French Literature Land

A theme park based on literature and fables? It sounds like a made-up story. But the park was real. It was called Mirapolis and from 1987 to 1992 it was the largest theme park in France. It was also a huge failure.

Mirapolis was the idea of architect Anne Fourcade. Ms Fourcade was inspired to build a theme park following a trip to the United States, where she was especially impressed by Disneyland. However, she wanted a theme park with a strong French character.

Dominating the park was a statue of Gargantua, one of the main characters from Francois Rabelais’ 16th century novel series about two giants The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel. Gargantua is the origin of the word gargantuan – meaning very big.

The statue stood 35 meters tall. The head was 11 meters and weighed 25 tons. At the time it was the second largest hollow statue in the world after the Statue of Liberty. Other stories and characters from French history and literature which were represented included the Three Musketeers, the fables of Jean de la Fontaine and Breton legends.

Despite the strong French themes, investors were not easy to find. Even French banks didn’t believe in the Frenchness of the park and wouldn’t provide the funding. In the end a Saudi investor named Gaith Pharaon provided the money for the park in 1984. A year later construction started. The park opened in 1987.

About 2 to 2.5 million visitors were expected every year. This amount would earn the park about 300 million francs per year. Today that would be tens of millions of Euros. In fact only 600 000 people visited in the first year. Over the next few years the park never attracted enough people and when it closed the owners had a debt of 300 million francs.

If we say something ‘is running’ we don’t mean literally, but that it is open or able to be seen. ‘Hamlet has been running since 2009 at the Old World Theatre.’

One thing which is certain: the park didn’t fail because theme parks are unpopular. Parc Astérix (a theme park based on the Asterix character) is still running. And Disneyland Paris (formerly Euro Disneyland), is the country’s most popular attraction. Furthermore, France has had funfairs at least since the 1930s.

In 1995 the head of Gargantua was blown up, but people still remember the park. Last year an exhibition was held to mark the 25th anniversary of the park’s opening. You can also find photos of the park at this blog post. Above all the memory of the park will live on as a reminder of how great ambition can be undermined by cruel reality.

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Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Mirapolis was a French theme park. From 1987 to 1992 it was the largest theme park in France. Today it no longer exists.

Anne Fourcade came up with the idea of Mirapolis after visiting Disneyland in the US. She wanted a theme park which had a strong French theme. Characters from French literature were chosen to decorate the park.

The most visible character was the statue of Gargantua. He is one of the main characters from Francois Rabelais’ 16th century novel The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel. The statue was 35 meters tall. At the time it was the second largest hollow statue in the world. The largest was the Statue of Liberty.

Not many people wanted to give money to the project. They thought it would fail. Eventually, a Saudi investor named Gaith Pharaon put money into the project. Construction started in 1985. The park opened in 1987.

The park’s designers thought 2 to 2.5 million people would come each year. Only 600 000 came in the first year. After five years the park never had enough people. When it closed in 1992 the owners had 300 million francs in debt.

The park didn’t fail because theme parks are unpopular in France. Parc Astérix (a theme park based on the Asterix character) is still open. Disneyland Paris (formerly Euro Disneyland) is France’s most popular attraction. Also France has had funfairs since the 1930s.

Adverb position: When you use an adverb with will, you place it between ‘will’ and the infinitive. ‘I will never watch a horror movie.’

People still remember the park. Last year there was an exhibition for the 25th anniversary of the park’s opening. You can also find photos of the park at this blog post. The park will always be a reminder of how reality can stop ambition.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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A theme park based on literature and fables? It sounds like an article of fiction itself, some post-modern work on the commodifcation of literature. But the park was very real. It was called Mirapolis and for a short period from 1987 to 1992 it was the largest theme park in France. It was also a gargantuan failure.

Brainchild is the product of someone’s imaginations; an original idea a person thought up.

Mirapolis was the brainchild of architect Anne Fourcade. Ms Fourcade was inspired to build a theme park following a sojourn in the United States, where she was especially impressed by Disneyland. However, she wanted an especially French flavor for her creation, which would be the first theme park in France.

Dominating the park was a statue of Gargantua, one of the main characters from Francois Rabelais’ 16th century novel series about two giants The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel. Gargantua is the father and Pantagruel is the son. The book is considered a classic of French literature. Rabelais even invented many new words which later came to be used in French. He even contributed to English. His gigantic main character is the origin of the word gargantuan – meaning enormous. The root of that word is apparently from the Spanish word garganta (throat). Gargantua is noted for his appetite.

The statue was much more benign. Standing 35 meters tall, the head alone was 11 meters and weighed 25 tons. At the time it was the second largest hollow statue in the world after the Statue of Liberty. Other aspects of French history and literature featured in the park included the Three Musketeers, the fables of Jean de la Fontaine, Breton legends and stories about King Arthur (though set in England, the Arthurian legend was a popular subject in French medieval literature) along with representations of both King Louis XIV and the Impressionists.

Despite the strong French themes, investors were not easy to find. Even French banks were apparently dubious about the very Frenchness of the park and wouldn’t provide the funding. In the end the park was financed by a Saudi investor Gaith Pharaon in 1984. A year later construction commenced. In another two, the park opened.

Projections for the park were optimistic. From 2 to 2.5 million visitors were expected every year, amounting to an annual turnover of 300 million francs in contemporary terms. Today that would be tens of millions of Euros

The reality didn’t match up to these expectations. Only 600 000 people visited the park in its first year. As result the park made a 20 million franc loss. Over the next few years of its brief operating life, the park’s fortunes rarely change. The number of visitors rose to about 1 million in the second year but plummeted again to around 600 000 in the third.

‘Million franc question:’ In English the expression ‘the million dollar question’ means a question which is difficult to answer. The author is making a joke.

The million franc question is what went wrong. The heavy focus on literature and fables might not have had such a strong resonance, but the park proved willing to adapt. By the second year it had new attractions including the biggest rollercoaster for its time, a giant flight simulator and a balloon race. Prices were dropped and the popular French pop star Carlos became the park’s official mascot, even singing songs about the park. It was to no avail. In 1992 the park closed, its owners filing for bankruptcy and owing 330 million francs.

Resonance means an effect which lasts a long time.

It’s not as if theme parks are unpopular in France. Parc Astérix continues to operate while Disneyland Paris (formerly Euro Disneyland), is the country’s most popular attraction. Though in the case of the latter, it may have more to do with foreign visitors and Disney’s broad appeal. There has also been a long history of funfairs, going back at least to the 1930s. In fact some fair operators were so incensed by the opening of Mirapolis that they attacked the facilities on the opening day, put nails on the road leading to the theme park and even distributed 1500 fake tickets to reduce the park’s revenue. All this was done to oppose what they saw as unfair competition. Ironically, for all the aggression, it was market economics which ended the park.

In 1995 the head of Gargantuan was dynamited. Yet the memory of the park lingers. Last year a retrospective was held to mark the 25th anniversary of its opening. If you want to see some more of the park, check out this blog post which includes historical photos as well as shots from recent years. Most of all the memory of the park will live on as a reminder of how great ambition can be thwarted by cruel reality.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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