Outgoing president Alan García wanted to leave Peru a surprise and hoped a 120-foot statue of Christ would protect Lima. But not everyone likes surprises—not Lima’s mayor, informed only days before its June 2011 unveiling, and not locals frustrated that construction was outsourced to Brazil.
García’s surprise statue certainly isn’t the first to spark controversy. Some of the world’s most impressive monuments have backstories of bickering, which, in addition to good gossip, give travelers insights into local culture, history, and priorities. Even when a monument’s construction is well publicized, a positive reception isn’t guaranteed, whether because of differing aesthetic tastes, costliness, or partisanship.
A recent case in point: the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.—27 years in the making. At its dedication on October 16, 2011, opposition to the memorial’s outsourced-to-China design and its execution overshadowed the celebration. Poet Maya Angelou went so far as to state that the inscription on the memorial, a quote from King, made him “look like an arrogant twit.”
A series of such controversies at the National Mall inspired Kirk Savage to write the book Monument Wars. He notes that even the development of the Washington Memorial—today accepted as a national treasure—was a battle. “The Washington Monument itself took over 50 years to build. There were incredible problems,” Savage said in a PBS broadcast about the MLK Jr. monument hullabaloo. “Nobody really wanted an obelisk.”
Not all monuments are set in stone; sometimes, what nobody wants never materializes. Earlier this fall, in a poor province of Vietnam, construction was halted on a nearly $20 million tribute to mothers of martyred soldiers from the Vietnam War. The project’s spiraling costs had made it too unpopular—even among the family of its central figure, Nguyen Thi Thu, who died in December 2010. “My mother’s soul would not be happy with this,” daughter Le Thi Tri ultimately told the press.
Outside Madrid, unhappy locals have railed against a certain site for so many years that the government has formed a commission to recommend modifications. Read on for the inside story on that and more monumental controversies.