Up in the hillside between Castellane and St André is an unexpected sight: a gleaming city with towering statues of Buddha and Jesus.
The colorful locale is Mandarom, the center of the Aumism religion, considered by some to be a cult. The sect merges the highlights of just about every world religion into one rainbow of belief (in fact, the rainbow is a repeating pattern, including draped in a scarf over the 72-foot-tall statue of Buddha).
The religion was started back in 1969 by Gilbert Bourdin, a self-proclaimed “cosmoplanetary” messiah, and a statue of the leader once towered over Mandarom until it was deemed illegal and dynamited in 2001. While after Bourdin’s death in 1998 Aumism declined, there remain around 400 members who wear colorful robes and mirrored head pieces.
Mandarom still has an impressive collection of strange statues, such as 69-foot-tall Cosmic Christ equipped with a shield and sword. Meanwhile, Aumism members believe that Bourdin will someday rise from his tomb, which is why local authorities put a layer of concrete over it to keep him from being dug up, or perhaps to keep him from escaping on his own.
Guided tours of the Cité Ste-de Mandarom Shambhasalem are available. Modest attire is required.