Six bucket-list destinations for mosaic lovers

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Pictured above: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Photo by Kyle Huff for Discover Philadelphia.

Travel the globe to find some extraordinary mosaics adorning walls, buildings and gardens. Angela Youngman explores six must-see sights.


Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens 

A labyrinthine maze of continually changing designs, shapes and sizes characterises Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Created by Isaiah Zagar (pictured below) over 30 years, it’s all too easy to lose your sense of direction while traversing these gardens. Every inch of space is covered in mosaics. Words and phrases suddenly jump out of the walls as you walk past, or sometimes even faces emerge.

There are areas of symmetrical designs, and conflicting masses of colour, seemingly never-ending. Stroll through corridors of tall walls, or suddenly gain glimpses through cut-out windows into garden rooms and yet more corridors. It’s not just colour and design that make these gardens so sensational; there are links to different types of folk art, especially Mexican, as well as layers of meanings to be deciphered. They’re also a record of Philadelphia’s South Street community history with countless local people and events immortalised within the artworks. 
Photos by Kyle Huff for Discover Philadelphia.  

Parque Quetzacoatl in Mexico

Although these mosaics are not yet open to the public, Mexico looks set to be a key mosaic destination in the future. Located on the outskirts of Mexico City, a hidden gem known as Parque Quetzacoatl is quietly being created by architect Javier Senosian. Flowing shapes and whimsical features are emerging from the landscape of an eco-park resembling the nest of Quetzacoatl, a mythical feathered dragon.

The design is centred around a natural tunnel complete with a mosaic snakehead, while elsewhere a gleaming tail catches the sunlight. Hallways filled with smooth glass and corridors of coloured stone create yet more wonders, while other walls contain the shapes of cars and pieces of wheelbarrows peep out of the stonework.
Photos courtesy of Javier Senosian.

Steps in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city built on 48 hills, which means there are lots of steps passing through a variety of architectural styles and glimpses of the sea far below. But these are no ordinary stone steps – every year, countless visitors hunt out the array of stairs ornamented with hundreds of decorative mosaics, creating vistas of colour with functional decor. Take the Hidden Garden Steps on 16th Ave – originally plain concrete, these are now adorned with brilliant gold, blue, lavender flowers creating images along their length. The Lincoln Steps near Lincoln Park are another such example of these hidden stair artworks. In 2007, the concrete steps were given a facelift by local artist Aileen Barr who devised a mesmerising array of colours and tropical themes linking each riser to the next, allowing people to literally walk through the scene.
Photos courtesy of San Francisco Travel.

Mosaics by Gaudi in Barcelona

The dramatic mosaics created by Antonio Gaudi are among the most spectacular in the world. Everywhere you go in Barcelona, evidence of his imitable artistic style is present. Twisting swirling sculptures and vivid mosaics adorn fantastical buildings, while flights of steps and giant dragon fountains lie in wait at Park Güell. An eye-catching brown tiled snake-like animal head protrudes out of a circle of yellow and brown stripes, surrounded by shades of blue and white, while elsewhere cool columns hold up a ceiling with brightly coloured sunburst designs.

Visitors stand by brilliantly tiled walls overlooking buildings with extravagantly shaped roofs. Originally intended to contain exclusive houses, Park Güell proved to be unviable and eventually became a public park. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Park Güell contains Gaudi’s home, a museum devoted to his work, as well as countless vibrant ceramic mosaic artworks capturing the attention of visitors around every corner.
Photos courtesy of Park Güell.

The Tarot Garden in Tuscany

Strange creatures rise out of the undergrowth at Pescia Florentina in Tuscany, Italy, for this is where the characters of the Tarot come to life. The giant Sun shines out, the Magician wields its magic and the Sphinx stares into your eyes. Further on, Death and the Hanged Man create a sober note, Adam and Eve reflect on choice, while the Emperor’s Castle, the Oracle and the High Priestess attract attention.

These are the creations of Niki de Saint Phalle, whose models were made into giant armature sculptures and then covered in glass mosaics by varying artists, some of whom also contributed innovative sculptures. Venera Finocchiaro was one of these artists, as was Pierre Marie Lejeune and his wife Isabelle, who returned year after year to develop yet another innovative glass covering. Ceramics were moulded on the sculptures, numbered and then removed for firing and glazing before being returned to their place. Hand-cut pieces of glass filled in any remaining empty space. The whole project has been developed with respect for the surrounding landscape. Thousands of people are attracted to this incredible Tarot Garden every year to admire the designs, explore the area and sit on the ceramic-tiled benches surrounding the fountain. Even the Sphinx contains chairs where visitors can sit and admire the designs, while hidden among the trees is an engaging life-size Noah’s Ark sculpture park with each animal enlivened by squares and patches of brilliantly coloured ceramics and glasswork.
Photos by Peter Gränser and courtesy of Fondazione Il Giardino dei Tarocchi.

Picassiette in Chartres

Best known for its stunning stained glass in its medieval cathedral, the French city of Chartres is also home to another very different, but equally spectacular, modern mosaic artwork – the Maison Picassiette. The name reflects its character as it roughly translates into “plate stealer” or “Picasso of plates”, hinting at the amazing secrets it holds. Built between 1930 and 1962 by a local man, Raymond Isidore, he decided to adorn the exterior of his home with handmade mosaics created out of broken crockery, plates, glass and earthenware. 

As the years progressed, the project grew. He added a chapel and summerhouse into the garden, and then a second courtyard in adjoining land, followed by a garden porch, enclosing wall, garden decorations and a spirit tomb – all of which were adorned with mosaics. Tucked away in the Rue du Repos, the Maison Picassiette is now regarded as a unique example of “naïve art” (art created by a person lacking the formal education and training that a professional artist undertakes) and officially labelled as “20th-century heritage”, attracting visitors from all over the world.
Photos courtesy of Villes de Chartres.