If you are in Tuscany, in the Capalbio area, close your eyes for a while, and you will be transported into the beautiful Barcelona. This is the Tarot Garden, the Small Parc Guell in Tuscany, inspired by the great artist Antonio Gaudì. It has been built by the eclectic artist Niki de Saint Phalle and revolves around the tarot tradition. It is a big park that the artist began building in the late 1970s and continued developing until her death in 2002.
The Tarot Garden is located on the eastern side of Garavicchio Hill, in the Tuscan Maremma, and covers an area of about 2 hectares. It is a real "city" in which the sculptured houses mark the stages of the journey. Access to the garden is delimited by a double wall with a single large circular opening in the center, close by the gate. There is, therefore, a clear separation between the Garden and the outside world: the enclosing wall is intended as a threshold to cross, to enter a 'magical pause,' -clearly detached from the reality of the external world.
During a trip to Spain, the American and French artist Niki de Saint Phalle discovered the great work of Antonio Gaudì and got strongly influenced throughout her artistic life. Particularly the Parc Guell in Barcelona, together with the "Parco dei Mostri" of Bomarzo, had great importance in the artist's decision to build her own sculpture garden. These magnificent works of art are based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. Famous and local artists have also contributed to the construction of the works in the garden.
Just like the works of Gaudì, the statues and figures of the tarot cards present in the Tarot Garden are covered with mosaic tiles of glass and ceramic, mirrors, and many other different materials. All the ceramic tiles that make up the works are produced on-site. Niki de Saint Phalle has created works that used assemblage and performative modes of production. She has started making large scale sculptures, which led to her practice in architectural projects, sculpture gardens, books, prints, films, theatre sets, clothing, jewelry, and even her own perfumes.
Once through the entrance threshold, the dirt road climbs up to the large central square, occupied by a basin. There you can see standing the figures of the Popess and the Magician, the first major arcana of the Tarot, which marks the beginning of the path. The square is a large amphitheater, surrounded by curved colored benches, and dominated by other colorful sculptures. The circular basin gathers the waters that come from the enormous open mouth of the Popess, which is clearly inspired by the ogre of the Monsters Park in Bomarzo and the water games of Villa d’Este. At the center of the tub, there is the Wheel of Fortune, a self-propelled mechanical sculpture made by the artist's husband, Jean Tinguely, who created all the metal structures of the enormous sculptures.
The streets starting from the square run along different routes, and carry engraved notes of thoughts, memories, numbers, quotations, drawings, and messages. On the right ridge, the small staircase that rises from the square passes under the figure of the Sun, represented as a large bird of a white, red, and yellow fire. After the Sun, we find the Pope, made with a fibrous technique.
The figure of Justice has a scale resting on her large breast, and the interior space is blocked by a gate closed by a huge padlock. The Lovers are two colorful and joyful sculptures, having a picnic on the wall.
The figure of the Emperor best represents the legacy of Gaudì. The Emperor represents the masculine, physical, and psychic power. It is composed of Murano glass, murrine, mirrors from France and Bohemia, decorations, and pieces of a single puzzle. At the back of the castle rises the Tower, which symbolizes the mental constructions without foundations, entirely covered with mirrors.
The figure of the Empress is the most important of the complex. The artist lived for long periods during the works inside this figure. The Empress is huge and opulent, and her body is excessively shapely covered with ceramics. No corner is present in this sculpture, and all the edges are rounded. Inside the Great Mother, the figures of Judgment, Stars, and Chariot have been placed, reflected by thousands of fragments of Venetian mirrors.
A visit to the Tarot Garden is a unique experience, which leads the visitor into a dreamlike, fantastic, unreal dimension, and lightens him of all the burdens of daily life. In January, February, March, November, and December, the first Saturday of each month, from 9 am to 1 pm, visitors are granted free admission- according to the wishes of the founder, the great artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Enjoy your visit to the Tarot Garden, the little Parc Guell in Tuscany, and its unique surroundings!
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