UncategorizedCampanópolis A Dream World

Campanópolis A Dream World

By Margarita de los Ríos
Photos Demian Colman

This is not a city, even though it looks like one. It is not medieval, even though it looks like it. There are hundreds of doors that lead nowhere, and windows that do not open. No one lives here, but it is not a ghost town either.

There are castles complete with towers and leaning towers ending in points. There are stairs that climb into the void, bridges that extend into nothing, constructions linked by cobblestone alleys, nooks and crannies, and secret places. There are houses secluded in the forest.

Located in González Catán, less than 20 miles south of Buenos Aires, Campanópolis represents the dream-made-reality of a collector of oddities. It is the world’s largest museum of repurposed and recycled objects. Seemingly by magic, an old garbage dump gave birth to a bewitching city built from discarded antiques and pieces salvaged from demolition sites.

The back-story began in 1977, when supermarket magnate Antonio Campana bought a rural plot of land to graze cattle. In 1980 the land was expropriated by the Metropolitan Area Ecological Organization, which turned it into a landfill. When Campana managed to recover the land in 1985, it was an enormous garbage dump and the land was nearly unusable. To make matters worse, this recovery coincided with bad news: he received a cancer diagnosis, making his future uncertain.

Campana then decided to sell all his properties and devote himself to building a dream on this ravaged land. He had the gift of seeing art in a scrap of iron, an old lamp, or a discarded ladder; he spent time visiting demolition sites and antique shops in search of hidden treasures.

Such treasures are fairly easy to find in Argentina, since the country had grown rich in previous centuries by exporting large boatloads of grains and cereals. On the return journeys from Europe, the holds of ships were filled with treasures and antiques acquired from old castles and ancient noble families; the finds were used to reconstruct a small-scale replica of the Europe of immigrant nostalgia on this side of the Atlantic. What had once merited payment in gold dust was scorned by modernity in the mid-twentieth century. Only Antonio Campana, obsessed with all things old, gathered it up and founded the world’s largest museum of repurposed objects.

His illness eventually allowed him not 1, not 10, but 25 more years of life, but this intimation of mortality led the businessman to stop working and give himself over to dreaming and making those dreams come true.

He raised buildings on despoiled land and defunct objects were given a second chance, whimsically repurposed: a door became a roof and a hinge turned into a work of art.

He set about designing floors made of roof tiles and roofs built of doors; he blended elements, periods, and spaces. He collected small crystal tears that had hung from opulent lamps that once graced sumptuous rooms and he created the Museo de los Caireles (Crystal Museum). He collected all the wood objects he could find and he founded the Wood Museum.

He showed that iron in the hands of a smith could be a work of art and he opened the Iron Museum. His city was endowed with a Main Square and a Lookout Tower, and the narrow passageways were given curious names like Owl’s Way or Professor Alfonso Corso Alley. He planted 10,000 trees and constructed a dozen houses secluded in a forest; he added a lake in the distance, complete with a truncated Endless Bridge. That’s how he created —out of nothing— a world that historian Alfonso Corso would later name Campanópolis.

Campanópolis continues to enchant visitors and has become a popular tourist attraction in greater Buenos Aires.