Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, Part I

About a year ago, we went to see a sculpture garden created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It’s located in Kit Carson Park in Escondido. Unfortunately, the garden was closed and wouldn’t open for another year due to vandalism and deterioration from the elements.

Then, back in April, I took a look at the website to see when it was due to open. By sheer luck it was actually open that day (Sunday). Ordinarily the garden is only open the second Saturday of each month, with visits supervised by city volunteers. So we hopped in the car and drove over. I took a lot of photos because there’s so much detail in every sculpture. Hopefully your eyes won’t glaze over when you look at all these tiles. 😉 I’m going to show mercy and break this into three parts.


Queen Califia’s Magical Circle opened in October 2003. “New Realist” sculptor and painter Niki de Saint Phalle designed and self-financed the garden. The photo above shows Queen Califia and the entrance plus a small maze.


The garden, like the state, takes its name from the legendary black Amazon queen, Califia, who was believed to rule an island paradise of gold and riches “on the right hand of the Indies.” The legend was introduced in the sixteenth-century romance novel, Las Sergas de Esplandián, which was popular in Spain. Geologist John McPhee mentions the tale in his book Assembling California, which Saint Phalle read and was inspired by for her initial ideas.


Queen Califia is standing on the back of a 13-foot eagle with five legs, and raising a bird above her head. You can get an idea of the scale looking at the people nearby.


From this angle, the eagle looks like yet another creature with giant eyes.

Here are some more views and details.




The sculptures are made of polystyrene encased in a polyurethane skin, with applied fiberglass coating over a steel armature. The designs were based on Saint Phalle’s models, with the aid of computer modeling.




De Saint Phalle hand-picked pieces of glass in differing shapes, color, translucency and degrees of reflection. This was the first time she used stones like agate, travertine, quartz and turquoise. Unfortunately, de Saint Phalle used mirrors which have not held up to the outdoor elements. Those are being replaced, according to our guide. She also told us crows are drawn to things that glitter, like Mother of Pearl. Who knew?


Sorry, I went a little nuts with this one. But doesn’t the blue sky just make the best backdrop? I’m also liking the dose of surrealism which is present in most of the de Saint Phalle’s work.


The garden’s 400-foot “snake” wall is composed of Mexican pebble stones, and the snakes and other sculptures are covered with thousands of hand-cut glass, ceramic and stone mosaic tiles.




I’m not a fan of snakes, but I think this is amazing. The colors really are this intense.

More to come!


About pearlsandprose

Photography. With a little life thrown in.
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16 Responses to Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, Part I

  1. Susan says:

    O M G – this place is FANTASTIC – almost surreal ! The colors are spectacular, and what a visionary the artist was to even THINK about the scope of this work, much less to COMPLETE it.
    Breath-taking !

  2. brittabottle says:

    I’m not a fan of snakes, either. They are EASILY my least favorite animal (so creepy, slithering around without legs!) but I do agree that the colors here are beautiful! Fantastic photos!

  3. Mrs. Spock says:

    Wow; unique! (At least, not like anything I recall seeing.) Thanks.

  4. Caroline says:

    Great post. I wish I could visit this as well.
    I saw a spectacular documentary about her a couple of weeks ago.
    I always wanted to visit her Taror garden in Italy. It’s so fascinating.
    You know, she was with Jean Tinguely who grew up in Basel. there’s a Tinguely museum here and a famous fountain.

    After having seen our fountain the French president had one made in Paris – a collaboration between Tinguely and de Saint Phalle. I must say, I prefer the one in Paris.

  5. joshi daniel says:

    that is so colorful and nice 🙂

  6. What a magical place! It’s so colorful and beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us. Hugs.

  7. I`ll have to go see this- I`ll be there next weekend for a cross country meet and as I`ll have a fair amount of down time, this should keep me entertained!

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