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Your childhood dream is fairly ludicrous clip-art!

My last post, which combined art, gardening, and Gothic architecture has made me reflect back on a treasured albeit megalomaniacal childhood fantasy.  When I grew up I wanted to live in my own beautiful castle. I was really into spooky-yet-cozy adventure stories, and the idea of living in a perfect little fortress world filled with hidden passages, charming secrets, and fairy-tale delights was irresistible.

But that was a wish from childhood: the adult world is a desperate maze filled with scams, baffling spreadsheets, impossible rules,and ersatz crap…which brings us to the subject of today’s post! The desire to have a beautiful fairytale castle for a home is hardly unique to my childhood self. Lots of people have that fantasy, however, there are only so many actual medieval keeps, schlösschen(s?), and castellets to go around. We are even running out of derelict Queen Anne villas. Plus the comforts and conveniences of real medieval castles are not in accordance with modern tastes. But, if New York has taught me anything, it is that for every dream house there is an unscrupulous developer ready to make a terrible mockery of that dream in order to get rich.

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Every man, a king!

Welcome to Burj Al Babas in Turkey! Of the many, many Potemkin villages and empty cities which have sprouted up around the world in the last decade, this is surely one of the most peculiar to behold. The town was planned and built by “Sarot Group” to appeal to affluent foreign investors who dreamed of living in castles when they were little. The project began in 2014 and was meant as a way to capitalize underused land in the distant Asia Minor suburbs of Istanbul. Each micro-castle was going to include swimming pools and jacuzzis heated by the water of local hot springs.  The target buyers were affluent middle easterners who could maybe even be lured into Turkish citizenship.

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What? They couldn’t include identical unicorns?

 

Unfortunately, the market for fake castles has been overmatched by the market for real autocrats. Turkey is sliding further and further into a dangerous spiral of dictatorship, economic malfeasance, and corruption. As the lira collapses the inflation rate has risen to 25%. Additionally, the oil-rich middle eastern who are the imagined buyers of these properties have been facing their own monetary struggles in a world awash with cheap oil.

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And notice the exquisite landscaping of dark gray mud, dead weeds, and rubble!

Perhaps the saddest thing is that, even in these glum pictures of cookie-cutter despair, some aspect of the original fantasy is still recognizable. If you had one of these things on a forest mountaintop in West Virginia or Dalmatia, it might still be a beautiful home  (although they look suspiciously apt to melt when it rains). Yet, stuck next to each other like dozens of gawky cosplayers dressed as the same superhero, the dream breaks apart and the seamy aspects of the modern real-estate scheming are laid bare.  I wonder what will eventually happen to Burj Al Babas, the city of dreams.  Will it become like Columbia Maryland, where nobody even notices that they are living in somebody else’s fantasy, or will archaeologists of the future unearth its particleboard and concrete ruins with a sad frown and a sigh?

Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Shandon House, Scotland (circa present)

Here is one of the most beautiful Gothic houses I could find on the internet: Shandon House, a 19th century Scottish revival manor/castle overlooking Gare Loch in Scotland.  The house was built in 1849 on 31 acres of beautiful Scottish hills.  It was owned by various grandees (shipping magnates, tobacco merchants, and such), before becoming a boys’ school, but the school then closed in the mid-eighties.

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The region where Shandon House is located is dominated by Faslane Naval Base, one of the three ports of the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom (and arguably the most important).  So Shandon House was purchased by the Ministry of Defense…but since the Ministry of Defense has no actual use for dark fairy tale castles, the house has been derelict for over a decade, and may now be beyond repair.  As far as I can tell, the MOD is incapable of finding buyers and hopes to knock the house down (although its designation as a historical landmark makes such an outcome somewhat unlikely).

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It is a shame the house is decaying away, since this is truly an elegant and imposing structure.  On the other hand, who would actually live here other than evil sorcerers, mad scientists, Dalmatian coat enthusiasts, and other suchlike Disney villain folk?

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Carn Brea Castle in Cornwall

Carn Brea Castle in Cornwall

Carn Brea is a granite hilltop in Cornwall England which was inhabited by Neolithic gatherers and farmers from 3700 to 3400 BC.  A huge number of flint arrowheads and a suffusion of ancient timbers turned to charcoal suggest that the hill was the site of an ancient battle. Later, during the iron age, the hilltop was the site of a mine and an imposing stone hill fort which contained various pits for storing metals. In fact, in the eighteenth century a hoard of gold coins minted by the Cantiaci—a Kentish tribe–was discovered hidden in one of the pits.

Carn Brea Castle by Tristan Barratt

Carn Brea Castle by Tristan Barratt

In 1379, a Gothic chapel was erected at the site and dedicated to Saint Michael.  The small chapel was substantially rebuilt and repurposed as a hunting lodge by the Basset family (local nobles who were heavily involved in mining and politics).  The tininess of the little castle/lodge gives special emphasis to its unique folly construction: the masonry is integrated with huge natural granite erratic boulders which make up the building’s foundation.  The effect is that the castle is growing out of the ground like something from a fairytale—an impression which is augmented by the Gothic architectural style.  During the golden age of sail, the castle was used as a navigation beacon and a light was always kept lit in a room visible from the coasts.

Carn Brea Castle by Mr Tickle - Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman

Carn Brea Castle by Mr Tickle – Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman

The pictures I have used so far give a strong impression of the solitude and wildness of the lovely Cornish landscape, however, these final images forcefully reveal that the castle now sits in the middle of gentle suburban England.  Since contemporary Cornish folk have little need for light houses and hunting lodges and chapels to Saint Michael, the gothic keep has been repurposed once again—as a middle eastern restaurant!

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