Antoni Mas, blacksmith and creator of “Àliga de Tarragona”: “With the Àliga, we forged a symbol of Tarragona”

Antoni Mas - ©Rafael Ló—pez-MonnéŽ

Collaborator for years in the radio programme “El món s’acaba…” by Xavier Grasset in Catalunya Ràdio, Antoni Mas become famous for choosing and explaining an endless selection of anecdotes, ironic stories from the past decade about the villages’ daily nature. Between the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium, the Mas family drove mile after mile so that Antoni, who has an extraordinary ability to talk to people, could store all sort of stories.

However, one of the anecdotes that made a more lasting impression on Antoni’s life was not very far from his home, as it actually went to visit him in his blacksmith workshop, located in Vila-seca. In 1983, a group of teenagers attended his house with an idea that would provide Santa Tecla, Tarragona major festivity, with a decisive push.

They wanted to found a group of Ball de Diables and needed me to build some ceptrots (fireworks metal support) for both Llucifer and the Diablessa”, remembers. Three years later “they came back with an even more difficult project: they wanted the Àliga (eagle) back”, the legendary Àliga once property of the blacksmiths and that represented the city in the parade until its final appearance, in the 19th century.

This task got onto the best possible hands. Mas works on the “forging, tooling and deep drawing”; that is, the typically blacksmith’s duties. Actually, Antoni is still taming steel in the same way his ancestors did in the very same workshop. Among all his old tools hanging from the walls, he says, we can find some once used by prisoners digging the cliff at Balcó del Mediterrani, in the 19th century. It was with those stones that the port was built.

In fact, all Tarragona –not just the Balcó and port– was built thanks to many people’s effort and sweat. And there’s also a lot of effort, although more symbolic and figurate, in the recovery of Santa Tecla’s festivity. This very old ritual –almost killed by the lack of institutional interest– is today a massive success in local engagement and contribution; a true festive meeting that depicts Tarragona. All this, thanks to the commitment, farsightedness and hyperbolic will of a group of people that started as a small core, but that soon grew with their ideas.

Not even when I got the task to build the Àliga, period on which the local festivity was getting some of that prestige, would I have never thought everything was actually going to catch on. Sometimes, when I see all those people in the street, desperately taking part in the so-called Processó del Braç or the Baixada de l’Àliga, I think it’s all a sort of collective madness. People lost their faith in many ways, but party has the ability to actually generate loads of devotion”, says Mas.

The process of creating the Àliga in itself was a little effort miracle. Antoni, trained in the “Escola d’Art i Disseny de la Diputació”, got inspiration from Girona’s Àliga and created a structure of steel dressed up with geometrical brass pieces. The result: the heaviest 80kg ever to come out of his workshop. “It was a very hard process. My eyes were watering as we assembled it. I would have never been so nervous at work. Besides, we had to really rush in order to have it ready for the local festivity of 1986, as it had already been announced”, says Mas.

With the Àliga, we forged a symbol of Tarragona”. Antoni feels proud of being the father of such elegant, funny and symbolica creature, rounded off with a jewellery crown made by Blázquez. Mas himself has now taken part in the Àliga’s restoration, spoiled by years of festivities, which will soon get its best look ready for the upcoming Santa Tecla festivity, on the occasion of the 30th birthday of this celebration’s recovery. Concerts, meetings and varied parties will spice up an anniversary that will find its climax the night of 21 September, with the legendary “Baixada de l’Àliga” and the other members up from the Plaça de les Cols.

While the festivity is getting ready, Mas revises his pencil sketches, the first tests with feathers and the remaining steel pieces that were left in his workshop. “It was a really tough task, one that really challenged me as a blacksmith”, he explains. As seen throughout the years, contribution made by this master craftsman to the “Seguici de Tarragona” have become key in order to forge the legend. Diables, Àliga, Cucafera, Àliga petita, Cucafera petita, and the most recent Griu… they have all been born from the hands of Antoni Mas to gain the city’s everlasting love.

Text: Oriol Margalef (@OhMargalef en Twitter)
Pictures: Rafael López-Monné (@lopezmonne en Twitter)
Video: Explay
Translation: Artur Santos (@artur_1983 on Twitter)