The Mystery of Spain's Dali Triangle

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Northeastern Spain is home to the so-called Dali Triangle. The more visitors investigate Salvador Dali, the more unusual the 20th century artist becomes.

Photography by the authors

Mysterious places reputedly can be found all over the world even in the United States. The Bridgewater Triangle, south of Boston, for example, is the home of tall ape-like creatures and, of course, UFOs. The Lake Michigan Triangle has seen the strange disappearance of ships and airplanes including, famously, Northwest Flight 2501, and in southwestern Vermont there’s the Bennington Triangle where, over the years, not ships and airplanes but people have disappeared.

Elsewhere there’s the Bermuda Triangle, the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan, and the South Atlantic Triangle located in the Van Allen belt of radiation in space!

It’s starting to be a bit cuckoo—and that leads us to another triangle in northeastern Spain that bears its own mystery: The Dali Triangle. The mystery may well be the thought that Salvador Dali, one of the most famous and fun artists of the 20th century may have been, himself, a bit cuckoo. The more you investigate Salvador Dali, the more, er, unusual he becomes.

Map courtesy of Google. Image of Dali courtesy of Instituto de Turismo de Espaňa.

To decipher Dali (who lived from 1904 to 1989), you have to head up into Catalonia in northeastern Spain, into the wild coast of the Costa Brava. You will swing around gentle bends that show the caressing comfort of the blue Mediterranean and enter corkscrew curves through mountain passes that make you think, you’ve surely gone too far, in error—you must be in the Pyrenean mountains

And so you come, top right on the map, to the remote village of Portlligat near Cadaqués. It was Dali’s workshop and home from 1930 to 1982 (when his wife and muse, Gala. died).

Yes, you’ll be climbing stairs outside and inside. Seats don’t look particularly comfortable as if Dali saw chairs as art. The garden is not your grandmother’s garden, for sure, unless she had a sofa showing an infatuation with Mae West’s lips.

The museum has been created in the 4 fisherman’s cottages on the water’s edge in this small town, and sprawls all over the place as Dali, himself, probably did. It’s quite a trek out from Barcelona, so you should verify the tourist information here to make sure it will be open when you arrive. You need to buy your ticket in advance. You cannot just show up. Even with booking you have to be 30 minutes early for the small group tour.

When you arrive you are greeted with the anticipated Dali oddities and some unexpected charms. A stuffed polar bear and a stuffed owl receive you gracefully, then it gets progressively weirder, including a Greek statue wearing a fencing mask holding what looks like a vacuum cleaner.

The least shocking exhibit is their twin bedded bedroom: it’s rather prim and proper with just a touch of Versailles. An unfinished work stands in an easel in his studio.

When Gala, his wife and muse, died, Dali moved to the Gothic-Renaissance castle in Pubol that he’d bought in 1969 and extensively rebuilt and decorated. A fire broke out in his bedroom in 1984, but was extinguished and the castle opened to the public in 1996.

The castle has thick stone walls, Gothic arches, and a pristine pony trap on show at the height of the automobile’s supremacy. And beyond the studded door entrance on show provocatively is a medieval tapestry.

Guests who arrived—as ever enthralled as those Hollywood celebrities who came to San Simeon, CA, to be patronized by William Randolph Hearst—would find seats for them and beds. And if sleep came poorly below a canopy even when counting sheep, they could go out in his garden and count his quirky elephants.

Gala is buried in a crypt in the basement alongside one Dali designed for himself with space under the crypts so they could hold hands in eternity. The photograph of Dali’s crypt was taken at his Theatre-Museum in Figueres. He is buried there.

During the 2 years Dali spent in Pubol he designed his final great adventure, his Theatre-Museum in Figueres near Girona in a restored 19th century theater. It had burned down in the Spanish Civil War. It’s the third leg of the triangle and shows most of Dali’s work and his personality.

Large eggs on rooftops. ceiling paintings as if Dali had positioned his subject for a CT scan, Dali’s painting tribute to Picasso. It’s all there in what has been called the largest display of surrealistic art in the world.

You can visit the 3 points on the triangle in any order, though the order we have described may be the most logical. If you don’t want to drive, Viator has organized tours but you have to choose which 2 of the 3 you want to take. You might prefer to skip Pubol in order not to miss his Figueres Theater-Museum, which really shows Dali at his most unconventional best.

The visitor starts to ask a guide: “We know he was very movie-aware but why the Oscars?” then is immediately distracted by a second thought, “Why the pre-World War II Cadillac?” Why indeed! Dali fabricated this 3D work of art as Rainy Taxi in 1938. At the time of our visit a coin machine was beside the front door of the Caddy and if you inserted a coin a faux rain storm descended upon you. Faux rain, perhaps, but you still got a little wet. Bottom left in the images beyond the Cadillac you can see the massive painting that dominates an entire wall.

The exhibits in all 3 locations defy description: golden thrones, stuffed animals, elephant statues, strange sculptures like Our Lord of the Refuse, odd-ball fixations such as dissected bones, ceramic loaves of bread, and dozens of large reproductions of the Oscar Academy Award statue.

Dali’s massive painting on a wall of his theater bears the date 1947 as just another way the artist teases his public. He painted this in 1974 but chose to transpose the last two numbers apparently, says a guide, deliberately. Again, we come back to the artist’s fixation on the actress, the voluptuous Mae West.

Dali appeared to know what he was doing at all times. He was savvy about the media, using both movies and the press in promoting his art. He delighted in giving the adoring media his quotations so they might try to understand him.

The bottom two images demonstrate his skills with his type of trompe l’oeil. Bottom left shows either a young woman facing left towards a curtained window or the face of a bearded man looking to the right. Bottom right may require you to step back and half-shut your eyes to lose the image of the nude standing facing away from you to convert the black squares into an image of Abraham Lincoln.

Not even the Dali deluge from visiting the 3 places important in his life can help onlookers understand this mercurial, controversial but beloved artist. Not even when they sit facing the Costa Brava’s marvelous Mediterranean and sip on their cappuccino.

Who was this man? Authorities at Sweden's Karolinska Institute who have been studying how the mind works have said that creativity is akin to insanity. Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia. Both groups lack important receptors used to filter and direct thought. It could be this uninhibited processing that allows creative people to "think outside the box." So if Vincent van Gogh was bipolar, was Dali schizophrenic?

Dutch psychiatrist Walter van den Broek has written, “Based on biographical information the rate of psychosis in one study [of artists] was far greater (35%) than in the normal population (2%). Affective disorders were 10 times more prevalent and the rate of suicidal behavior 3 times greater in a group of New York impressionists.”

True a picture is worth a thousand words … but what did Dali have to say for himself? Was he aware of his eccentricities? Well for starters, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali.”

But he also said, "The only difference between a madman and myself is that I am not mad." But he is a tease! One can almost see him pulling on his drooping mustache and contriving this remark: “At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since…”

So check him out. The Dali triangle is all there in its bizarre exuberance and, if you’re in the mood, it’s glorious.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written 5 books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.