A report by Nick Mafi for Architectural Digest.
Last month, Puerto Rico was devastated by the effects of Hurricane Maria. Homes and buildings were completely destroyed, as the U.S. territory is now tasked with the arduous task of rebuilding. Ironically, one of the islands tallest structures survived the heavy storm: a 350-foot statue of Christopher Columbus.
Dubbed Birth of the New World, the colossal sculpture was assembled on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, in the city of Arecibo (roughly 45 miles west of San Juan). At the time of its dedication, in 2016, the structure officially became the tallest statue in the hemisphere. Yet, the accolade came at a steep price. While the total cost has not been released, it has been estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, much of which came from the public treasury. This, of course, came at a time when Puerto Rico was in the midst of dealing with its crippling national debt.
Compounding the controversy was the fact that the structure was never intended to go to Puerto Rico. The statue was originally planned to have been a donation to the U.S. to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall in 1492. It was first turned down by Columbus, Ohio, before other cities (including New York, Boston, Cleveland, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami) followed suit. Eventually, after years of discussions, Birth of the New World finally found a home in Puerto Rico, where Columbus arrived in 1493.
The statue was designed by the Georgian-Russian painter, Zurab Tsereteli, a billionaire who sits on the boards of four Moscow museums, is an ambassador for the United Nations, and hold such distinct honors as France’s Legion d’Honneur. The structure—which weights 6,500 tons, is composed of 2,500 pieces of bronze, steel, and copper, and took over 110,000 hours to assemble—has been welcomed with mixed reviews. Some see it as an important part of tourism in the area, while others believe it’s a symbol of the nefarious treatment of Indians in Puerto Rico.
While the popularity of the statue may be up for debate, the sheer size of it is not. Not only is Birth of the New World roughly 50 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, but it’s double the size of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.