Explorer examines Human tower-building: Phil Keoghan joins the Castells of Catalonia

Monsters and Critics was embedded with the production team of National Geographic Channel as they filmed tonight’s episode of Explorer.

The action comes from the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain, a region that also contains the Pyrenees Mountains.

Catalonia (Catalunya) is made up of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona.

Barcelona was where we landed upon arrival but then we were transported to Vilafranca de Penedès where the largest Sant. Felix festival happens annually in late August, called Festa Major.

In our exclusive clip, Keoghan took Monsters and Critics to the outer reaches of the province in Terrassa to watch one group, the Minyons, practice.

Human tower building, a true Catalonian artform
Tourism image of Towers provided by Nat Geo Channel, insert image provided by Phil Keoghan

We joined production in the Tarragona province for a late night of practice while all ages participated in this longrunning tradition of human tower building, a true Catalonian artform that is not without physical risks.

Host and journalist Phil Keoghan (Amazing Race) not only explains the process but actually immersed himself in the centuries-old tradition of human tower making.

Phil Keoghan (Amazing Race) not only explains the process but actually immersed himself in the centuries-old tradition of human tower making
Keoghan is circled-image taken at event this past summer. Pic credit: April Neale

The competitors are referred to as Castellers who build “Castells” as they take each other on at major festivals in the region.

But why do they do it and what is the subtext of this act?

The interlocked human tower defies physics and gravity.

Catalan social life centers on preparing for this tradition is all about family, food, and celebrations that honor these various traditions, but there is political subtext as Keoghan will learn in the course of the episode.

These castells are the most famous symbols representing Catalonia, a region that wants greater autonomy. The knowledge for creating castells is traditionally passed down from each generation within a local group, and can only be perfected by relentless practice.

But the true nature of these towers is one of regional pride with political undertones that rings strongly all throughout the provinces in Catalonia.

This event shows off the community spirit, their desire for liberty, and freedom from Spanish interference and the release of their noted Catalan political prisoners currently held in Spanish jails.

Emmy-winner Keoghan literally works with the lavender shirted Minyons in Terrassa, Keoghan helps to be part of a tower during their practice. Later in the episode, he does it live from the square in Vilafranca during actual competition.

Read our interview with Phil Keoghan here!

Read our interview with EP Gretchen Eisele here!

Tune in tonight to see him in action from Vilafranca de Penedès (about 30 min outside Barcelona) on the day of the festival. A Castilian meal is also prepared for him as the local people explain the history of this event and what it means to them as a culture.

Explorer airs Mondays at 6/5c on National Geographic Channel.

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