Views of an Imaginary City 22: World Gardens in Rateliska Sesquicentennial Park


The Sesquicentennial Park on the island of Rateliska was created to commemorate the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the transfer of the imperial capital to Sensuka. In many ways, it represents the then newly-crowned Emperor Ojori III’s desire to outdo Cherufi Park, which had been laid out fifty years earlier by the empress Aritokèh to commemorate the centennial of the same event (See n. 14). However, whereas Cherufi had been intended as a representation and a celebration of all of the many diverse regions of the empire, Ojori wished for his new park to emphasize the empire’s role within a global context. The main portion of the park was therefore laid out as the “World Gardens,” in which each section would be themed around a different country. The area representing the empire, naturally enough, would be placed at the very centre.

Somewhat complicating the realization of this project was the fact that the empire had by this time been almost completely shut off from the outside world for over a hundred years. The committee of architects, artists, and gardeners assembled to design the park thus had nothing but very vague and incomplete notions about each of the featured countries. The result is that the World Gardens bear only the most tenuous relationship with any external geographic or cultural reality. The Italy Garden, for instance, is conceived around the premise that Italian cities are built on water, upon which the floating buildings move about like boats, forming ever-shifting urban configurations to best meet citizens’ needs throughout the day. This area of the park therefore consists of an artificial pond, in which various miniature buildings, including an impressive leaning amphitheatre, bob about amid the ducks and koi fish. The United States section is inspired by tales of a vast city made up entirely of castles, towering up against each other. A topiary representation of a portion of this city is fronted by a scaled-down replica of the many-horned green goddess setting a torch to the world.

The foreground of the print depicts one of the most enchanting sections of the park, the Russia Garden. These are built on a terraced hillock that is meant to recall the layout of Matrioscow, Russia’s capital city (According to reports, the first layer of habitations behind the outer fortifications of this city is followed by a second line of walls enclosing a second, slightly smaller layer of habitations, followed by another line of walls, and so on, all the way to the domed temple behind the innermost fortress, which owing to this position, as though at the core of an onion, is known as the Onion Dome). Running along the edge of each of the five rising terraces of the Russia Garden is a circular channel of water. The channels are populated with swans—a nod to the special place held by these birds in the hearts of the Russian people, who believe them to be the reincarnations of departed women.

(Side note: This particular vignette is largely inspired by the 1967 Montreal Expo as well as by the countless souvenir postcards of the event. When Montreal was still full of antique shops, I remember one would often come across whole boxes of these strangely flattened, orangey visions of an imaginary future.)

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