TopolandiaManuel Barrantes (b. ca. 1952)
San Pedro, San José, Costa Rica
Barrantes offers guided tours to school groups and others in order to teach visitors about geography and archeology. These tours – which are obligatory for viewing the site – can last 1 -2 hours and include some 400 running meters of the cave. An above-ground restaurant serves local specialties to complement a visit. Reservations for the tour of Topolandia are recommended.
About the Artist/Site
Topolandia – which is a Spanglish word based on topo – or mole – consists of twelve interconnected tunnels that have been joined together to form a subterranean home, created over a period of twelve years (to date) by Manuel Barrantes. At the beginning Barrantes was derided and denounced by his neighbors to the police, but as he was working on his own property without making noise or harming anyone, the police were powerless to stop him under local laws. After a couple of years, as the complaints still came in, the police sent in geologists to review his work. Spending some four years testing his excavations, they came to understand it as a stable and secure subterranean refuge, and formally approved his efforts. Nevertheless, it is only in the last three years or so that he – while still known as El Hombre Topo [the Mole Man] – has become admired for what he has accomplished, a result of numerous news and television stories that began to appear on his work. The neighbors’ complaints have now stopped.
In the same manner as other builders who have chiseled out stone by hand with shovels and picks to create living spaces within rocks or in subterranean areas (such as Lino Bueno in Spain or Baldessare Forestiere in California), Barrantes found that the surrounding material of volcanic rock and red soil provides not only an insulated and therefore temperate climate year-round, but also cuts down on noise and air pollution and provides a secure and cozy living space. Barrantes has also noted that it provides protection against earthquakes, acid rain, and the effects of global warming; these positive ramifications were also confirmed by the visiting geologists.
Barrantes was born in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, the oldest of four children. As a young man without higher education, he worked as a printmaking lithographer, and was very involved in the graphic arts. He was inspired to build underground after traveling as a young backpacker in 1974; during his visits to some 17 European and South American countries during that time, he worked as a miner and thus learned how to excavate caves. He also saw other cave dwellings during that time and immediately grasped the advantages. He thought he would start by building a “little cabin,” but Topolandia has become his life’s work.
Barrantes began to excavate his home around 2004, using only hand tools such as picks and shovels, and removing the excess dirt and rock with simple carts and pails. He never used any kind of dynamite or other explosive devices, nor did he use any machines. Nevertheless, through his handwork he has been able to complete a complex series of tunnels and rooms, some parts of which are 63 feet deep underground. The underground complex currently includes three bedrooms, a meditation room with a capacity of 25 people, bathrooms, and various eating and living rooms. Beds and tables are also carved from the surrounding rock, and there is fresh running water, electricity, and telephone service within. Collections of antiquities and curiosities adorn some of the walls, while others feature bas-relief sculptures carved from the background stone and painted bright colors. Some are amusing references to popular culture characters – including the Flintstone family – but there is also a reclining skeleton, several celestial bodies, and many depictions of the variety of flora and fauna for which Costa Rica is famous. Several portals – defined on the outside by painted figural or architectural images – provide access to different parts of the site. His initial intention was only to build a subterranean house for himself and his family; he never realized that it might become a tourist attraction and be of interest to so many people.
Vaunted as the first House Cave in Central America, as well as the first subterranean archeological museum in Costa Rica, Barrantes offers guided tours to school groups and others in order to teach visitors about geography and archeology. These tours – which are obligatory for viewing the site – can last 1 -2 hours and include some 400 running meters of the cave. An above-ground restaurant serves local specialties to complement a visit. Reservations for the tour of Topolandia are recommended.
~Jo Farb Hernández, 2016
Map & Site Information
San Pedro, San José cr
Latitude/Longitude: 9.9301517 / -84.0511025
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