Around the world in a day, without leaving Shenzhen – a photo essay
More than 3 million visitors a year flock to the Window of the World theme park in the megacity of Shenzhen to see 130 copies of the world’s largest tourist sites gathered in a single place.
For Chinese tourists who may not be able to travel out of the country this is their only chance of seeing the New York skyline, the pyramids of Giza or the Taj Mahal – or smaller replicas of them, at least.
The visit typically begins at the metro station, modelled in the shape of the Louvre pyramid in Paris, designed by Chinese-American architect IM Pei. Most tourists then head for the nearby splendours of European architecture: the Acropolis of Athens, the Palace of Versailles, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge from London, or Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Moving to Asia, the Angkor Wat temple is always popular with visitors. The Hindu temple complex in Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world, although the copy here is somewhat smaller. Mount Fuji and the Iranian city of Persepolis are also packed with visitors. A few hundred metres further on, Sydney Opera House is a step or two from the sacred sandstone rock of Uluru.
Next up is the Manhattan skyline, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, and the monumental stone figures of Easter Island – all without ever leaving Shenzhen.
Many visitors buy a fake passport which the theme park hostesses will stamp with as many foreign visas as you want.
The theme park also offers boat trips down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and a cable car ride across the Amazon rain forest. If you want to cool down there is a climate-controlled indoor ski centre with 4,000 sq m of artificial snow slopes.
If you look closely, many of the reproductions appear a little kitsch and the decor outdated. Some visitors complain a few need a new paint job, or even a total rebuild.
But putting aside aesthetic disappointments, the park does allow the visitor to learn a lot about the real sites and their histories. I emerge knowing that the Moscow Kremlin was first a residence of the tsars, then of the leaders of the USSR, and is nowadays the official residence of Russia’s President Putin.
I learn that the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Pisa is located in Piazza dei Miracoli, which is a Unesco world heritage site that includes the famous leaning tower. Finally, we learn that the gate of Ishtar in Iraq was one of the eight gates of Babylon, built in 580BC on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar II and dedicated to the goddess Ishtar.
Many tourists at the Shenzhen park come from modest backgrounds. Some cannot afford international travel and others are forbidden to leave the country because their “citizen score” is too low. Often they are seeing representations of these monuments for the first time.
One photo captures New York’s Statue of Liberty, the Easter Island statues, and Christ the Redeemer from Rio de Janeiro and below, the apitol and Mount Rushmore
The park is unrealistic to say the least: in truth the presidents on Mount Rushmore, for example, look out on to South Dakota, but at Window of the World they overlook Washington’s Capitol Building, some 1,600km away. The Shenzhen Eiffel Tower rises to a third of its real size (108m instead of 324m), but you can climb it and admire the view of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
On the other hand, the park allows visitors an opening to a world that would otherwise be inaccessible and unknown to them.
The ability to eat Mexican food while walking in the Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat is the novel offer of a park which slashes both distance and time. By the end of the visit, the landmarks are blurred: we toured the planet by jumping over continents and centuries. We come out confused.