The strangest thing I ever saw when travelling was ... Jerusalem in Buenos Aires!

Part of the trip - 2011-12: South America, The Falkland Islands and Antarctica
18th April
Rating: (1 votes)
rateraterateraterate

A surreal experience of visiting a religious theme park in Buenos Aires.

"Visit Jerusalem in Buenos Aires all year long" was the invitation on the sign.

We were at the entrance to Tierra Santa - or The Holy Land, a popular attraction just out of the centre of the capital of Argentina. We'd been told about it by a friend, and couldn't resist paying a visit. I was dubious about the idea of a religious theme park, but with curiosity outweighing my cynicism, we had to go and see it for ourselves.

I'm not religious, but I do believe that we should respect other people's beliefs. Being British, the church has always seemed a serious place, treated with a hushed reverence. Some churches are more exuberant, and other religions have some interesting practices and events, but the respect that people have about their religion remains evident.

People in South America seem less sombre about their Catholic religion than much of Europe, but they do take it seriously, so how does that fit with a religious theme park?

The park depicts various moments of religious importance, primarily from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most are static tableaux, like the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the Crucifixion. That was a little surreal, because being right next to the airport, we were looking at a scene of Jesus dying on a cross, with an aeroplane taking off above it.

The main crowd-pullers here though, are the four scenes that go one step further. The Birth of Light, Nativity, Last Supper and Resurrection of Christ are all shown in motion, although the characters, presumably moved by hydraulics, have limited and very stilted movements.

The Nativity scene had lowing cattle, a star moving across the sky and the Three Kings offering up their gifts. The action is accompanied by a soundtrack, which is mostly narration or music, but in the Last Supper we hear Jesus speaking to his Disciples.

But the strangest, certainly most memorable one, has to be the Resurrection. To a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus, a 15 foot high model of Jesus, with arms outstretched, rose up out of a rock. He bowed his head, and turned back and forth to survey his congregation, before disappearing back down into the rock.

I knew what was coming from my friend's description, but still, nothing quite prepares you for this. It was incredibly kitsch and, to be honest, quite comical. I felt obliged to keep a straight face, in case others were finding this a serious and spiritual moment, but it was tough.

It seems to be a moneyspinner though. The entrance fee was fairly high, there were food and drink vendors, including the 'Salem Pizzeria', souvenir shops, and a market selling scarves, pottery and jewellery. I pondered whether I was the only one to see irony in these all being situated close to the tableau of Jesus throwing the market traders out of the temple!

I was left wondering why? I could see it in a country where literacy is poor, as a way of telling the stories, but that isn't the case here. Someone suggested it brings an opportunity to see biblical places that most will never see in reality. But a plaster mock-up of the wailing wall, complete with wailers, even if some visitors joined in by adding their own note, seemed more entertaining than spiritually uplifting.

It could be intended to be educational, but the information provided was pretty limited; there was no explanation about the models of Martin Luther, Mother Teresa and the Pope, let alone where Ghandi and a mosque fitted in.

Maybe it aims to encourage belief among those who don't believe or don't know the stories, but if so, they'd need to be able to take it more seriously than I could.

Perhaps people's view of religion here is different enough to make this a positive experience; I hope that it is, but personally, I can't quite see it.

There are many unusual things in the world, but the thing that has long stuck in my memory for being truly strange, was visiting Jerusalem in Buenos Aires!
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Comments

4 comments
  • 20th April by Nandini

    Hilarious and sad at the same time. Poignant observations. Thanks for sharing.


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  • 20th April by Nandini

    Hilarious and sad at the same time. Poignant observations. Thanks for sharing.


    Report as inappropriate
  • 20th April by Around the world in 8000 days

    Thanks for your comment Nandini. It was indeed both comical and sad, neither of which can be what I assume they were aiming for. I left feeling confused about what I was supposed to think, and slightly guilty for finding it funny.


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  • 27th April by CeeDee

    Thank you for reminding me of this! We lived two years in Bs As - and many people told us about it. Never quite dared to go though. Very, very Argentine ... love it!


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