You’ll either need a scuba certification or a reliable snorkel kit to experience the wonder of Europe’s newest museum, the Museo Atlantico.
The sculpture park, which was formally inaugurated earlier this week, is located in about 45 feet of azure water off the island of Lanzarote, Spain. In all, the attraction consists of 12 installations and more than 300 life-sized human figures created by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor.
It aims to stoke environmental awareness and promote social change.
The site can be “toured” by scuba divers (at €12 per person) and snorkelers (€8) alike; tours from the Marina Rubicón port located in the southern part of the island leave multiple times daily.
Technically, the park opened in February 2016, and Taylor has been installing the sculptures gradually since then. As evidenced by a recent photo essay in the Guardian, installations themselves are eclectic and poignant. The main one, titled “The Rubicon,” features a group of 35 people walking toward a gate that resembles the Gates of Mordor from The Lord of the Rings. Another piece, “The Raft of Lampedusa,” spotlights the global humanitarian crisis by depicting a group of refugees motoring a boat. (A story on the PADI website notes this latter piece also references 19th-century French painter Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa.)
A third installation, “Deregulated,” depicts a children’s playground being used by men in suits—a commentary on the juxtaposition between the corporate world and the natural one. One of the sculptures has two men on a seesaw, which Taylor has made to double as an oil derrick.
Details make the sculptures so lifelike that they seem as if they could kick their feet and swim away. What’s more, all of the faces on the humans are different. To get the sculptures looking so realistic, Taylor invited Canary Islands residents and visiting tourists to participate in the project by modeling for life casts. Many of these likenesses are now on the seafloor.
In addition to each piece representing artistic creativity, over time the pH-neutral cement sculptures will help establish an artificial reef that will protect and promote marine life.
The Guardian coverage notes that a fourth installation, “The Portal,” is elevated on supports that contain small compartments and “living stations” designed to attract octopus, sea urchins, and juvenile fish. Some of the other sculptures—ones that Taylor installed in early 2016—already have sprouted algae and seaweed colonies. As these often colorful forms of flora and fauna build lives on the sculptures, the art transforms.
Museo Atlantico isn’t Taylor’s first foray into underwater sculpture gardens; previously he has erected them in Cancun and Grenada. A 60-ton girl he installed in the waters of the Bahamas has the unofficial title as the “largest single underwater sculpture in the world.”
Taylor’s most recent sculpture project was funded and supported by the government of Lanzarote. Roughly 2 percent of all Museo Atlantico profits will fund conservation efforts in the Canary Islands.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.