Bright Lights, Small City: The Artistry of 5 Model Cities - Atlas Obscura
Free iron-on Atlas Obscura badge when you preorder our new kids’ book. Shop now.

Bright Lights, Small City: The Artistry of 5 Model Cities


The future looks… tiny. (Photo: Daniel Case on Wikipedia)

The miniature model town is an iconic feature of the bucolic English town. Usually recreated in loving detail, the little villages let people get a bird’s (or giant’s) eye view of the townscape. But at various locations around the world, miniature artisans have done these sleepy towns one better by creating miniature versions of real world cities. From Shanghai to France to Moscow, check out five miniature versions of some of the world’s most famous locations.


1. SCALE MODEL OF SHANGHAI
Shanghai, China


Who knew the water was so blue in Shanghai? (Photo: Chris Price on Flickr)

Shanghai is an amazing city all on its own, but somehow it seems even more incredible as a shrunken-down model. While most mini-cities pick and choose major landmarks and icons to recreate that represent their city as a whole, but this sprawling model in the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum attempts to cover each and every street, including some that don’t necessarily exist yet. The mini-metropolis is meant to represent what the city could grow into in the future, so it is even more sci-fi than it seems. Even though the streets are too small to walk through, it’s still pretty easy to get lost in this little city.      


 From above it almost looks like the little buildings are trying to spell out a message. (Photo: Payton Chung on Flickr)


Shanghai nights! (Photo: Daniel Case on Wikipedia)


2. MINI-PARIS
Vaïssac, France 


Why, yes. I am the god who created this city.(Photo: Petit-Paris on Wikipedia)

Ah, Paris. It’s easy to love the beauty of the French capital, but its hard to love it as much as Gerard Brion who recreated the famous destination using, essentially, garbage. Over the course of 20 years, Brion built his sprawling model of Paris building-by-building, using such simple materials as cardboard and tin cans. Eventually he expanded to larger monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Now his love letter to Paris takes up his whole backyard including everything from lovely hedge walks and tiny construction sites. How is your backyard landscaping project going?


Another lovely Parisian day. (Photo by Gerard Brion on Wikipedia)


3. FRANCE MINIATURE PARK
Élancourt, France


A miniature park so big, even the humans look small. (Photo: Agateller on Wikipedia)

Elsewhere in France is another ambitious miniature marvel. The France Miniature Park doesn’t set out to recreate any one city, but instead picks bits and pieces of the country’s more incredible landmarks. The park contains 116 of the greatest sights the country has to offer in amazingly detailed miniature, spread across over a hundred separate landscapes. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are back, joined by other landmarks such as the Chateau at Versailles. In addition to all of the little buildings the park is brought to life by planes, trains, and automobiles (many of which are animated), and over 60,000 tiny figures. It sort of makes real-size France seem almost mundane. 


OLE! (Photo: maxwellgriffith on Flickr)


Even in scale, these wonders looks pretty amazing. (Photo: Wikipedia)


4. MINIATURE MOSCOW
Moscow, Russia

 
Little Russia, big people.  (Photo: wurlington-bros.com)

Located in the Hotel Ukraina, this aging bit of Russian city-scape captures a small but iconic vista of the country’s capitol city. This little Moscow was built in 1977 to celebrate the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Set across 400-feet of space, the model creates an iconic vista of the city as it existed in the 70s. It is only a small portion of the huge metropolis, but the landscape is effectively evocative of the city as a whole. It is even illuminated with a day/night cycle that let visitors see all the little lights in the itty-bitty windows. Funding for the historic model city has been hard to come by over the years, as many have viewed it as a waste of electricity, but the elegant Hotel Ukraina maintains the mini-marvel today. 


Moscow under siege! A kindly giant’s siege! (Photo: englishrussia.com)


5. MINI-EUROPE
Brussels, Belgium


Its like aliens collected the wonders of the world and put them all together. (Photo: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD on Wikipedia)

The Mini-Europe park in Brussels, Belgium does not represent any one city, is so sprawling that is almost like a city of pint-sized European landmarks unto itself. Opened in 1989, the park holds over 350 model marvels that make impressive works of human creation seem quaint. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is not far from a not-so Big Ben that actually chimes. There are even some natural landmarks such as a mini-Mount Vesuvius. Mini-Europe covers 80 different European countries via their iconic sights. If only there were a miniature English village with its own miniature village inside.   


The people in this image are real-sized. (Photo: Gregd1957 on Wikipedia)


The people in this image are not real-sized. (Photo: Gregd1957 on Wikipedia)