The gegants (giants) are part of Barcelona’s culture and history – and are such fun to see.
I was unaware of these Catalan icons until my first visit to Barcelona. After seeing photos of the gegants, I visited La Casa del Entremesos (The Giants Museum) to see them in person.
The gegants are constructed with a combination of papier mâché for face and hands and cloth for clothing.
They are built on a wood or metal frame that the human performer uses to carry and operate the gegant.
Gegants date back to the 1400s and have evolved over the centuries, being named for different religious and historical figure. Many of the gegants represent different communities in Barcelona.
On a recent trip to Barcelona, I attended the Festes Sant Josep Orio and was able to see gegants in action.
We were enjoying the artwork of local artists on display in Placa del Pi when we heard the music of a band in the distance.
We followed the sound of the grallas (a Catalan double-reed instrument) and drums and found the Gegants Petits del Pi, who were dancing their way through the narrow streets, with a crowd following them.
At nine feet tall, these petit gegants are smaller in stature than the larger gegants but still towered above the crowd.
The performers operating the gegants whirled, causing the arms and clothing to swirl, much to the delight of all of us watching.
A troop of people in matching outfits accompanied the gegants, helping them navigate through the streets, moving people from blocking their path, and sometimes slipping a water bottle to a performer when the gegants took a short break.
We joined the parade that escorted the gegants, who were the hosts of the festival, to Santa Maria del Pi, a 15th century gothic church. The gegants performed outside the church to the cheers of the crowd.
A friend and I walked up the stairs of the church to have a better view to take photos of the gegants. Then suddenly the gegants were towering over me, as they climbed the stairs and entered the church.
My friend and I found ourselves in the church foyer with the gegants and their support team — and the church doors closed.
Two performers – a young woman and a young man — emerged from under the gegants’ clothing, looking tired but elated. Their waists were bound with black sashes to help strengthen their backs for carrying the gegants, each of which weighs about 55 pounds.
We were standing in a hallway with a glass case where these gegants are stored when they aren’t performing. The case contained the Gegants del Pi (the full-sized gegants) and the Horse, one of the Catalan festival beasts.
The gegants have been the subject of political controversy off and on during their history, which dates back to the 1400s. They are representative of the Catalan culture and have, depending on the political climate of Spain, been banned.
The gegants petits del Pi are known to have existed since 1780. They have been renamed and redesigned over the years. Their current European attire was designed in 1858, with their clothing replaced by clothing of the same design in 2013.
In 1985, they were renamed Josep Oriol and Eulalia.
Josep Oriol is a saint who was revered for his work with the sick and poor. He was born and lived in the area the second half of the 17th century.
Saint Eulalia is the co-patron saint of Barcelona, who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians, dying in 303 at the age of 13.
What a treat to get to see the gegants perform in a festival – and then to literally see the behind-the-scenes operation.