The Surrealist Xanadu Hidden in a Mexican Jungle

Atlas Obscura
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Sept. 25 2013 8:22 AM

Las Pozas: The Surrealist Xanadu Hidden in a Mexican Jungle

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Las Pozas is the creation of Edward James an eccentric English poet, artist, and patron of the Surrealist movement. James sponsored Dalí, allowed Magritte to use his London home as a studio, and was acquainted with such luminaries as Dylan Thomas, Sigmund Freud, D.H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley. Huxley introduced James to Hollywood types, who in turn introduced him to spiritualist west-coast visionaries, who then introduced him to the wilds of Mexico.

Won over by the lush vegetation and leisurely pace, James purchased a coffee plantation in 1947 and spent the next 10 years cultivating orchids and tending to exotic animals. After an unprecedented frost in 1962 destroyed many of his plants, James started building the extraordinary sculpture garden that remains on the site today. The design of Las Pozas was inspired both by James' orchids and the vegetation of the Huastec jungle, combined with architectural elements taken from the Surrealist movement.

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Construction on Las Pozas began in 1962, and carried on for over 20 years. The gardens feature concrete structures with Surrealist names, like the "House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six," the "Temple of the Ducks," and the "House With a Roof Like a Whale." Stairs spiral up into the air, mismatched columns support uneven floors, and decorative arches range from ornately finished to seemingly incomplete.

In the 1960s and 1970s, James dedicated more and more of his resources to his "Surrealist Xanadu," as he referred to it, spending millions of dollars and employing hundreds of masons, artisans, and local craftsmen. By the times James died in 1984, he had built 36 sculptures spread out over more than 20 acres of lush tropical jungle. Over the years, trunks and vines have snaked their way among the structures, adding to the surreality of the scene.

If you build it, they will come:


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