A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Alien astronauts have a new home in the heart of the Swiss Alps.
The Jungfrau, a starkly beautiful mountain in central Switzerland, is one of the tallest peaks in the Alps and looms over the upscale resort town of Interlaken. The mountain has attracted tourists to the town since the eighteenth century, when English travel groups began to go there on holiday.
But visitors to Interlaken today have a sight even more arresting to contemplate than the jagged peak. On the outskirts of town, a metallic geodesic sphere rises above a sleek collection of small, oddly shaped buildings, including two that look for all the world like the Great Pyramid of Khufu and Chichen Itzá's Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The contrast with the Alpine landscape and quaint Swiss homes of Interlaken couldn't be more jarring.
Welcome to Mystery Park, a hybrid museum-amusement park and the ultimate expression of Swiss author Erich von Däniken's contention that alien astronauts not only inspired the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids but had their hands in virtually every ancient accomplishment from Stonehenge to the stone statues of Easter Island.
Scholars always point to von Däniken's ideas as the ultimate absurdity in pseudoarchaeological speculations, but there's no doubt he has a huge audience. Besides starring in numerous television specials that have aired in both Europe and the U.S., von Däniken (known as EvD to his many fans) has gotten his message out in dozens of books that have sold more than 60 million copies.
Mystery Park is an inspired extension of the von Däniken brand. The main attraction is seven themed "pavilions" designed by amusement park professionals (von Däniken wrote the text for all displays in the park). Each features a short movie illustrating a different von Däniken theory, as well as "side attractions," which include artifacts and dioramas of ancient sites. The Orient pavilion and Mayaland, the two buildings shaped like pyramids, offer von Däniken's take on alien influence in ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica, respectively. Vimana showcases ancient Sanskrit texts that von Däniken believes record alien visits to earth. MegaStones invites visitors to contemplate the mysteries of megalithic monuments, especially Stonehenge, while Nazca features Peru's enigmatic terrestrial lines. Contact is a hodge-podge: The pavilion's movie makes a case for the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel's encounter with an alien spacecraft; side attractions showcase the Kayapo Indians of the Amazon and the Hopi. Von Däniken hypothesizes both cultures came into contact with extraterrestrials before they encountered Europeans. The last pavilion, Challenge, offers a cartoonish movie speculating about the future of space travel and life on other planets.
The pavilions form a ring around a central building that not only stores von Däniken's personal archives (hundreds of copies of his books in various languages are on display in the geodesic sphere) but offers souvenir shops that sell merchandise like Mystery Park Swatch watches. It costs 48 Swiss francs (around $36) to get into the park, which itself cost about 86 million Swiss Francs ($62 million) to build.
Mystery Park will probably never be a destination on a par with, say, Euro Disney. For one, the rides are limited to simulated trips in a space shuttle and a submarine, neither very exciting. There are also no alien counterparts to Goofy and Mickey posing for photographs. But as I found during two surreal days last May, Erich von Däniken has at the very least succeeded in creating what has to be the most bizarre archaeological experience on the planet.
Eric A. Powell is an associate editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.