Dancing giants on the Ramblas of Barcelona

TOURING CATALONIA IN THE COMPANY OF DANCING GIANTS… AWESOME!

4 March, 2021
Cultural life

What if you were invited to follow 4-meter (12-foot) tall dancing giants around Barcelona and Catalonia? Would you be frightened, or excited?

Don’t be scared! Our giants are nothing more than huge puppets, and watching them parade through the streets of Catalan towns is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have here.

Private tour. Introducing the giants of Santa Maria del Mar and Santa Maria del Pi
Private guided tour introducing you to the giants and giantesses

A tradition dating back to the middle ages

The tradition of giants in Iberia dates back to the middle ages. The earliest recorded mention of giants is in Evora, Portugal in the 13th century, followed not long after by an appearance in Pamplona, Navarre.

From there the tradition spread to Castile and especially to the territories of the Crown of Aragón, to which Catalonia belonged in the olden days.

Ball de gegants, or the Giant’s Dance in Tarragona, Catalonia

The giants of Catalonia

In Catalonia the presence of Giants at religious feasts has been recorded as early as the 14-century. By the 19th century they had become a strong element of the local identity.

The tradition remains very much alive today, thanks to the enthusiasm of the local civil society. The activities of the many Giant groups or colles de geganters are coordinated under the Agrupació de colles de geganters de Catalunya, a Catalan federation of colles.

Religious feasts and other local festivities often feature a Ball de Gegants, or Giant’s dance.

Say hello to the giants of La Barceloneta! Here are Pep Barceló the giant fisherman (left), and his wife the giantess Maria la néta
The giants of the Barceloneta neighborhood, Barcelona

What’s a giant like?

Giants are very tall figures, hollow inside and with paper-maché head and arms. They are clothed in material shaped like traditional robes and garments.

Their frame is generally made of wood, and an individual controls them from the inside during the dance.

Who do giants represent?

Giants normally represent historical kings and queens and nobles, but also archetypal fishermen, farmers and even infamous historical figures such as 17th-century bandit Perot lo Lladre.

THe gegantet Perot lo Lladre, a 17th-century bandit, is holding a very big knife. Keep away from him!
Help! The gegantet of the infamous Perot lo Lladre is attacking your guide! Perot is dangerous!

How does a giant awaken?

In order to animate a giant, an individual must be capable of not only shouldering the weight, but also maneuvering it at the same time using a harness strapped to their shoulders.

When the person inside moves, the giant awakens and starts shaking in a dance.

Giants are very heavy to carry! That’s why members of a giants association take it in turns to carry the figures during a parade, normally for not more than a few minutes at a time.

Picasso always loved all things Catalonia and portraited the local giants. 
Frieze made by Carl Nesjar following Picasso sketches.  Plaça Nova, Barcelona
Pablo Picasso’s homage to the tradition of giants. Old town, Barcelona

Dancing in good company

Such dances are normally performed by a couple: a male giant and a female giantess.

Most Catalan towns have at least a pair of giants, though many have more, and Barcelona has scores of them! 

Capgrossos

Capgrossos are smaller human figures with exaggeratedly oversized paper-maché heads. They look a little grotesque and are very funny.

While giants symbolize majesty and solemnity, capgrossos add a touch of extravagance to the parade as they bounce around, cutting a chaotic path through the procession.

Mataró’s fire-spitting dragon in the Plaça Sant Jaume at the Santa Eulàlia feasts in Barcelona

Fantastic beasts and monsters

Besides human-shaped figures, there’s a host of others that seem to have come out of a medieval bestiary.

Some of them are traditional symbols of the evil that must be defeated. Imagine terrible sea monsters, dragons, griffins and even demons like Tolc, the “beast” of the Clot neighborhood of Barcelona.

The devilish running of Tolc at the festa major of the Clot neighborhood, Barcelona

The giants and Barcelona’s city feasts

We love to see them dance along the Ramblas of Barcelona and the streets of the old town, accompanied by a marching band.

The city’s most important feasts, or festes majors, of La Mercè (September) and Santa Eulàlia (February) are a great moment to be in town if you are interested in the local popular traditions. 

Other local feasts where giants can be seen in Barcelona are the Feasts of Gràcia (August) and the Festa Major of Clot (November), to name just two.

Atzeries looks dangerous! This devil  belongs to the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona
Gràcia’s devil Atzeries, Barcelona

Would you like to know more about giants?

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9 thoughts on “TOURING CATALONIA IN THE COMPANY OF DANCING GIANTS… AWESOME!

  1. Angela Vespa
    4 March, 2021
    Reply

    Magnifico poster e poter assistere a questo spettacolo bellissima esperienza!!!

    • unison
      4 March, 2021
      Reply

      Soon it will be possible again!

      Presto sarà di nuovo possibile!

  2. Albert
    4 March, 2021
    Reply

    My favourite giant is “el gegant del Pi” with his customized song.

    • unison
      4 March, 2021
      Reply

      Correct! A song just for the gegant del Pi!

      El gegant del pi
      Ara balla ara balla
      El gegant del pi
      Ara balla pel camí
      El gegant de la ciutat
      Ara balla ara balla
      El gegant de la ciutat
      Ara balla pel terrat

  3. Denise
    5 March, 2021
    Reply

    These giants are beautifully dressed. I bet adults and children alike want to see the Giants dances. I wonder though whether Barcelona gets even more crowded during Feasts of Gràcia and the Festa Major of Clot.

    • unison
      17 March, 2021
      Reply

      Hi Denise!

      These feasts are especially beloved by locals but they are open to all those who want to enjoy the atmosphere of celebration!

      The Clot feast is celebrated in November and normally not so many tourists are in Barcelona during that time of the year.

      As for Gràcias feasts, it’s true that usually there’s many tourists in Barcelona in August.

      However, no so many come specifically for the feasts, but are very happy to join the big parties in the streets of Gràcia once they hear of them in Barcelona.

    • unison
      18 March, 2021
      Reply

      In general both children and adults like giants. Children like them because they are children, and adults because… they were children and still are children, in a corner of their hearts!

  4. Roberto
    1 April, 2021
    Reply

    I’ll come sometime, sure. Looking forward….

    • unison
      2 April, 2021
      Reply

      Welcome! We’ll be happy to show you the city and the rest of Spain! … and Portugal!

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