California’s Roots in Queen Califia


Escondido, California honors Queen Califia with park statues.

“Queen of California,” Queen Califia is on view in Escondido with a mosaic garden sculpture designed by internationally renowned artist Niki de Saint Phalle. She was commissioned to create an interactive sculpture garden at Kit Carson Park inspired by California’s mythic, historic and cultural roots. The installation is known as Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. The garden consists of nine large-scale sculptures, a circular “snake wall” and maze entryway, sculpturally integrated bench seating, and native shrubs and trees planted within the interior plaza and along the outer perimeter. The garden bears the brilliant, unique mosaic ornamentation that is an unmistakable part of Saint Phalle’s later work. Niki de Saint Phalle was a citizen of Switzerland who resided in La Jolla until her death in 2002. She is known worldwide for her work in Europe, such as the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris and a sculpture garden in Italy.

History of Queen Califia:

The western U.S. state was once described in a novel as an island: “Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise.” The ruler of this island, Queen Califia, ruled an empire without men, and gave riches away wherever she traveled. It took several hundred years for the world to recognize that this place did exist, but it wasn’t an island, and it had both men and women. In 1776, just as the U.S. was being formed, Spanish explorers settled it once and for all that California was very much connected to a larger land mass on the North American continent, and was populated with both sexes.

A mural at Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco depicts Queen Califia, the ruler of a fictitious place for which California was named.

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