Question: Where in the world did parents fight a giant because they didn’t think he was very safety conscious?
Answer: Parque Gulliver, Valencia, Spain
It seemed like a magical—and harmless—idea: build a unique children’s playground based on the title character of Gulliver’s Travels. Next to a play structure of a fallen Gulliver over 200 feet long and 25 feet tall, locals would instantly be transformed into Lilliputians. The illusion would be heightened by designing the giant specifically for visitors to climb on, with stairs up his legs and slides in his hair.
That was all well and good when the Valencia City Council commissioned the work in the late 1980s, but as work got underway, the project was imperiled first by politics, then by finances, and then by the most fearsome threat of all: angry parents. The first parents to see the approved plans were outraged: Gulliver didn’t have rope railings for little hands to cling to; some of the slide and pathway walls seemed too low (and thus easy to climb or fall over); and the slide with the steepest drop seemed better suited to an amusement park than a playground.
Happily, cooler heads prevailed, and the park opened in 1990. It was an immediate sensation, but not just for kids. Visitors of all ages flocked to the site, whether to enjoy a stroll across the giant’s ruffled chest or to slide from his brow back to earth. With the structure’s combination of soft rubberized features, anti-slip coating, and on-hand park attendants, no spike in injuries ensued. Now recognized worldwide as a model of inventive playground design, it was named to the list of the World’s Extraordinary Playscapes by the Design Museum Foundation and the Boston Society of Architects.
Eight Things to Know About One Giant Success
- The city government changed political parties after commissioning the park, and some of the new officials didn’t want to build anything that might make their predecessors look good. But they voted to go ahead nonetheless.
- The city commissioned Rafael Rivera, an architect known for unconventional structures, who in turn hired a comic illustrator, Sento Llobell, to help keep the fallen giant from looking like an enormous corpse.
- Swift was Irish, but this Gulliver is Valencian; artist Manolo Martin modeled the facial features on traditional folkloric fallas, the puppets used in the city’s festival bonfires.
- When the designers revealed that it would cost more than a million dollars to construct the park, the city said it didn’t have the resources. Only after council members learned that both Barcelona and Seville were bidding to steal the park away from them did the city suddenly find the money.
- Japan mimicked the park with its own rendition in 1997, but the lightning of inspiration didn’t strike twice: The Japanese park only last 4 years before closing down.
- In contrast, Parque Gulliver remained so well-trafficked that after its 21st birthday, the city closed it for months of repairs and refurbishing, reopening in 2012.
- The 15-acre complex now includes not only the fallen giant but mini-golf, a Gulliver-sized chess board, bike lanes, and a skate park.
- Because it is city funded, the park is free. It is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, all the angry parents and political party squabbles long forgotten.
Marvel at the giant and find your inner Lilliputian when you visit Spain on our newly enhanced Iberian Voyage: Lisbon to Barcelona Small Ship Adventure.