I have never seen anything that I can compare to the Tarots Garden: astonishment, surprise, and fascination are some of the feelings I felt exploring this 20,000 square meter Art Park.
Located in Garavicchio, close to Capalbio, on the boundary between Tuscany and Lazio, the Tarots Garden is built on a gentle slope caressed by the sea. Its scent and sound never leave you alone while you are walking through the itinerary of 22 statues inspired by the Major Arcana of the tarot cards. Some of them are human size, but others are 15 meters tall so you could live inside. All of them are decorated with coloured mosaic tiles and glass.
The Art Park was conceived by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), a French-American painter and sculptor. The main inspiration was Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Guell that she visited for the first time in 1955 during a trip to Barcelona. She began building the park in 1979 and she completed it in 1996. The park was opened to the public in 1998.
Walking through the entrance, a circular opening nestled in an impressive brick wall designed by the Swiss Architect Mario Botta, you can clearly feel that you are going into a different dimension; one that is quiet and peaceful. Leaving the problems of the outside world behind, I entered the garden, ready to explore a place that I had long heard about and finally the moment had arrived.
A glimpse of the first giant statues, a shiny blue spot between the trees, causes you to stop and gather your thoughts as you realize this is the place that lives up to its reputation: a fantastical ‘piazza’ pops up, in which water runs down the front of a big blue two-headed monster and moves metal creations. A gigantic pink-breasted sphynx looms to the left (La Papessa), and other mildly diabolical structures complete the picture (Il Mago). You are engaged in every way, by the colours, the light glinting off the mosaics, the sound of the water and the sound of the moving metal sculptures designed by her husband Jean Tinguely.
From the central ‘piazza’, you can explore the whole park, walking through different pathways, sinuous like the surrounding landscape. The pathways are part of the artwork: Niki de Saint Phalle carved their surface writing her thoughts, memories, messages of hope and faith. While you are walking, she is walking with you sharing her experience, feelings and art.
It’s not just a physical journey, it’s also spiritual.
The artist writes:
‘I am convinced that the cards contain an important message. The tarot cards have given me a key to better understanding my spiritual life and to dealing with life’s problems’.
The Feminine is very present in Niki’s works, as it’s a celebration of her own womanliness. It’s not a coincidence that the most important sculpture of the whole complex is the Empress (L’Imperatrice) in which the artist lived for a long time during the construction process of the statue. The Empress overlooks the whole garden; its body, giant and lavish, is incredibly voluptuous, coloured and shiny. It’s a representation of the ‘Mother Goddess’, the personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation and destruction. The inside is totally covered in glass: endless reflections describe the immortal soul.
I spent the whole day walking through this garden, lost in my thoughts. The spontaneous Mediterranean garden frames this incredible masterpiece and I felt lucky I was there, in touch with the spiritual legacy of the artist. I was also wondering what I could have learned from this experience, until I read this sentence from Niki’s biography:
’This garden was made with great difficulty, with love, with crazy enthusiasm, with obsession, and more than anything else, with trust. Nothing and nobody could have stopped me’
And I realized that the most important thing in life is to never stop believing in our dreams.