Friday, 29 September 2023, 13:04
By 12 noon on Sunday, Plaza Padre Ciganda, in Malaga's El Palo district was packed. The crowds were there to watch as 31 teams competed in a unique competition: to produce the best structure out of bricks and mortar. The challenge was a tough one; this contest, now in its 56th year, is not known as the "champions league of bricklaying" for nothing.
"A lot more want to take part but we only have so much space," said María del Carmen Peláez, president of Peña El Palustre, the local association that organises the event.
The contestants started working at eight in the morning when plans were handed out revealing the design of what they were going to have to build from scratch: two parallel rings joined by an arch. They had five hours to plan and build their seemingly gravity-defying project. It was complicated, but not impossible.
Each team approached the task in their own way. "They are doing very well," said Manuel Peláez Santiago, co-founder of the contest, pointing out the work of one pair of bricklayers.
"They've made a different frame for each arch; that way it will have much more stability."
The pair in question have a lot of experience and have won prizes in previous years. They come from Fuenlabrada near Madrid and this year were competing against other participants from Cáceres, Badajoz, Tarragona, Granada and many parts of Malaga province.
As time was nearly up, the tension mounted as the teams began to remove the supports holding up their structures. More than five entries collapsed, including that of the Fuenlabrada contestants.
This is no game; the Peña El Palustre bricklaying competition is serious business. Even the most skilled in their trade can fail. After working five hours in the sun, it's hard to keep up a constant level of perfection.
In the end the first prize was awarded to team 12. Aleix Plana and his assistant Vasile Safta, from Vilaseca (Tarragona), took home nearly 6,000 euros. This is not the first time they have won. They've been competing in El Palo since 2010, and not once has their structure collapsed. "This year we were quite anxious as we thought it would [fall down]," said Plana, who explained that the most difficult part of the exercise was planning the supports so as not to run out of wood.
This traditional bricklaying competition in El Palo dates back to 1966, when Peña El Palustre ('palustre' means 'trowel') had just been founded by a group of builders.
"The contest started with the aim of honing skills and learning new techniques in our craft," said Manuel Peláez.
The first competition was held in the basement of the association when it was still under construction, Peláez explained. The second year they moved out into the street, which had been named Calle El Palustre after the association.
It eventually grew into an annual contest of national prestige that attracts craftsmen and enthusiasts from all over Spain. Now located in Plaza Padre Ciganda, it has only missed one year, in 2020, due to the pandemic.
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