Catalonia's 36-foot-tall Human Towers Look Even More Amazing from the Air

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A bird's eye view of a human tower created by the Castellers de Vilafranca team shows how hundreds of people form a strong base to support a tower with two people on each upper level. David Ramos/Getty Images

One of the world's great cultural spectacles was held this weekend in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain. Teams from around the region gathered in a former bull ring in Tarragona to build human towers.

These towers consist of up to ten layers of people standing on top of each other, reaching heights of up to 36 feet. Teams compete to build a range of designs from slender pillars just two people wide to more complex structures with levels that may be made of up to nine people, all standing on the shoulders of the nine people below them.  

As impressive as the human towers are when seen from the ground, it takes a drone to really appreciate their size and complexity. Like an iceberg, only ten percent of the tower is above the surface. Theose people standing on each other's shoulders are being supported by up to 500 more, arrayed around the tower in complex arrangements specifically engineered for each tower design. 

The strongest and heaviest members interlock their arms to form a stable base, and then hundreds more form human buttresses radiating out from each tower, supporting and strengthening it. They also act as a safety net, cushioning any falls from the upper levels if the tower collapses.

One the solid foundations have been constructed, the tower begins rising, with each successive layer made up of lighter and younger people. The team's youngest, lightest and bravest member—often a tiny girl as young as six—then climbs up to the top of the 30-foot tower and salutes the crowd. Finally, the tower must be dismantled, floor by floor, in an orderly fashion.

Accidents are rare, but there have been fatalities. A 10-year-old girl fell to her death at a competition in 2006, so competing children now wear helmets.

Sunday's competition saw the field of 42 teams whittled down as the towers got more and more difficult. After a tense final involving some of trickiest known designs, competition favorites Vilafranca lost out to a team from the town of Valls.

The bi-annual competition was held for the first time since the failed Catalan independence referendum of 2017 which was banned by Spain's court and the government because it was deemed unconstitutional.

Though the competition is not an official pro-independence event, human tower building, declared a Cultural and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, is a long-rooted-tradition of the Catalan culture.

Catalonia's regional president Quim Torra was present at the event where a huge Esteleda, the Catalan separatist flag, was unfurled inside the Tarraco Arena Plaça as people sang the national anthem of Catalonia, "Els Segadors" (The Reapers).

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Members of the team Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls form a human tower called a castell during a biannual competition in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. Albert Gea/Reuters
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A bird's-eye view of the tower built by Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls shows how hundreds of team members help to strengthen the structure and cushion any falls. David Ramos/Getty Images
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Rival teams packed into the former bullring look on as Colla Jove Xiquets de Valls build a human tower. David Ramos/Getty Images
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The Colla Jove Xiquets de Tarragona work together to form the base of their tower. Albert Gea/Reuters
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Castellers de Barcelona arrange themselves in a complex formation ahead of building a more ambitious human tower. David Ramos/Getty Images
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Castellers de Vilafranca begin to build the lower levels of their tower. The heaviest, strongest members of the team need to be at the bottom to support the weight. Lluis Gene/AFP
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Younger, lighter team members form the tower's upper levels, with children as young as six years old forming the pinnacle. David Ramos/Getty Images
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A young girl climbs up towards the top of a tower built by the Capgrossos de Mataro team. Albert Gea/Reuters
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The youngest member of the Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls team raises her hand as she gets to the top, completing the construction. The tallest towers ever built have had ten levels, reaching a height of around 36 feet. Sandra Montanez/Getty Images
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Members of Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls fall down as their human tower collapses. Sandra Montanez/Getty Images
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A Castellers de Sant Cugat tower collapses. Albert Gea/Reuters