Catalonia’s festival celebrating timber raftsmen

Catalonia’s festival celebrating timber raftsmen
Catalonia's festival of timber raftsmen. Image: Mummelgrummel / Wikimedia Commons
Raiers are timber raftsmen – the ancient profession of transporting wood via waterways. Each summer, the profession is remembered and celebrated with a festival in the small Catalan town of Coll de Nargó.

This year the festival of the Baixada dels Raiers de Coll de Nargó will be held on August 14th, and despite the current situation, will be a special year because ‘wood rafting’ is being considered for inclusion on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Timber raftsmen associations in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, and Poland are also being considered for inclusion. 

The associations are hoping that wood raftsmen will be included on the list from 2022.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon to see rafts made from tree trunks floating down Catalonia’s Segre River, transporting wood from the Pyrenees to the interior of the region.

It was the job of these raftsmen to transport timber for creating houses, as well as for heating and shipbuilding. However, the profession virtually died out at the beginning of the 20th century with the introduction of dams and trucks to carry the wood faster and more efficiently.

For one day each year during the festival, this sight becomes commonplace once again as rafts are sailed down the river, just like they were in the past. These days it’s the grandchildren of the raiers who take control – floating the rafts from Clops de Fígols to the end of the Oliana reservoir.

“La Baixada dels Rais is a festival that reminds the new generations where we come from, who our grandparents were, how they worked with wood, and how hard their profession was. It’s not just a matter of going down the river, you have to prepare days beforehand so that on the day of descent, nothing will go wrong,” a spokesperson from the Raiers Association of the Ribera del Segre explained.

This year, the Baixada dels Raiers of Coll de Nargó will celebrate their 32nd edition of the festival and will include various safety and social distancing measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but essentially the rafting displays will not change.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Coll de Nargó was, together with the Pont de Claverol in La Noguera Pallaresa, the most important centre of raiers in Catalonia.

The area is even home to the Museu dels Raiers, a museum all about the timber raftsmen and their profession.

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