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The thread has been lost; the labyrinth has been lost as well. Now we don't even know if we are surrounded by a labyrinth, a secret cosmos, or just random chaos. Our beautiful duty is to imagine that there is a maze and a thread. We will never find the thread; we'll find it and loose it in an act of faith, in a cadence, in a dream, in the words that are called philosophy, or in mere and simple happiness.
Jorge Luis Borges, from "El hilo de la fábula", 1985
In Venice, whose maze-like topography used to fascinate the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, a garden-labyrinth honors his memory since 2011. Inspired by his famous narration The Garden of Forking Paths, it mirrors a project previously realized in Argentina.
The design was conceived in 1979 by the English diplomat and maze architect Randoll Coate following a dream. As he describes in a letter to Susana Bombal, the Argentinean friend who introduced the writer to him in Buenos Aires in the 1950s, in his dream both agreed that a monument to honor Borges could not be anything other than a labyrinth. After Bombal's death, the letter was found by her nephew, Camilo Aldao, who decided to travel to England to meet the architect. This is how he obtained the design and his agreement to carry it out. With the support of Maria Kodama, he finally managed to create a first Borges Labyrinth in 2003 at Susana Bombal's finca in "Los Alamos", in the province of Mendoza.
The Venetian Labyrinth of Borges is located in the ancient monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, on the island of the same name in front of St. Marcus' Square. It was inaugurated on 14 June 2011, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the writer's death, as a project of the Fondazione Cini and the Jorge Luis Borges International Foundation.
The monastic buildings adjacent to the famous Basilica of Andrea Palladio were recovered and restored by the Giorgio Cini Foundation from 1950 onwards. They now house the foundation's headqurters and its cultural centre, with a library specialized in art history - one of the richest in Italy -, research institutes, and spaces for exhibitions, concerts, conferences and meetings.
As a tribute to Borges and following Randoll Coate's design, the Foundation created the labyrinth behind the Palladian Cloister and the Cypress Cloister, forming a kind of third cloister in an area of 2,300 m2. More than three thousand buxus sempervirens bushes of about 90 cm height form an intricate vegetal labyrinth whose design has the shape of a book and includes references to Borges (his name duplicated and mirrored), his age when he died (86 years), his walking stick, hourglasses, the sign of infinity and the question mark, as well as the initials of his widow, Maria Kodama.
In addition to a visit as part of a guided tour of the Cini Foundation, the Labyrinth of Borges can be seen from the privileged height of the San Giorgio Campanile, from which the encrypted universe of its symbolic figures can be guessed, and the magnificent view of the lagoon and the cityscape of Venice can be enjoyed.
© Text: Universes in Universe
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Compilation of information, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe, unless otherwise indicated.
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