The castells come in all shapes and sizes; totem poles, Christmas trees, towers and pyramids. Although normally built from the base up, a more complex form is built by starting with the top level and then lifting it and each supporting level below it in turn.
Catalonia – Been There

Seeing a human castle rise up in Catalonia

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Catalonia – Been There Seeing a human castle rise up in Catalonia

If you loved building sand castles as a child, or castles in the air as an adult, then building human castles may be just the thing for you. Leave your vertigo behind in Spain’s Catalonia where they build human towers that can reach a dizzying ten stories in height. Made of human flesh, sweat and muscle, this is the ultimate form of teamwork.

Daphne Huineman
Daphne Huineman Travel Writer

As soon as the first men start climbing on top of each other you can hear a pin drop in the square. Three sturdy guys of around 50 take two 40-year-olds on their shoulders. Young men, women and teenagers then start making their way up, using the calves, hips, shoulders and heads of their team mates as rungs in a ladder. The higher this human construction gets, the younger the layer of the tower gets.

I can’t believe my eyes when a young girl of six starts to climb up. I count nine stories by now, and the tower is about 15 meters high. What idiot had the idea to send a youngster into that seething mass? I express my astonishment in English, but a spectator next to me understands what I mean. “Don’t worry,” he whispers. “That little one knows what she’s doing.” “Would you send your own child up there?” I ask. “That’s my grand-daughter,” he replies dryly.

Everyone in the square is holding their breath. The tower is wobbling dangerously. At ground level there is a lot of pushing and shoving to give the base more power and stability while the little girl climbs like a monkey to the top. Directed from below, she does this as quick as lightning, a show that might put the Chinese State Circus to shame.

As soon as she reaches the top she places her bare feet on the shoulders of her slightly older team mate. Carefully she straightens her legs and looks up at the mayor standing high above her on the balcony of the town hall. She raises her arms up high. I begin to clap enthusiastically, but receive odd looks from those around me. A human tower is only a success when it’s been deconstructed, layer-by-layer. The spectacle has to continue, but now in reverse order.

Bang! Something has happened in the middle. The house of cards begins to collapse. The little girl flies through the air. Is she hurt? No, there she is, fished out of the mass of floundering limbs. A sigh of relief is heard from the public, as they start yelling “Vi-la-fran-ca! Vi-la-fran-ca!”

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