Crowds watched the competitors. / FRANCIS SILVA

The art of bricklaying, on display at an annual contest

A Malaga association has just held the 55th edition of this competition, in which 32 teams from different parts of Spain took part to show off their skills

ANABEL NIÑO

The Peña el Palustre contest is to bricklayers what a match between top teams in the Champions League is for football fans. It may not be known internationally - yet - but over 50 years it has gone from being a local event in a small fishing district of Malaga to attracting teams of builders from different parts of the province and from elsewhere in Spain, such as Extremadura and Catalonia.

For a few hours, those taking part in this unusual contest in El Palo become the stars of their profession, assessed not only by the panel of judges but also by members of the general public of all ages who watch their progress during the morning.

This year's competition began at 8am on Sunday when the teams were given plans to study before starting to build. While in previous years the focus has been on height, this time the construction was to be wider and consisted of three arches meeting at an intermediate point.

"The key is to stake it out perfectly, so the angles are right and the tangents of the three arches meet perfectly. If it is done well, it will stay up. If something goes wrong, it will fall down," laughed Manuel Peláez Santiago, the co-founder of this contest, which this year was named after him as a tribute.

Manuel and his brother Demófilo started the competition in 1967 with the support of Peña el Palustre, a club that was founded the same year. The members, mainly builders and bricklayers, started by competing against each other, proposing a structure and seeing who could build it best and win.

"The idea and the way it works are the same today, but it has become a much bigger event now," Manuel said.

After a quick look at the plans, the workers picked up their tools and gathered up the materials that are provided by the organisation so everyone competes under equal conditions. Then the countdown began.

The judges said no entry would be considered complete until every single item or tool used had been removed and the site had been cleaned. When every team had finished, the judging took place. The panel normally consists of architects and builders, and they only judge entries which have been completed and are still standing.

"We don't accept any that have fallen down or show any visible deformations," Demófilo Peláez, president of the panel of judges, explained.

After an initial look, they started to evaluate the accuracy of the constructions and how they had been built.

"The measurements have to be exact because sometimes a construction appears to be fine, but then when you measure it you find that it is several centimetres out compared with the plans," he said.

The structure

The 32 participants worked for five hours under a sun that got hotter every minute. Many of them spent a lot of time assembling the auxiliary structure upon which the bricks would be placed in a curve. The support would later be removed to see whether the construction stayed up or not.

The crowds who were watching what was going on in the Plaza del Padre Ciganda were fully supportive. They commiserated with the builders whose attempts collapsed, and applauded when a structure appeared to be successfully completed and as a sign of support for those who decided to withdraw because they didn't have enough time to finish.

At 1pm the judges told the competitors to stop work, and began to inspect the 13 entries that had been built correctly and were standing up with no support. It took them a long time to discuss the merits of the different entries and come to a decision.

Finally, the announcement came. They had decided that the winner of the 55th edition of this bricklaying competition was team number 26, comprising José Manuel Aliaga and his assistant Jorge López of Benalmádena Costa. As well their respective trophies, the proud winners also received a cash prize of 6,000 euros.