'Searching for Utopia' – Nieuwpoort, Belgium - Atlas Obscura

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'Searching for Utopia'

Nieuwpoort, Belgium

A massive, gleaming sea turtle with a rider atop its shell looks out over the horizon. 


Close to the beach in the coastal town of Nieuwpoort, Belgium stands a shining sculpture of a sea turtle with a rider holding a set of reins while sitting atop the tremendous turtle’s shell. The three-meter (10-foot) tall sculpture is called Searching for Utopia.

The slow agonizing turtle is on its way to Utopia, an ideal reality or place that in fact does not exist. The work was created by Belgian artist Jan Fabre. Fabre is famous for his Bic-art (ballpoint drawings). In 1990, he covered an entire building with ballpoint drawings.

Initially, the artwork was placed right on the beach on Zeedijk but was moved a few meters inland in between some residential buildings after being restored a few times due to wearing off and occasional vandalism. It now has a golden layer to protect it from the weather which steals a bit from its beauty and character. The initial location on the beach, looking out over the sea is an integral part of the artwork. However, the sea view is hindered now by a row of buildings.

The tortoise often appears in legends about the origin of the world. In some Asian cultures, the tortoise is also a symbol of the world in ancient myths, the flat bottom of the shell is the earth’s crust and the convex top represents the heavens. In this way, the animal unites heaven and earth in itself. In other stories, the tortoise is the foundation of the world, it carries the earth.

Know Before You Go

Location: Nieuwpoort close to the beach. Fabreplein near the Ysara cultural center

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