The Holy City of Mandarom
A Case of Médiabolization
Five days before 9/11, a giant statue exploded in the French Alps. For almost a decade, the 33-meter-high Cosmoplanetary Messiah had perched on the peak of a mountain, presiding over the village of Castellane. For those who built it, it represented the union of all faiths at the dawn of the Golden Age. For pilgrims and tourists, it was a beacon directing them to the Holy City of Mandarom. For anticultists and local ecologists, it was an eyesore. On September 6, 2001, the of ending statue suddenly blew up into fragments—and the apocalyptic signifi cance of the timing of the event was not lost on Mandarom’s residents.
This controversial icon was the target of a dawn raid on the Holy City of Mandarom. Police and soldiers arrived with workmen who attacked the statue with drills and jackhammers for 36 hours, and then prepared the dynamite. Finally, in a cloud of 800 tons of plaster, wood, and crepis, it was successfully detonated. The statue’s crowned head bore a striking resemblance to Mandarom’s late messianic leader, Gilbert Bourdin. It flew of and rolled down the mountain, accompanied by a loud cheer, coming to rest mysteriously intact. But then the workmen, guarded by military police, pulverized the face of the Cosmoplanetary Messiah with shovels.
Today, Mandarom’s alien architecture and surrealistic statues still crown a mountain in the spectacular Verdon region of the French Alps. To travel there, one must drive through the soaring mountain ranges, past rushing waterfalls and plummeting gorges. The car plunges into narrow two-way tunnels, crosses bridges spanning white water—visions “most sublime” that inspired the pens of the English Romantic poets.
I paid my first visit to Mandarom in July 2001. My friend and I drove past some crucifixes (Christ’s twisting body festooned with Christmas lights) that marked the dirt roads leading of the highway into obscure medieval villages. Shrines to the Virgin, draped in plastic flowers, guarded the crossroads. We got lost on the winding mountain road in our rented Renault, because someone had