It's a small world after all

A model of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. Visitors can pay to have a 3D replica of themselves placed alongside the 100,000 miniature figurines in the Gulliver’s Gate exhibition.
A model of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. Visitors can pay to have a 3D replica of themselves placed alongside the 100,000 miniature figurines in the Gulliver’s Gate exhibition. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Gulliver's Gate in New York offers mini versions of famous landmarks such as the Taj Mahal

NEW YORK • In troubling political times, New York's latest tourist attraction offers visitors international escapism - a US$40-million (S$56-million) installation of 50 nations in miniature, a kind of Gulliver's Travels for the 21st century.

Four years in the making and now open for previews just off Times Square, Gulliver's Gate hopes to draw a million visitors a year to its Lilliputian-style world crafted by hundreds of artists from around the world.

Where else can you find Mecca, the Taj Mahal, the Panama Canal and The Beatles walking across Abbey Road under one roof?

Not to mention China's Forbidden City, Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue and Jerusalem's Old City.

There is to be an interactive airport, with planes taking off and landing, miniature trains zipping up and down tracks, 10,000 vehicles and a gondola gliding along a glassy green Grand Canal in Venice.

Manhattan is displayed in astonishing detail: famous landmarks alongside paramedics attending to an accident, families relaxing in living rooms behind apartment windows and a Louis Vuitton store.

In London, visitors can listen to Adele, The Clash or The Beatles at an outdoor concert complete with a TV screen, flashing lights and parkland thumping up and down as the miniature crowd enjoy the music.

"Incredible!" said Mr Nathaniel Deutsch, 64, an attorney based in Washington who was in New York to catch some shows on Broadway as he looked round.

"This is fantastic, I have goosebumps. It's amazing."

But it opens as NYC & Company, the official marketing organisation for New York, predicts 300,000 fewer international visitors this year in the wake of President Donald Trump's attempted travel bans "and related rhetoric" - which would be the first decline since 2008 and the global financial crash.

The United States' cultural capital is stuffed with iconic attractions from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building and Broadway, not to mention dozens of museums, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square.

To put Gulliver Gate's hopes into context, the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year received a record 6.7 million visitors.

"It's just the beginning," cofounder Michael Langer told Agence France-Presse by e-mail, saying that the inspiration came from Miniatur Wunderland in Germany, which calls itself the largest model railway in the world. "Our team is already in the process of developing new regions and countries to add... There is much more to come," he added.

For an extra US$44, on top of the entry fee (preview fares cost US$25 and up to US$36 thereafter), visitors can get scanned and have a 3D replica of themselves placed alongside the roughly 100,000 miniature figures already in the exhibit.

It is the work of artisans from all over the world. Teams in New York, Argentina, Jerusalem, Beijing, Italy and Saint Petersburg modelled their regions.

The Russian Winter Wonderland includes the Sochi Olympic ski slopes.

"You've got a lot of competition, but I've never seen anything like it," said retiree and radio personality Michael Rubin, 67, one of those taking advantage of cheaper ticket prices ahead of the May 9 launch.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'It's a small world after all'. Print Edition | Subscribe