08 Dec World’s Most Controversial Monuments
Outgoing president Alan García wanted to leave Peru a surprise and hoped a 120-foot statue of Christ would protect Lima. But not everyone likes surprises—not Lima’s mayor, informed only days before its June 2011 unveiling, and not locals frustrated that construction was outsourced to Brazil
García’s surprise statue certainly isn’t the first to spark controversy. Some of the world’s most impressive bronze monuments have backstories of bickering, which, in addition to good gossip, give travelers insights into local culture, history, and priorities. Even when a monument’s construction is well publicized, a positive reception isn’t guaranteed, whether because of differing aesthetic tastes, costliness, or partisanship.
Outside Madrid, unhappy locals have railed against a certain site for so many years that the government has formed a commission to recommend modifications. Read on for the inside story on that and more monumental controversies.
Soviet-era war memorials honoring Red Army soldiers are often vandalized. But this WWII monument in the capital, Sofia. got an especially colorful makeover in June 2011: fresh paint transformed the bronze soldiers into Superman and other pop-culture figures. Tourists and locals flocked to see the monument, but the Bulgarian Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov was not amused, calling the makeover a “crime.” The soldiers have since been scrubbed to their original state.
Valley of the Fallen, Spain
Dictator Francisco Franco ordered the construction of this monument outside Madrid to honor those who died for his cause during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. And he enlisted political prisoners to carve the massive basilica into a mountainside—infuriating many Spaniards. After years of demonstrations and debate, in May 2011, the government assembled a commission to evaluate its future. Its initial recommendation calls for Franco’s body to be removed from the site.
Crazy Horse Memorial,
The Sioux fought unsuccessfully to block the development of Mount Rushmore on hallowed Native American ground. Out of defeat, they decided to erect their own monument: the bronze Crazy Horse Memorial, which is being carved into Thunderhead Mountain within eight miles of Mount Rushmore. Yet it has sparked its own controversy within the Native American community. Some view its construction as an attack on the landscape and an affront to Crazy Horse’s beliefs.
African Renaissance Monument, Senegal
President Abdoulaye Wade didn’t win any popularity votes when he funneled millions into the construction of a monument to the African Renaissance. A waste of money wasn’t the only reaction to this 160-foot bronze colossus unveiled in April 2010. It depicts a stylized muscular man with a baby in his arms, emerging from a volcano and pulling along a half-naked woman—and has been criticized for both skimpy clothing and sexism.
Christ of the Pacific, Peru
Former President Alan García may have thought he was leaving a gift for his public, but the 120-foot Christ of the Pacific has been nothing but a monumental headache since its surprise construction was revealed in June 2011. Lima’s mayor was angry at not being consulted, while others questioned why it was designed and built in Brazil, not Peru. The one aspect that can’t be debated: Christ of the Pacific is now the world’s tallest Christ statue.
Brown Dog Statue, London
A small dog statue in London’s Battersea Park looks harmless, but it’s a 1985 replacement of a statue with a fraught backstory. The original terrier was erected in 1906 by a group opposed to the use of animals in medical experiments. It displayed a plaque condemning pro-vivisection students at the University College. Outraged and embarrassed, those students destroyed it. The new statue is plainer, sans fountain or plaque, but it is still a terrier, modeled after the pet of sculptor Nicola Hicks.
Che Guevara Statue, Bolivia
Infamous revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara fought for the rights of the poor, inciting passions along the way. While some condemn his violent methods or philosophy, to the farmworkers in the town of La Higuera, he remains “Saint Ernesto.” There, on the spot where the leader of a guerilla Marxist movement was captured and executed, residents dedicated a bust in his honor in 1997.