Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

González Catán, Argentina

Campanópolis

An Argentinian businessman facing terminal cancer built this whimsical medieval village using salvaged materials. 

Antonio Campana was a self-made supermarket millionaire. When he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer, he decided to sell everything and dedicate the rest of his life to building a dream.

The land he purchased in 1976 for his vision sits at the confluence of two streams and abuts an ecological preserve. However, the pastoral location was quickly spoiled when a state agency expropriated the property for use as a landfill. By the time Campana’s lengthy legal battle to regain possession of the land was finally successful, it was already buried under several years’ worth of garbage. While the land was no longer fit for cattle grazing (which had originally been part of his plan), he was undeterred in his architectural ambitions.

After leveling the land and carting off 2 million cubic meters of garbage, construction finally began in 1980 on what would become the enchanting medieval village of Campanópolis. It is a complete small village, built in an eclectic style that has invited comparisons to a Tim Burton film set. Buildings are mostly made with items recovered from the demolition of other buildings and sold as salvage. Throughout the construction process, Campana trawled countless auctions buying up doors, fences, gates, and columns, as well as decorative details like an antique barber chair, an old elevator, and one hundred typewriters. One important part of the village is made from materials gathered from discontinued railroad lines.

All of this work was designed and directed by a man who had no background in architecture and drew up plans on the fly as the project evolved. In addition to the village, Campana also planted more than 100,000 trees and other plants. Overall, the village takes up about 50 acres (20 hectares) of the 495-acre (200-hectare) property; the surreal scene features fountains, bridges, an artificial lake with docks, a town church, a Dutch windmill, cobblestone streets, a “Museum of Wood” and a “House of Slag,” as well as countless other buildings, towers, passages, and secret nooks to explore.

Told in 1976 that he had only five years to live, Campana survived for another 24 years, during which time he worked tirelessly on Campanópolis. When he died, further development stopped; his sons now maintain the place, but the additional plans dreamed up by the grocery-magnate-turned-medieval-city-planner remain unfinished.

Know Before You Go

Open only on Saturdays for just four hours, visits must be reserved and paid for in advance via the official website. The site is about 20 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, so the best way to get there is by car or through an organized excursion.