Sportsmen in France form a human pyramid, 1919. (Photo: M. Rol/Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)
In the 16th century, Franco-Italian artist Juste de Juste sketched a series of prints showing men defying the laws of gravity and balance. They stand on each others shoulders, muscles popping. While there’s speculation about why Juste created the drawings, there’s no doubt about what we’re looking at: a (logistically impossible) human pyramid.
While their standard triangular layouts are usually associated with cheerleading stunts and circus acrobats, human pyramids take some extraordinary forms around the world. Take the Catalan region of Spain, where, since at least the 18th century, groups have competed to create castells—castles—for festivals. Effectively human towers, these precarious-looking structures are only completed once the top tier moves into position. Given they can run to ten levels high, the participants study and practice for months to ensure the safety of the group.
By digging through old archives, Atlas Obscura has found a variety of human pyramids from history—featuring acrobats and gymnasts, involving everything from horses to motorbikes. Here, a short visual history of this feat of balance, strength and showmanship.
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