For some, it’s train sets and model aeroplanes. For others, it’s dolls’ houses, fluffy kittens or cute little ponies. From an early age, we are fascinated by the world of miniature and some of us never grow out of it.
Perhaps this explains why millions of visitors are drawn to places like Madurodam in Holland, where you can walk around a tiny version of the Netherlands – or, some of its important architecture at least – in just a couple of hours. Whatever the reason, it’s a great way to see a place without having to trek around the entire country!
Madurodam was named after the young Dutch Resistance hero, George Maduro, and built by his parents after George was killed at Dachau Concentration Camp. Conceived as a memorial tribute, Madurodam is constantly changing and evolving and the mini-park has even inspired a few spin-offs in other countries. And so George’s memory lives on.
Scaled down to one twenty-fifth size, the Madurodam park includes a model version of Schipol airport complete with some mini planes, and even a miniature train station. Of course, there are the ubiquitous canals with model barges, windmills, typical Dutch houses and famous museums but attention to detail is always meticulous, right down to the tiny marijuana leaves adorning a mini “Coffee Shop”!
I once spent eight fabulous years living in The Hague, and friends who were visiting from overseas loved various attractions in Holland. But there’s something special about Madurodam, tucked half-way between The Hague city and Scheveningen beach, that leaves its visitors with a lasting impression long after their return home.
So much so, that a few foreign visitors to Madurodam have been motivated to set up their own versions upon returning home. One such person was Fernando de Ercilla. He built the mini-city of Catalonia in Miniature near Barcelona after an inspirational visit to the Dutch park. In 1983, he ended up with one of the biggest miniature parks in the world – if that’s not an oxymoron! Catalonia in Miniature includes iconic versions of Antonio Gaudi’s avant-garde and whimsical architecture, as well as fountains, lakes, waterfalls and hundreds of Bonsai trees to help complete the illusory landscape. A visit there feels like you’ve been temporarily transported into a Lilliputian world.
Coincidentally, my last visit there was with my parents one hot, sunny afternoon just as the 9/11 events were taking place in the US. I remember the mayhem as locals were rushing to obtain news on Spanish TV and radio, but most of all I remember the utter surrealism of being in such a bizarre place at the time.
Today there are around fourteen miniature parks in Europe. One of the most popular is Mini-Europe, located in Brussels. Its 350+ buildings represent over 80 European cities. With the likes of Big Ben, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Acropolis, and the Arc de Triomphe, it features all the iconic symbols of European heritage as you would expect. But there are also live-action simulations, like the falling of the Berlin Wall, and loud and spectacular eruptions from Mount Vesuvius. More serenely, model gondolas glide gently along miniature Venetian canals and the park is undoubtedly a sensory delight of both sight and sound.
Madurodam itself spawned another other spin-off: Entrepreneur Eiran Gazit was so enthralled by a visit to the Dutch mini-park he decided to form his own Mini-Israel. Built in 2002, his park’s emphasis is on the multi-cultural and incorporates Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze and Bedouin civilizations.
Then there’s Miniatürk in Istanbul. This park was built nine years ago and replicates various ancient buildings long after their civilizations had died out. Its website claims the project aims to create a “fairy tale atmosphere” featuring Anatolia, Istanbul and the former Ottoman empires. The buildings are constructed from industrial-strength plastic that “must withstand the forces of nature”, and I wonder whether the models will survive for as long as their life-sized counterparts!
So, imagine walking around the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, Toronto CN Tower, the Eiffel Tower, etc. in a single day? Apart from the obvious differences in size and geographical location, does a trip to a replica still count on that “Bucket List”, I wonder? Well, it sure as heck beats the hours of queuing for the “real” Taj Mahal, if nothing else.
The most ambitious miniaturisation project to date must surely be “The World”; a land reclamation scheme four kilometres off the coast of Dubai in the UAE. With never-before-seen feats of engineering sparking global interest, The World, along with nearby The Palm and The Universe, set an exceedingly high bar in land reclamation. Investors and celebrities alike sunk millions into the project, but perhaps it was doomed from the start.
Firstly, rumours of stagnant sea water problems were rife and then the recession hit, forcing construction to an abrupt halt. Four years later, The World has a solitary show home standing. To cap it all, rumour has it that the land reclamation is now sinking into the sea! Emperor’s New Clothes, perhaps? Seriously though, would you really want to live there when it’s 54˚C in the summer time?
I think I’ll just stick to my little Summer House in the garden…