture, language, history, and politics as well as the basic geography of this unique and attractive region of Spain.

Situated in the northeastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia is famed for its fiercely independent people, unique language, and creative culture. The region’s capital, Barcelona, is also known the world over as one of Europe’s most vibrant, dazzling cities. But what is it about Catalonia that makes it tick?

Whether you are moving to Catalonia, or simply passing through, this helpful guide provides an overview of the region. It covers the following:

  • The geography of Catalonia
  • The Catalan language
  • Catalan history and politics
    • Catalonia’s fight for independence
  • Catalan people and culture
  • Iconic Catalan architecture
  • Famous Catalan artists

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The geography of Catalonia

Located in northeastern Spain, Catalonia (Cataluña in Spanish or Catalunya in Catalan) is an autonomous region that encompasses the provinces of Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona, and Lleida. The less populated northern area of Catalonia largely consists of towering Pyrenees mountains, which border France and Andorra.

A vector map of the autonomous community of Catalonia

This picturesque and varied landscape offers endless opportunities for hiking, skiing, climbing, and camping among the rocky, pine-scented slopes. Meanwhile, in the many charming old villages that dot the area, shepherds still raise sheep and cows. Here, they produce tasty, sharp cheeses and provide the area with quality beef.

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By contrast, the region’s bustling capital city of Barcelona, and the entire coastal region, the Costa Brava, are lapped by the warm Mediterranean Sea and offer a coastal charm. These are abundant with cultural and culinary delights of their own, which naturally lean more towards the aquatic.

The coastal town of Calella de Palafrugell in Costa Brava, Catalonia

Although Barcelona sprawls from the sandy beaches up toward the hills where wild boar roam among the rosemary shrubs and eucalyptus forests, it’s easy to get around. The city boasts a well-run public transport system that makes getting around both easy and fairly fast. In less than an hour, for instance, you can find yourself sipping on a chilled vino or enjoying some tasty local pintxos in one of the countless surfside chiringuitos.

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Popular beach bars line the sandy shores of nearby coastal towns such as Castelldefels, as well as the more crowded Sitges and Tarragona. The latter both lie further south and are abuzz with nightclubs, yachts, and larger herds of tourists and expats.


The Catalan language

The local language of Catalonia is Catalan, which has Latin roots and sounds like a mixture of French and Castilian Spanish. Today, Catalan is the co-official language and is prevalent in schools, public addresses, and the media; although this was not always the case.

Read more about the different languages in Spain

Around nine million people speak Catalan; primarily in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra, and the town of Alghero in Sardinia. It is essentially the first basis of the Catalan identity. The other official language in Catalonia is Castilian Spanish which is prevalent throughout the region. However, most Catalans are bilingual. Therefore, expats moving to the region who only speak Castilian Spanish won’t face too much of a language barrier; despite what many may fear, or hear.


Catalan history and politics

The region of Catalonia, and more specifically the port of Barcelona, prospered through trade and commerce during the 13th and 14th centuries. During this era, Catalan became one of the most widely spoken languages in the greater Mediterranean basin.

A bridge between buildings in the Barri Gòtic in Barcelona

New and monumental gothic architecture also took root, including in the historic Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) in the center of Barcelona. Three of the most impressive buildings from this period are the great Gothic churches of Santa María del Mar, La Seu, and Santa María del Pi.

Catalonia has been an integral part of Spain since the 15th century. Catalan pride and identity gained steam over the 19th century, bringing in a fresh push for separation from the state. That was until the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 when Barcelona fell to General Francisco Franco‘s right-wing army. The oppressive ruler soon squashed all sense of local independence and even restricted the use of the Catalan language.

Catalonia’s fight for independence

Following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain finally became a democracy. Since then, Catalonia, like Spain’s other regions, has largely been governed by its own parliament. Today, opposing pro-Madrid and pro-independence parties are both strong forces in Catalonia’s parliament.

A march for independence in Barcelona in 2017

A separatist movement once again took hold in 2010, with many Catalans concerned that their region was over-taxed. This called for complete autonomy and economic independence from crisis-stricken Spain.

Read more about the government and politics in Spain

Since then, three non-binding independence referendums have been held in Catalonia; in 2014, 2015, and 2017, respectively. These resulted in the vast majority voting for independence from the state, albeit on small voter turnouts. The Spanish government, however, deemed these votes illegal and insists that Catalonia has no constitutional right to become its own nation. As a result, tension continues to define the relationship between this corner of the peninsula and Madrid.

A Catalan flag and banner calling to free political prisoners on balconies in Tarragona, Catalonia

Aside from the unique Catalan language which is prevalent throughout Catalonia, the region’s strong sense of independence is also visually evident and palpable. Visitors and newcomers to the area will no doubt observe the countless Catalan flags hanging from terraces, doorways, and windows around towns and cities; most notably in Barcelona.

Catalan people and culture

The Catalans are not only creative and fiercely independent, they are also an intellectually curious and hard-working group. Their bustling economy, resilience, and once wide-spread power across the Mediterranean still prevail today. Although most Catalans can also speak Castilian Spanish fluently, the unique Catalan language, literature, and lyrics are all central to their identity.

The Catalan tradition of building castells (human towers)

As a result, tourists who attempt to communicate in Castilian when ordering food or asking directions while visiting the region occasionally feel that they are purposely not being heard. Some Catalans even choose to reinforce their cultural identity by responding to such requests in English, or another shared language, rather than reverting to Castilian.

However, despite the seriousness of the age-old Catalan drive for autonomy and recognition as its own people; which dates back to the middle ages when the area was its own fiefdom, the Catalans are also notably warm and welcoming. This is evident in the tremendous popularity of the region among travelers, expats, and tourists from around the world.


Iconic Catalan architecture

As a region, Catalonia is synonymous with fantastical, colorful, and unique art and architecture, much of which is housed in and around Barcelona. What makes the city stand out is its rich art history and the enduring legacies of the native Catalonian masters who created it.

The facade of Casa Batlló, designed by Antoni Gaudí

While most buildings in Barcelona look like they might be found anywhere across Spain, the city is peppered by the whimsy, color, and unique inventiveness of famed architect Antoni Gaudí. He was born in a small village in Catalonia in 1852.

The legendary architect is famous for his flamboyant, rule-bending designs, organically shaped structures, and distinctly free-form style. He constructed countless private homes and apartment buildings in and around Barcelona. These not only remain standing today but are the homes of locals. In fact, his first residence, Casa Vincens, will reportedly be made available as an Airbnb rental for one night only in Autumn, 2021.

La Sagrada Familia

Located in central Barcelona, Gaudí’s most ambitious work, the towering Sagrada Familia, or Church of the Holy Family, dominates the city skyline from afar. And although he was unable to complete his masterpiece before passing away in 1926, his vision and creative work continue. In fact, plans to finalize and fully open it to the public are, at last, imminent. And in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the incomplete church as a basilica.


Famous Catalan artists

Catalonia is also the birthplace of the notable surrealist master Salvador Dalí, one of the most celebrated painters of the 20th century. While you will find his work hanging in the largest museums around the world, the best place to get a feel for it is by visiting his charming hometown of Figueres.

The famous Mae West room in the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres

Located just thirty minutes from the French border, the northern Catalan town is where the remarkable artist was born, raised, and died. Figueres is home to the Teatre-Museu Dalí (in Catalan) a large theatre renovated by the master himself.

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The impressive museum displays one of the most important collections of Dalí art. This includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, and impressive 3-D installations. Dalí’s body even lies in a crypt below the stage. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most visited museums in Spain, receiving around 1.4 million guests each year. Nearby, the Dalí Jewels Collection showcases jewelry created by the artist as well as precious stones.

A mosaic by Joan Miro at La Ramba in Barcelona

But no mention of Catalan art would be complete without spotlighting the impressive impact of another native artistic genius, Joan Miró. The contemporary abstract painter famously said, “All my work is conceived in Mont-roig”. He was referring to the large Catalonian town where he lived. Much of his work reflects the colors, landscape, structures, and wildlife of his hometown.

Catalonia referendum: Who are the Catalans? | Catalonia News

Inhabitants of the Catalan region number up to 7.5 million, accounting for 15 percent of Spain’s population.

The Catalans are the people who live in the “Paisos Catalans”, or Catalan Countries, which include Valencia, the Balearic Islands, parts of the Spanish region of Aragon, Roussillon in southeastern France and, Catalonia itself.

Sunday’s referendum does not cover the entire Catalan Countries. It is confined only to Catalonia, an area in northeastern Spain, which has a population of 7.5 million people. The area accounts for 15 percent of Spain’s population and 20 percent of its economic output.

The Catalans have a distinct history, culture and language.

READ MORE: Catalonia independence referendum: All you need to know

Salvador Dali, Antoni Gaudi, Joan Miro, Ferran Adria and Pep Guardiola are among the most famous Spanish Catalans.  

 A defined region of Catalonia was first referenced in the 12th century, hundreds of years before the unification of Spain. Following the Nueva Plata decree of 1716, it came under the direct rule from Madrid. 

Catalan autonomy has been a recurring theme throughout the country’s history.

In 1931, when Spain became a republic, Catalonia was given greater political autonomy within the confines of the state.

However, within a decade following the Spanish Civil War, the region’s autonomy was revoked by the military government of Francisco Franco.

During Franco’s rule from 1939-1975, Catalan culture was heavily suppressed. Symbols of Catalan identity such as the castells, or human towers, were prohibited and parents were forced to choose Spanish names for their children.

WATCH: What’s behind Catalonia’s independence movement? (2:45)

The Catalan language (which is also spoken in Valencia and the Balearic islands) was restricted, having been banned in public.

As democracy in Spain developed in the aftermath of Franco, Catalan autonomy re-emerged and flourished.

In 1979, a new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was issued, which restored the Catalan parliament. Elections for the 135-member body were held the following year, on March 20.

The region, which forms one of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities”, has its own police force and powers over affairs such as education, healthcare and welfare.

There are also provisions in place to protect Catalan identity, including joint language status for Catalan and Castilian, and a law that requires teachers, doctors and public sector employees to use the Catalan language in their places of work.

However, a push for full independence has gathered pace in recent years, most notably since Spain’s 2008 debt crisis.

READ MORE: Independence referendum: How Catalans plan to vote

Pro-independence supporters claim Catalonia, which is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, offers more financial support to Spain than it receives from the central government in Madrid.

Many view the region’s strong economy as an indicator that it would be viable as a sovereign state.

About 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which is a major tourist destination.

Today’s vote is the region’s second referendum on independence in three years.


Catalan evenings: how people live in the outback of Spanish autonomy


A trip along the Catalan coast evokes the feeling of Potemkin villages. Luxurious restaurants in restored castles, concert halls in renovated ancient Greek ruins, fashionable tourist villas in designer peasant houses.

Only a few of the millions of foreign tourists who annually visit this autonomy in the “Barcelona plus or minus the sea” format are interested in what is hidden behind the beach front facade. And in vain.

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Arriving in Barcelona on a comfortable high-speed train, I took a commuter train with some regret. The upcoming five days in Catalonia, due to circumstances, had to pass not in the famous resorts, but in the outback – without the sea and chic.

But there is nothing more precious than the happiness of human communication, I consoled myself with the joy of soon meeting a friendly family from the small village of La Tagliada.

Annoyance was added to the joy, because a mess reigned on the suburban platforms: the electric trains ran late, the scoreboards did not work, there was a terrible stuffiness. In the rattling, graffiti-painted carriage there was a multilingual hum, but these were not cheerful Europeans heading for seaside towns, but tired labor migrants driving around the suburbs.

However, the suburbs themselves looked, at least from the outside, no worse than on the coast – strict and elegant, made of brown stone, with ancient churches and fortress walls.

First evening: family. La Tagliada

The huge old house of a friendly family, adjoining the village church and looking like a fortress from the outside, was only half equipped: the former outbuildings gaped holes in the roofs.

Uncle Pere and Aunt Nuria, who arrived from the neighboring village, looked at them with longing: someday they will finish the cowshed and pigsty, and it will turn out to be excellent housing in the family nest. In the meantime, a nephew lives in his grandfather’s house – instead of a city apartment, he, like many Catalans, relied on the delights of rural life.

Church of Santa Maria (XII-XIII centuries) in the village of La Tagliada was originally a castle chapel. Therefore, there were no field workers at the family dinner in La Tagliada, where I had difficulty getting on the bedchamber.

The rural component was indicated only occasionally by the smell of manure and tomatoes in the garden.

– In our village, only Chavi, a neighbor opposite, goes out into the field. Combiner. And in our time, everyone worked: both adults and children, – said the mother of my friend Zhina. And the representatives of the three generations around the table went into reminiscences.

– Remember, when they were slaughtering a pig, I helped my grandmother fry the blood.

– Don’t make up your mind, in your presence they didn’t slaughter pigs at home anymore, they took them to the farm.

– And I remember how my father took us to the beans, at five in the morning, before the heat. You haven’t gone yet.

– But they unloaded the corn, which they brought to their grandfather, is also not sugar! – Tall wire bins for cobs still stand in front of many houses, annoying the rare vacationers who have nowhere to park.

Twelve-year-old Laya does not remember anything of the kind, although she has lived in this house since birth. Domestic animals, which 20 years ago stood behind the wall, she saw up close on a school trip to the farm. In general, in rural schools they study without textbooks, using interactive technologies.

“I don’t know how it is possible without textbooks,” her grandmother Rosa shrugged her shoulders skeptically, presenting ratafia, a homemade tincture made from forty herbs that she personally collected. No one in the family likes this drink, but the Catalans are kind to family traditions.

Apparently, for the same reason, the house of Zhina’s other grandfather, on the paternal side, which has long been empty and needs major repairs, is not being sold. Fifty heirs — children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — gather there twice a year. Each meeting, before starting a crowded feast, they all roll up their sleeves, knead the mortar, lay the tiles and level the walls.

“In ten years it will be possible to live there,” Zhina said.

“An optimist,” her brother said.

The argument did not take place, because the sky over the long table in the yard where we were sitting turned piercing blue and seemed to be made of glass. A sharp wind forced everyone to go inside.

“Tramontana,” said little Laya. – Fine!

Second evening: summer cottage. Macanet de Cabrenice

The north wind of the tramontana comes from the north, from the Pyrenees, and blows for several days in a row. It is said to bring out the genius in people or drive them crazy. This has not been proven by science, but when someone behaves strangely, the Catalans say that he was “swindled with tramontana.”

Tourists do not like the north wind, because even on a hot day it makes the beach chilly, and the ripples on the sea do not allow SUP. But the locals appreciate it: it cleans the beaches from tourists, the atmosphere from smog and haze. Then on the horizon, on the French side already, the silhouette of Mount Canigó becomes visible from afar – symbolic for the Catalans of all countries, since, according to legend, the Catalan nation was born there.

Masanet de Cabrenis is surrounded by the highest mountain range of the region

– We were lucky with the tramontana, everything will be great to see, – Zhina shouted to me from the front seat of the minibus, in which we were traveling in a large group the next day to the Pyrenean village of Masanet de Cabrenis, to the “dacha”. True, someone else. It belongs to one wealthy Barcelona family, which rarely gets out for 200 kilometers to the former family estate, in Catalan – mas. In order for someone to look after the household, the owners rent it out on sharecropping.

This “pre-capitalist”, according to Marx, form of farming in Catalonia has never become obsolete and is now one of the most popular ways of renting in the countryside: sharecroppers maintain order in the masses and grow in other people’s gardens, for example, tomatoes and beans, paying for housing part of the harvest.

Shepherd herding sheep in the Catalan part of the Pyrenees at an altitude of 2000 meters

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– Our owners have olive groves. We do not deal with them ourselves – we work in the city, and we sublease the groves to other neighbors. They pay with oil, and we give this oil – by the way, first-class – to the owners on account of rent. A scheme that benefits everyone,” explains Julia, a geography teacher at a school for foreigners on the coast.

We raced through the Pyrenean valleys and hills, where traditional agricultural activities were finally revealed – here and there flocks of sheep, driven by shepherds, flashed by. If not for the situation, it would be difficult to classify them as shepherds: jeans, tattooed shoulders, dreadlocks and shaved temples were confusing. To one such fashionable, half-shaven shepherd, Zhulia honked and stopped on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that this is a young girl with a piercing in a crimson eyebrow.

“Eva, our neighbour,” Julie whistled at a shepherd dog rushing towards us. We’ve known each other since the university.

Julia studied geography at the University of Barcelona, ​​Eva studied art. Julie and her husband became sharecroppers because it was the easiest way to get a house for a nominal fee, along with a spacious garden, fresh air and rural peace. Eva – for reasons of environmentalism, reasonable consumption and healthy eating. On the farm where she lives and works, a group of four like-minded people make sheep’s cheese.

Silhouette of Mount Canigo. According to legend, the Catalan nation was born on it

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– We used to rent another car, closer to the coast, but there is such an influx of people and cars that the animals suffer from stress. And we moved deeper into the mountains. – Eva promised to bring cheese after milking, “stress-free”, as they call it, and ran to separate the only two rams in a flock of a hundred heads so that the “young ladies” would not get excited.

We drove on. “Our” mas, a few solid houses with home gardens, surrounded by beech forest and thickets of spicy bushes, really seemed like a place “free from stress.” The cicadas rang in the lavender, and for miles there was not a soul around except for the Dutch cyclists, who climbed the steeps with maniacal persistence.

Butifarra vermelha, a traditional Catalan picnic dish

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Meanwhile, the silhouette of Mount Canigo on the horizon turned dark purple, the smoke from the barbecue spread around the area, the evening ceased to be languid, but then a car drove up at the gate with headlights.

– This is the son of the owners with friends, – said Zhulia, opening the gate with the button on the phone. I felt uneasy, as if I had been caught in someone else’s garden. I began to speak in an undertone and nervously look around at the crackling branches. But besides me, no one showed concern.

Don’t worry. There’s a lot of space here. They have their own house, their own barbecue, we may not even meet with them.

And indeed, in the morning we left without getting to know the owners of the “dacha”. The Catalans respect the privacy of others, even in their own home.

Third evening: collective. Valfogona de Ripolles

On the way back, it was decided to visit a Catalan language teacher friend, Carmen, in a tiny mountain village, and at the same time make a trip to the ruins of a medieval castle in the vicinity.

The village of Valfogona de Ripolles stood out against the backdrop of the mountains with a bright blue square of a municipal pool that felt like it could fit all 236 villagers. Its construction was “promoted” by the Association of Catalan Microvillages, which unites 137 villages with a population of less than 500 people.

But, despite the heat, the oasis of coolness was empty: all able-bodied Valfogonians played cards.

The intervillage guignot championship settled in the House of Culture, but sympathizers played a parallel program on the terraces of their houses, in both existing bars and just on benches.

The center of Valfogona de Ripolles can be reached through a gate in the former city wall.

To prevent the collective spirit of excitement from compelling us to join the gamblers, we hastened to start the hike to the castle. And if we did not reach the intended goal, it was only because the pointers diligently placed in the thicket were confusing. They stubbornly led to the path that runs along the Paris meridian, with the final point at Dunkirk, on the English Channel. Once this meridian competed for the title of zero with Greenwich, but lost. And the Catalans always sympathize with the losers.

Meanwhile, while we were conquering passes and swimming in icy waterfalls, the championship ended with the triumph of older brother Carmen. He received as a prize a Catalan butifarra sausage and a bottle of wine, out of sympathy for the less fortunate players, offered to immediately open it.

The tables of the House of Culture were immediately filled with snacks and drinks brought by sympathetic fellow villagers. This time, the spirit of excitement, with which the spontaneous party was arranged, carried us away as well.

“Where two eat, there three also eat,” says a Catalan proverb.

Taking this opportunity, Carmen, who acts as a representative of the very Association of Catalan microvillages, announced that through the efforts of this organization, Amazon will now deliver orders to Valfogona. The announcement was met with a standing ovation. Similarly, locals rejoiced a month ago when the decision was made public to reopen the local school for just six children.

It seems that events of different scale, but the result is the same – improving the quality of life of villagers and equal rights with other citizens. The Catalans are a consistent people: quality means quality in everything.

Giants and Big Heads parade. The holiday is held in honor of St. Narcissus

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Late in the evening, when the entire population of Valfogona de Ripolles went to cool off in the pool, we retreated. Under the lively argument of my companions about the merits of the butifarra of the surrounding villages, I fell asleep. I dreamed of happy Valfogonians in a pool over which drones circled with orders from transnational online stores. And it’s not such a crazy fantasy.

Fourth evening: business. Torroella de Montgri

As one deputy said over dinner the next day, cultural and technological projects are sometimes much easier to implement in small villages.

Gina, a Slavic philologist, and I dined, by the way, in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the village of Torroella de Montgri, in the company of local intellectuals: an archaeologist, a museum director and the aforementioned people’s deputy from the only Catalan party that made it to the parliamentary elections. The deputy had to travel every two weeks from Torroella to Madrid for “plenaries”. The rest of the time, he developed projects for local government, which only at first glance could seem slanderous.

Catalan peasant woman

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One of the successes has already been house-to-house sorted waste collection. This means that each family sorts garbage into specially issued individual containers with electronic chips, which are needed to track down those who do not sort or do it incorrectly and impose a fine on them.

The scheme works: people diligently sort. Waste recycling has become cheaper, and free funds have appeared in the municipal budget.

The archaeologist considered it fair to allocate some of them for the development of the archaeological park entrusted to him in the village of Uliastret, the largest excavated city of the ancient Iberians in Catalonia. The Slavic philologist supported the archaeologist not only because he was her brother, but also because today we were in Uljastret, and, almost more than the ruins, we liked 3D- glasses, in which they scroll through the reconstruction of everyday life of two thousand years prescription. The plans are to make augmented reality so advanced that you can participate in it.

Stone storage tanks for grain in the Iberian city of Uliastret (4th-3rd centuries BC)

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The deputy shrugged his shoulders and tried to get the audience excited about the smart village project. He was haunted by the laurels of the Catalan village of Callus with a population of just over a thousand people, which in 2000 was the first in Spain to receive this title.

The inhabitants of Kaljus have been using (free of charge) a common fiber optic network for two decades, to which all key organizations such as the city hall, school or nursing home are also connected. They can see if there is a necessary book in the library and if a therapist is available without leaving their home, pay taxes, irrigation water and mixed fodder, order a mass or, say, a tractor.

The director of the museum did not pretend to anything and leaned on the local red dry, less known than the famous Catalan wines, but no less worthy. Worthy, obviously, was the funding – not municipal, but rural – of his museum called “Mediterranean”, which we also visited in the afternoon.

I must say that I have never seen a more interactive local lore: at the touch of a button, representatives of the local fauna sang there and every one of the instruments of the folk brass band “kobla” sounded, accompanied by Catalan round dances-sardanas.

Museum “Mediterranean” in Torroella de Montgri

And all this is completely free for visitors. — You do not know where to invest money? the director of the museum said. – The city hall of Calonge announced that they would be the first Catalan “book town”, and give 10 thousand euros and a room to anyone who wants to open a bookstore there. There is already a queue of people who want to.

“What if…” began the archaeologist.

– Let’s go next time, – the deputy interrupted him, and they hurried where they were going – to the concert of the popular Catalan group Fat Geese.

Fifth evening: festive. La Bisbal

It would not be a big exaggeration to say that every day is a holiday in the Catalan villages. The week-long celebration in honor of the patron saint of one village continues in the neighboring one, smoothly flows into the harvest festival, is diluted with the traditional procession to Mount Kanigo, the music festival of young performers and returns to the patron saints.

In order to maintain attendance at such a rhythm, there are few educational excursions, roundabouts, discotheques on the main square and a local brass band. The organizers have to go to tricks. We stumbled across one of them when we bought tickets to the “first and only” lesbian punk rock concert at the La Bisbal Holidays.

A procession of “demons” shoot fireworks at people running after them

A life-size puppet with a bare chest at the entrance challenged the same puppets, but in folk costumes, installed opposite – at the entrance to a folk song concert.

The progressive public of different sex and age strove towards the naked. Due to covid restrictions, concerts were supposed to be watched while sitting under the threat of canceling the event. Needless to say, as soon as the girls hit the strings, everyone who was sitting at our table began to dance, climbing onto their chairs. Because we are nailed to the table of local feminists.

Two of them were married and took turns rocking the baby. Despite the brutal percussion and rumbling bass, the baby was sleeping. He was the only guy in our company and the only one who did not notice that soon the strong girls on the stage were replaced by a male team.

Our table booed the intruding musicians, and we proudly left, as Zhina explained, “out of protest against the dishonesty of the organizers.” The tickets said in black and white: lesbian punk rock. The Catalans do not like to be deceived.

Young mothers were asked to look after their son while they ride on a powerful and first brought spinner carousel. The baby immediately roared, and in order to somehow calm the child, we went to the neighboring concert of the “populists”: the baby calmed down to the melodic tunes. But I still worried about him, because we were waiting for the climax of the holiday.

In Catalan villages, it is most often correfoc (“running fire”) – a procession of “demons” that shoot fireworks at the citizens following them. Given the enthusiasm of young mothers, the baby could have a hard time. But, again, due to covid restrictions, the correction was held in an abbreviated mode: the audience was not supposed to run after the procession, but to watch it while sitting. That, however, did not prevent the most brisk ones from running along with the chairs. But they looked at them with condemnation: the Catalans consider it a civic duty to observe socially useful rules.

Catalan round dance – sardana

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Long after midnight the music still sounded, the sardana was danced in the square, fried butifarra was served at impromptu counters, and, saying goodbye to the square tomorrow, people said: “On Monday at the fair in Mareña”, meaning that the holidays in La Bisbal will rage until Sunday, and then they will migrate to Mareña.

The next day I was leaving and Zhina told me:

– Listen, we never went to the sea. Do you want us to drive? It’s twenty minutes away.

But I refused.

– Let’s go to Mareña for cottage cheese. And we went on foot along a country road to a neighboring village, where there is a huge, tenth century, church made of brown stone. On the way, we met Chavi’s neighbor – he honked from the harvester. We bought “mato” cottage cheese from an aunt from a local cooperative and ate it right on her porch with no-man’s figs growing on the street. Then we sat for a while longer in the village bar, where an extraordinary meeting of the Mareña Committee was taking place, and Gina took me to the station. Because, frankly, public transport is so-so there. But this is the only negative.


Area 32,114 sq. km.
Population 7,716,760
Distance from Moscow to Barcelona ≈ 3010 km (flight time 4 hours 15 minutes)

Material published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 1, January-February 2022

Anna Papchenko

Catalan Towers people

Castells or living towers , as they are also called, is a unique sports and cultural tradition of the Catalans, listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

For at least two centuries, Catalans of all ages have been climbing on each other’s shoulders, trying to build the most complex and high tower of people.

The word castell means “castle” in Catalan. Apparently, it is the watchtowers of medieval castles who are trying to build castellers from their own bodies.

Castells in Catalonia is like a bullfight in Spain, with the correction that neither animals nor people suffer during this activity: despite the apparent injury risk of building a living tower, the probability of an accident here is no higher than when cycling or playing tennis.

This amazing tradition originated around the end of the 18th century in the vicinity of the city of Tarragona and for a long time has been a local pastime of the inhabitants of this region, as well as the neighboring wine region Penedès . The second half of the 19th century becomes the first golden age of the castells, when dozens of colles appear – groups of castellers regularly traveling for performances and competitions. Then the first records are set – the towers are built in 8-9human “floors”.

At the end of the 19th century, in the regions where the construction of living towers was most popular, an epidemic of the phylloxera vine aphid came, and the resulting economic crisis became a severe blow to the castells tradition. The height and complexity records set before the phylloxera remained unsurpassed for nearly a century.

The second golden era of the Castells begins after the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. In the 1980s, the number of teams begins to grow again at an unprecedented pace, and castells spill out of their historical area, becoming one of the favorite national symbols of all Catalans. Castellers appear in Barcelona and its environs, in the French part of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and then in Chile, Brazil, China …

The most important step is to attract women to this once purely masculine occupation. Many castells researchers believe that this circumstance has become a decisive factor both for the growing popularity of live towers in modern times, and for achieving unprecedented results in this sport. The construction of castells requires a balance between strength and technique, dexterity, and the presence of both men and women in teams made it much easier to find this balance.

How is a living tower built?
Building a castel is a rather difficult task. It, like any other sport, has its own rules.

At the base of each tower there is a so-called “bump” ( pinya ) — a group of several dozen people who serve as the basis of the tower, its living buttress.
The essence of the cone is that absolutely everyone can stand in it, regardless of their age and physical condition. This makes castells a sport where there is room for everyone.

Next comes tronc is the turret shaft. Its lower levels tend to form the thickest men, while the upper part is occupied by the smaller and more dexterous guys and girls.

Well, the most important task – to close the tower and throw up a hand with four fingers, symbolizing the four stripes of the Catalan flag – is assigned, believe it or not, to a child. The structure of the castell cannot support an adult at the top, so the children of castellers are doomed to continue this tradition from a very early age.

After the construction is completed, the tower still needs to be disassembled in the same sequence. If it collapses, the achievement is only partially credited.

At the moment, the record height of the castel is ten floors, their construction is the dream of any team.
In addition to the height, the number of people in one floor of the tower is also taken into account. After all, it is clear that with three or four people on the same level it is much easier to build a higher structure than with one or two.

Today, castells in Catalonia are perhaps second only to football in popularity, and in some regions they are even ahead of it. Competitions of the builders of living towers are held in all cities and small towns, being the most important element of traditional holidays. The most important competitions are broadcast live on radio and television, and Catalan channels have specialized programs dedicated to the world of living towers.