Walking down pathways imprinted with hand-carved Greek lettering, you enter into The Emperor: a mystical climbing structure, which is often teeming with jubilant children. Its tiled-walls tell stories of love and loss and its pillars are punctuated by question marks that not only reflect the tarot’s ambivalent nature, but Saint Phalle’s troubled and wild psyche.
Keeping watch over the park stands the sphinx-like Empress, whose breasts once served as the artist’s home in the park. Saint Phalle designed it as a hallucinatory, mirror-filled space, with a fully functional bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen—complete with electrical outlets and a dishwasher. The living space also served as the park’s headquarters, where Saint Phalle would instruct her (primarily male) employees—who often referred to her as their “second mother”—on their daily tasks.
“Niki very much engaged with the local people and would become friends with them on an equal level,” says Marella Caracciolo Chia, daughter of Nicola Caracciolo, who grew up nearby, witnessing the evolution of the magical garden. “She would even become the witness at their wedding! She was godmother to so many children.”