Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jorge Chavez Monument


This is one of my favourite monuments in Lima. It struck a chord with me when I was a child because my aunts Toya and Segundina, my uncle Orlando, and my cousins Mari and Mariana, lived a block away on Yauyos street. The monument is also on the way to the city center, thus there were many occasions to pass by it. It was also notable to me in that, unlike so many other monuments around, I knew the story of the figures depicted and the event being conmemorated.

The monument conmemorates the 1910 flight of Jorge Chávez from Brig, Switzerland, to Domodossola, Italy, on a specially modified Bleriot XI monoplane. Chávez was a Peruvian aeronaut raised in France and is the hero of Peruvian aviation. On his famous flight he set a world altitude record at 2651 meters (8697 feet) and became the first person to fly over the Alps.

Unfortunately, as he prepared to land, a crosswind sheared off the wings of his plane causing it to nosedive into ground from 60 feet, seriously wounding Chávez, who died from his wounds four days later. Thus, the monument itself depicts the fatal flight of Icarus, in ancient Greek mythology the son of the inventor Daedalus, who designed wood, wax, and feather wings for himself and Icarus in order to escape the isle of Crete where they were being imprisoned by a Greek king. The wings worked, but Icarus, exhuberant and unmindful of his father's warning, flew too close to the sun which melted the wax, causing Icarus to plunge to his death.

The monument depicts four figures of Icarus, one on each face of the monument: Icarus taking flight, rising, rising higher, and finally beginning to fall, such that as one progressed around the traffic circle each stage in Icarus' flight would be revealed. Or, would be if the design and the traffic were aligned.

As it turned out, the monument was designed by a European artist and thus was intended to be viewed from traffic proceeding clockwise, but Peruvians drive on the right side of the road so traffic enters and moves around the circle counterclockwise and counter to the perspective of the monument!

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