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Magical Las Pozas

las-pozas-3 In Mexico's Sierra Madre, near a town called Xilitla, lies hidden one of the most surreal yet undiscovered artistic monuments of the last century – Las Pozas. Situated in the grounds of a former coffee plantation, Las Pozas gets its name from the nine pools formed by the cascades of mountain water that pass through it. It gets its eccentricity however from the English millionaire Edward James, who lived there from 1949 to his death in 1984. las-pozas-2 Born into wealth as the son of an American railroad magnate in 1907, James became one of the premier collectors of Surrealist art. Many of the works of Magritte, Dali and Picasso were sponsored by James. He was so appreciated by them that he occasionally appeared in their work. las-pozas A world traveler, James found himself near the central Mexican town of Xilitla in 1949. At the time, the area, seven hours north (by car) of Mexico City and eight hours south of the Tex-Mex border, was little more than a jungle. But James was captivated. He saw something in the landscape that no one else did. He began visiting frequently, enamored by the blend of plant life and multiple bodies of water. He named it Las Pozas or “The Pools.” Soon, he began selling off his prized paintings and building at Xilitla. The structures and sculptures were Surrealist in their inspiration recalling many of the paintings James had once owned. las-pozas-5 So that he might continue his obsession in earnest James moved to Las Pozas some time in the late 1950s or early 1960s and stayed until his death in 1984. Las Pozas has very little rhyme or reason to its design. It is almost as if James was making it up as he was going along—which it is entirely possible. A boxy red guest house, long blue light poles, a passageway that is ornate and dream-like but doesn’t lead to anywhere in particular. The plan of Las Pozas made sense only to James. las-pozas-6 One thing is for certain, however, and that is that James saw Las Pozas as a chance to experiment. His scattershot approach to architecture would likely not have been tolerated in the structured public places of Europe and the United States. Around one corner might be structure that is museum-worthy in its sophistication, clearly the product of an educated, focused mind. But around the next might be a piece of kitsch that would look better on the lawn of a suburban cul-de-sac, that looks have been put in place with the impulsivity of a child. The randomness of Las Pozas is what makes it such a spectacular place. It is clearly the result of passionate soul. Though spanning over 80 acres and 200 different structures Las Pozas is a strictly personal enterprise, the fruition of either a man driven either by madness or by a visionary sense of place. las-pozas-4 In 1979, Las Pozas had reached near-completion. It had become something of a local attraction, well-known to locals, 68 of whom were employed at any given time to build the surreal park. That year, James brought electric power to the site, and lit up the mountainside like a fairyland every night. When he died in 1984, construction stopped and the site was inherited by the Gastelum family, who maintained it and allowed the public to visit it. They were determined that its spirit not be changed or the structures destroyed. In 2007, the Fundacion Pedro y Elena Hernandez, along with the company Cemex and the government of San Luis Potosi created Fondo Xilitla to preserve the site and restore it to its former glory. It has also been tentatively listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a result, the future is looking bright for Las Pozas, and, all going to plan, it will remain open to visitors for many years to come. Images: Wikimedia, Wikimedia, Flickr, Flickr

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