>>>The surrealist paradise of Edward James
© The Edward James Foundation

The surrealist paradise of Edward James

A British millionaire, possible son of a king, went into the Mexican jungle to build the Garden of Eden. This is not a fairytale; the stairway to heaven is in Las Pozas, Xilitla.
I
t was the culmination of a dream that began in Scotland and materialised in Mexico. Considered a surrealist masterpiece, Las Pozas, Xilitla comprise a labyrinth of 36 sculptures inspired by orchids and Egyptian forms (bridges, stairways and doors), constructed in a dense forest of natural pools (pozas), north of San Luis Potosí.
For years, this place, measuring nearly 40 ha, was abandoned, while the moss and rain devoured the esoteric figures designed by Scottish poet and sculptor, Edward James. Its name is engraved on the surrealist movement, which emerged between the two world wars, through figures such as Salvador Dalí and Belgian painter René Magritte, who James supported as a patron.
The garden is located 5 km from Xilitla
Foto: Secretaría de Turismo de San Luis Potosí
Since 2007, the Xilitla Fund has worked on their conservation and dissemination, although getting to the jungle continues to be an adventure. From the state capital, a four-hour car journey will take you to this remote place, which James found in the 1940s, in the company of Plutarco Gastélum, a young man of Yaqui origin, who would become his right hand, and with whom he would fall in love, according to Irene Hernes in her book: Edward James and Plutarco Gastélum in Xilitla. The return of Robinson.
Twice heir and son of a king
Xilitla, the town where the garden is located, is catalogued as a pueblo mágico, a magical village of Mexico
Foto: Secretaría de Turismo de San Luis Potosí
Edward James not only inherited two of the most robust fortunes in the United Kingdom, that of his father William James and of his grandfather, North American businessman Daniel James, but was also at the heart of a legend fed by him: his real father was King Edward VII.
You can visit Las Pozas every day, from 9am–6 pm
Foto: Secretaría de Turismo de San Luis Potosí
After supporting the surrealist movement, he travelled to Los Angeles with the idea of building a place he had seen in his dreams: The Garden of Eden. Painter Bridget Bate Tichenor, his cousin, convinced him that the ideal place was below developed California, in the virgin green of Mexico. En route south, he met Gastélum, in what seemed a predestined encounter, and one that would unite them until death. Following several explorations, in 1947, the men found themselves immersed in a dense forest in the Huasteca Mountains.
For a decade, James filled the place with orchids and exotic animals, while receiving artists, who pilgrimaged there in search of his support. He lived between the green of Xilitla and Europe, amid poems and astral journeys.
In the early 1960s, a frost killed the orchids, and it was then that he decided to build the garden, a project that would take him nearly two decades and in which he invested more than five million dollars, which he obtained by selling part of his personal collection of surrealist paintings. “I built this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies,” he confessed.
Concrete structures unfold through the garden like prehistoric skeletons that connect waterfalls and lakes. The Stairway to Heaven, The House with Three Stories that Could Be Five, and The Cinema, a space where the patron of the arts put on films for the locals, are some of them.
“I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen; therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room, surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom of trees my only gloom—and the sound, the sound of green,” wrote the poet from the small room where he devised his work, his private Eden.

Related articles

Mexico’s sacred giant

Bernal Peak has always attracted attention, from the dinosaurs that roamed its slopes when it was an active volcano to...

“The power of nature”

That is the title of this photograph of Colima Volcano, Mexico, taking third prize in the Nature category of the...

Small plates of contemporary Mexican cuisine

Mexican cuisine is more than just tacos. The young chef Jorge Vallejo is a leader in new Mexican cuisine at...

Christmas is round and Mexican

Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, but the workshops for his supply of Christmas ornaments are in Tlalpujahua and...