>>>The Island of magical machines
Photo: Copyright: Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN

The Island of magical machines

Imagine combining the imagination of Jules Verne with the ingenuity of Leonardo Da Vinci. What would we get? The answer can be found in Nantes and its living machines.
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A 12-metre tall elephant comes out of a warehouse on the banks of the Loire in the city of Nantes. Neither the locals nor the tourists seem overly alarmed. They watch as 48 tons of metal and wood moves slowly, trumpeting and spraying water from its trunk. On its back it carries as many as 50 tourists on a 30-minute outing on the l’île de Nantes, a river island in the heart of the city. It’s a tour of the magic worlds created through the imagination of Jules Verne, the most celebrated son of Nantes. “The time will come when science will outstrip imagination,” the author of Around the World in Eighty Days famously predicted, and how right he was: These machines are undoubtedly beyond the dreams of anyone, child or adult.
The Great Elephant has become the unofficial symbol of the city, appearing on postcards and souvenirs. It’s also the emblem of the street-theatre company, La Machine as well as being used by the Les Machines de l’île artistic project, which is based on the site of the old city shipyards. The starting point for the daily outings of the Great Elephant are the sheds where the heating furnaces were fitted into the ships passing through the yard. Today the dreamlike creatures of Nantes welcome visitors of all ages to an open-air amusement park.
When woken and brought out of its dark hole, the spider can carry up to four passengers.
Photo: Copyright: Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN  

Even the waves are man-made

The Carrousel des Mondes Marins in front of the Jules Verne Museum is an aquarium guarded by 16 fishermen from all the world’s oceans. The visitor can interact with marine creatures from the depths of the ocean - the reverse propulsion squid, the giant crab or the pirate fish.

The Workshop is the shed where the “machines” are made; fantastic pieces of sculpture that come alive thanks to the mechanisms that form part of the skeleton. From raised walkways, visitors can watch the craftsmen at work as they construct a gigantic flying heron, a manta ray, a Chinese dragon or an enormous spider. However, even here in the laboratory-workshop, the craftsmen take care not to reveal the secret of how they bring their wondrous creations to life.
In front of the Workshop lies the Gallery, home to a number of hands-on machines for visitors to investigate. It will be the location of a major upcoming project by the company, though it is still in the planning stage. Called the Arbre aux Herons, it’s a massive steel tree, 50 metres in diametre, and 35 metres tall which could stood be standing in the very heart of the city. It will be topped by two mechanical herons and populated by creatures that will transport the visitor through its terraces and walkways. At the moment you can go up the only branch that has been built so far, and this can be found at the entry to the Gallery.
In 2014, the Marine Worlds Carousel received the Thea Award as an outstanding achievement and “unprecedented artistic project”
Photo: Copyright: Jean_Dominique Billaud Nantes
All these fantastical creatures come alive thanks to their robot parts and also thanks to the pioneering work of scenographers François Delarozière y Pierre Orefice. They are the creative brains behind this project that links the worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical ingenuity of Leonardo Da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes. The goal is “to dream up tomorrow’s cities and transform our perception of the cities of today”. It may seem no more than an illusion, but Verne as has already told us, only by paying attention to the mad are the greatest discoveries made.
The Giant Crab, the Pirate Fish or the Storm Ship can be constructed and built by visitors.
Photo: Copyright: © Franck Tomps

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