By Luis Felipe Castilleja
VALLS, Spain (Reuters) - Catalonia's traditional festival of human towers returned to the medieval city of Valls in a scaled-down form on Thursday after a 15-month hiatus caused by COVID-19.
Towers were limited to 50 people, a far cry from the 500-strong constructions of past "castells" events. The tallest reached as high as town hall's first-floor balcony, just over half the usual height.
"This means a lot, although it’s very different from previous years, to feel again this emotion of castells," said 20-year-old Eleonor Boada, one of the competitors.
The participants had to show a negative coronavirus test during the rehearsals and before Thursday's performance, which coincided with St. John's Day.
Spain has been loosening its restrictions as vaccinations gather steam and the infection rates fall.
"We've had great security ... we are really very proud and happy with how well everything has been done," said Yolanda Gonzalez, 46.
The human towers are a deep-rooted part of Catalan culture, sometimes associated with the separatist movement.
Jordi Turull, one of the nine Catalan leaders jailed after the region's failed 2017 independence bid, came to the festival on Thursday a day after his release from prison following a government pardon.
He thanked the castellers from Valls who had built human towers outside the prison in support of him and his fellow inmates.
"We decided that one of the first things we would do when we left prison would be to come and thank these people," he said. "That was a very emotional moment."
(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Heavens)