To be honest it’s easy to be unimpressed by Betanzos on first visit, and especially so if you accidentally get sucked through its town centre one way system on a wet day after an unfortunate choice or two at road junctions.
Spend a little more time in it and you really start to see the potential of its Roman walled centre atop a steep hill surrounded by river banks and become amazed that the last boom didn’t lift it out of its rather decrepit state.
So far so not particularly atypical for Galicia. But Betanzos also has a very unusual hidden treasure, the Parque de Pasatiempos.
Created in the late 1800s by a wealthy benefactor of the town the park is a kind of permanent world exhibition of the sort that was so popular in the late Victorian era …except with manmade caves and tunnels threaded through it and with an amazingly eclectic series of relief sculptures that apparently have all manner of hidden and possibly subversive meanings.
When the Spanish civil war arrived the park fell into disrepair, and it was further mutilated by a road built through it in the 1960s. Finally in the 1990s it was restored, but since then it’s been allowed to drift back into mild decay. Also not many people visit it (even though it’s free) and so chances are you’ll get it all to yourself.
In some ways this is all rather sad, but it also lends an air of mystery to the park, rather like that of the overgrown secret gardens of great houses that feature in English literature. Perhaps best of all is that the stultifying influence of 21st century health and safety has missed this place completely. You can go anywhere in the park and explore down any passageway or cave …only do bring a torch and tough footwear, because you’ll need them!
You can only get into the park proper via an iron footbridge over the road.
The relief sculptures are often very unexpected. Here is an 1800s deep sea diver finding sunken treasure, and above the alcove a funicular railway.
You’re never quite sure what is moral education and what is satire.
An homage to explorers of Africa sits in front of one to the Great Wall of China.
Under the Mezquita the caves start.
Just one small portion of the caves.
At the top, the colossal lion.
Betanzos old town seen from beside the lion.