El Parque de los Desvelados (Sleepless Park) in Navarra: an eerie park devoted to Death

All that is gone
All that remains
All that decays
Into dust once again

The eeriness of abandoned places

A few weeks ago, me and @hedac visited this eerie and very unusual abandoned park “El Parque de los Desvelados” located in Estella (Lizarra), South West of Navarre, in Spain.

I have always felt a strange attraction for “abandoned” places and its weird energy. I don’t think places are haunted by ghosts but by desolation and decay, an imprint of sorrow maybe… I even wrote a song called “Haunted” inspired by this theory. I have a fondness for them… as if I’m a long awaited spectator of the stories they still whisper. Old houses, abandoned villages, old ruins… I can imagine their stories. I love when they are claimed back by Nature and get covered in ivy and moss.

Last month we visited one of these abandoned park, yet it was not an ordinary park…
Located in Estella (Spain) this bizarre place is known as Parque de los Desvelados (o de las calaveras) (translated as “Park of the Sleepless (or the Skulls)).

El Parque de los Desvelados: The Sleepless Park

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The word desvelado means “those who don’t sleep”… I find the name curious to start with, as the insomniac I am.

There is though another way to interpret it “Those who never rest” and here is when it gets tainted by a melancholic vibe.

As much as I like abandoned places I have to say this is one of the weirdest and creepiest I’ve ever been to. We had had intentions to visit it for a long time so I wanted to take the chance also to prepare a photo shoot.
The crown I’m wearing was a birthday gift from my friend and illustrator Lisselotte Eriksson, and as she has a fascination for dark fairies (The “Unseelie Court”) I thought the place approppiate to surprise her with some photos.

So early March, a few weeks ago, being late for a proper hike in the Wilderness, we found convenient to pay a visit to it as it is rather close to us.

We parked the car in Estella, I put my garments in a rucksack and uphill we went in an area called “San Lorenzo”, the path surrounded by orchards and ominous dark pine forests covered in vines. The alarm call of countless Black Birds as we walked by filled our ears. Half an hour later we stumbled upon “Los Desvelados Street” and a few meters away an open fence with a signal that says : This is private property, feel free to enter Please, Respect!

There was only a couple there (weird place for a picnic) as soon as they saw me with my horned piece and dark goth make up they started to talk loudly about Nephilim (The Fallen Ones), bad omens, Demons and religious talk not minding I was listening. They stared at me a few times while they loudly talked about these topics, the moment was too awkward to engage conversation to explain we were there just for a photo shoot.

I was not going for a super dark look, more a “goth” spectral ghostly Unseelie fairy look, or even a “romantic symbolism” of Death as it is the main topic the park is based upon. I love ghostly and spectral tales from the XIX century after all. The place itself does not call for vivid colours. So there I was cloaked in black. Skulls and bright polka dresses wouldn’t make a good combination right?

A family with small kids got in the place, they were laughing enthusiastically at the skulls, as if something “funny”. Talk about eerie, skulls and children’s laughters! One of the youngest pointed at me and said! “Look, mum” A witch! -he squeaked. I smiled back and the older kid with huge specs hid shyly behind his mother. I smiled again and they both giggled nervously. It felt a bit empowering, I must say.

Above: the headpiece was a handmade birthday gift from my friend Liselotte. Neither a Nephilim nor a Witch though.

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Above: me beside one of the Skulls so you can appreciate the scale

The 7 massive sculptures of distorted skulls and skeletons made by artist Luis García Vidal transform the landscape into an eerie giant’s boneyard and scattered here and there, almost as junk piles we can also find other odd creepy shrines.
The size of some of the sculptures is jaw dropping, it won’t leave you indifferent. They large hollow orbits taring as fathomless wells… The experience is rather haunting.

They look somehow like something out of Edward Gorey’s or Tim Burton’s illustrations. A hint of macabre even.
The sculptures are distorted and out of proportion, there are also some laying from the floor or looks like being engulfed by it or rotting away.

A memento-mori

All things that live must die

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Julio García Vidal was born in Melilla the 24th of December, 1927. As a teenager her moved to Madrid to learn Sculpture and then to Paris where he met his wife that was from Estella. The would spend every winter there working in this strange and curious place. Created between 1971 and the artist’s death in 2009, they are meant to serve as a memento-mori (from Latin “remember you have to die”). The whole park is an Ode to Death and a reminder of the inevitability of it, of the transient Nature of our existence on Earth.

Slowly bushes have taken over and all is succumbing into decay. He spent 38 years working on this park… carefully building and restoring continuously his structures made of twigs and branches of “sumac” (very small trees and shrubs from the genus Rhus) wrapped in chicken wire and covered with gypsum and white paint.

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Above: Details of the materials used to build the structures

His brother Alberto, also an artist, died of cancer and very poor. He sculpted the skull above with a plaque that reads that his brother ended up like “human garbage” but accepted Death with courage as if passing away had been some kind of solace for him. I found it extremely sad, maybe even resentful for the words chosen, compelling though.

He also was involved himself in a car crash. You can see ruined cars scattered in the Park. There are signs of his “obsession” incorporating also other objects that had been involved in accidents.

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Walking through this desolate place we stumble upon this:

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The quote along the crushed baby pram shrine suddenly turns macabre.
“Cuando sea mayor seré futbolista, si el destino quiere”. “When I become older I will be a football player if fate allows”. A reminder that sometimes life is taken from us way before fulfillment.

The message is clear… in life and death there are things we can’t choose, there are things we can’t control, there are things that aren’t fair… but that’s the way things are

A place vanishing into Oblivion

Only a decade after his death Nature starts to claim back the place, the white paint on the schools is wearing out, the wire holding their structures become undone, some of the Sumac taking life again.

All the pictures in this article were taken a few weeks ago, early March 2018. I found online photographs from a few years ago and some of the structures are almost unrecognizable now. They are left to the elements.

Above: some of the skulls are now just a bunch of twined twigs, yet you can infer its former shape

Some years from now from now the whole place will vanish into oblivion. Maybe that is a final lesson that the artist wanted to portray, that his work was “alive” with him, and it would decay back into Nature once he was gone. I think it was the way he intended it so in this he succeeded to leave a final lesson

I think the creator wanted us not only to think about Death but also about Life.

Death is something that we all will have in common, somehow an equalizer. It doesn’t matter how rich or famous you are, or the struggles and miseries you’ve gone through… we are all going to meet the same end eventually.

Overcoming our Fear of Death

First the cradle then the grave… as sure as the souls just flow from Birth to the Death. (lyrics of my song Through the Long way)

I do believe both Life are Death are in balance in Nature… Romantification of Death can be dangerous, though we often find it in old poetry and literature, in tales of cross hearted lovers like Romeo and Juliet…

I accept Death, it´s just a natural process, it is key to keep balance, yet I confess I find the moment of “ceasing” or “disruption of life” is sad. I’ve seen Death, I’ve been close to it too, I have experienced loss and mourning, and the only romantic thing about it is that it taught me “love” lasts beyond Death. As long as we remember, the ones that we have loved and lost live in us still.

Thanatophobia (fear of death) is a condition that describes the fear and anxiety in the awareness of our mortality, a fear of “ceasing to exist”. The name Thanatophobia takes from the Greek figure of death known as Thanatos.

Or fear of death is a primal instinct, to fear Death is a natural thing… after all that is why we are equipped with our “fight or flee” response to protect our lives. We long to live. Yet being anxious and overwhelmed by that fear is not a good thing. We must not forget the joy in living.

Our ways to manage this fear differ, some seek comfort in religion and somehow overriding Death into an afterlife. I am not exploring this, as I think it´s a beautiful comforting thought yet what lies beyond is unknown…

Sometimes it’s so hard to see death as a positive thing. Many of us have experience loss. Death is often a taboo topic, and something difficult to accept no matter how natural it is. The first time I saw a bird dying as a child my heart clenched. It was terrible. How quickly all it was extinguishes, that “something” gone. I have been vegetarian since 8 years old because I cannot bear the thought of anything dying for my sake.

I saw all my pets die while being held and close to my heart… In many ways they taught me to accept it because they were gone embraced in love.

Still both Life and Death are part of Nature, both balance its cycles. Still it is only logical and rational that we must accept that we will all eventually die. Why should we fear something that is so inevitable, and somehow needed?

Like fungi grow on dead trees… Nature teaches us Life just transform… we are all part of an endless cycle…

I remember a chapter of “The Storyteller” 80s TV series “The Soldier and the Death” The fairy tale tells of a Soldier that tricks the Devil playing cards and earns a magic sack in which he finally traps Death inside. But though he successfully kidnaps Death he sees what would happen in the world if no one and nothing could die…
It´s all about “balance”. It’s about cycles.

The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust! (Nietzche)

I do admit I do fear to die… but somehow I have understood that fear better, that maybe we are afraid to run out of time having not lived to the fullest. So wherever you are at:

Seek happiness, seek for meaning, LIVE fully and wisely…! Cherish and be grateful!

Until then… LIVE 🙂

Till Death do us part
But until then… LIVE
Seize the Day
“For Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”


I hope you found it curious, it is not that well-known… if you ever visit the area it is worth a walk by even if only because of its “oddity”. In no way and despite its dark Nature I am meaning to be ominous… on the contrary, I hope it has awakened some food for thoughts too.

Disclaimer: All the pictures in this post are taken by me or in collaboration with my partner @hedac. All Rights Reserved.

Above: a final farewell shot taken with my phone

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