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MUSEUMS

Extraordinary underwater museum opens off Lanzarote

The first completely underwater museum in Europe officially opens today on the ocean floor off the Canary Island of Lanzarote.

Extraordinary underwater museum opens off Lanzarote
Photos: Canary Islands Tourist Board.

The Museo Atlántico – Atlantic Museum – is the vision of British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who has spent the last two years living on the island creating artworks for the submerged gallery. 

The museum in Coloradas Bay, just off the coast of the town of Yaiza, in the southwest of Lanzarote has been created at a depth of between  12 and 15 meters on the ocean floor and will be accessible to scuba divers and visible to glass-bottom boats.

The first artworks were submerged in February 2016 and almost a year later on January 10th the museum holds its official inaugeration.

The sculptures on display are human forms, some modeled after local residents, and are created to attract plant and animal life, representing the relationship between humans and nature.

“The island is going to show the world one of its most precious secrets – the bottom of our sea,” Lanzarote council president Pedro San Ginés said when plans for the museum were announced.

The sculpture exhibits include a couple taking a selfie, meant for viewers to reflect on new technologies and themselves. Another, called The Raft of Lampedusa, makes a statement about the refugee crisis in reference to the Italian island in the Mediterranean where thousands have arrived.

Taylor said he wanted this exhibit to be a tribute to those who succeed, but also those whose “dreams and hopes remain at the bottom of the sea”.

The project is designed to increase marine biomass and to act as a breeding site for local species in an area declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco.

The art installations have been created from high-density, PH-neutral concrete that doesn't affect the marine ecosystem or local flora and fauna. No corrosive metals and materials were used.

When completed the Museo Atlántico will comprise 10 separate large-scale installations and more than 300 individual sculptures.

It is not deCaires Taylor's first aquatic venture. He has created similar works in both Cancun, Mexico and Grenada in the West Indies. The sculpture park in Grenada was the first of its kind in the world and has been listed as one of National Geographic's Top 25 Wonders of the World.

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TRAVEL

Spain’s scrap cathedral: A monk’s 60-year self-build labour of faith and devotion

About 20 km east of Madrid, in the small town of Mejorada del Campo, stands a building that testifies to a former monk's lifetime of devotion to the Catholic faith. Paul Burge explores the Don Justo Cathedral, a religious edifice like no other.

Spain's scrap cathedral: A monk's 60-year self-build labour of faith and devotion
Don Justo's Cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, Madrid. Photos: Paul Burge

The structure has been built by 95-year-old former monk, Don Justo Gallego Martinez, using nothing but recycled, scavenged and donated materials giving the building chaotic, eclectic and perplexing, if not impressive style.


Don Justo pictured here at the age of 73 in August 1999. Archive photo: AFP

Visitors are free to explore, stepping over bags of cement, buckets and tools which are strewn across the two-floor monument. Downstairs there is a shrine to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Chillingly Don Justo has already also dug his own grave in the basement, where he will finally be laid to rest at the heart of his labour of faith and devotion.

Don Justo, as he is known, is 95 years old. The cathedral still needs at least ten years' work, years that its creator simply doesn’t have. Yet, such is his devotion that he still works on its construction every day, except on Sundays of course. You may catch a glimpse of him in his dusty blue overalls, white shirt and trademark red beret. But as the notices pinned to the wall advise, he is not open to speaking to members of the public.

What inspired Don Justo to build it?

After eight years in a Trappist order at Soria‘s Santa Maria de la Huerta monastery, Don Justo Gallego Martinez was ordered to leave, for fear of infecting the other monks with tuberculosis that he had been diagnosed with.

When his mother died in 1963 and bequeathed to him a large plot of land, including an olive grove in the center of the town, Gallego had an idea. If he would never again be allowed to enter a Catholic church as an ordained member of the faith, then he would express his devotion in a magnificent way. He would build his own church. In fact he would build his own Cathedral from scratch and make a shrine to “Our Lady of the Pillar”, or Nuestra Señora del Pilar.

The future of the cathedral

Set amongst monotonous 1960s apartment blocks, the frame of the huge structure, with its 50-meter-tall dome modeled on St. Peter’s in Rome, towers over the town of Mejorada del Campo. Like the cathedrals of old, it will not reach completion during Don Justo’s lifetime.

What will happen to the building after Gallego’s death remains an open question and its future is uncertain. No one has yet stepped up to take over the project, nor is his cathedral recognized by the Catholic Church. What is more, Don Justo never applied for planning permission to build the cathedral and the structure does not conform to any building regulations.

There are rumous that it could be pulled down after Don Justo passes away but there is a concerted campaign to preserve it.

How to get there

Catedral de Justo is located in Mejorada del Campo, a small town just 20km from Madrid. To get there, there are two public buses from the centre: Avenida de América (line 282) and Conde de Casal (line 341). 

The bus stop in Mejorada del Campo is called Calle de Arquitecto Antoni Gaudí and is located right in front of the cathedral. However, going by car is a better option, so you can continue your day-trip to Alcalá de Heneres, Cervantes’ hometown, which is about half an hour away.

Listen to the When in Spain podcast episode for an audio tour around the cathedral with Paul Burge. HERE

Paul Burge is a former BBC journalist who moved from Oxford, UK to Madrid in 2013 where he now hosts the highly entertaining When in Spain a weekly podcast show about life in Madrid and beyond.  Follow Paul's observations and advice about living in Spain on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and his new YouTube channel.

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