HOBBIES – Mickey, Peter Pan and Snow White now have new colleagues. Their names? Captain America, Spiderman and Thor. This Wednesday, July 20, Disneyland Paris inaugurated, as part of its 30th anniversary festivities, a new chapter in its history with the opening of its thematic area dedicated to the world of superheroes.
Shops, restaurants, but also hotels and two additional attractions appear on the plan of said Marvel Avengers Campus. A way for the largest French amusement park to attract ever more visitors. They were nearly 15 million to open its doors before the Covid-19 epidemic.
Since it opened in 1992, Disneyland Paris has marked the minds of many generations of children, but it is not the only one. Many remember Parc Astérix, Nigloland, Mer de Sable, Walibi, Ok Corral or even… the gargantuan Mirapolis.
Mirapolis is 55 hectares of fun and around fifty rides, a few kilometers from Cergy, in Courdimanche in the Val d’Oise. At least it was. Well known to a section of the Ile-de-France population, Mirapolis does not have the most widespread reputation, despite its disproportionate area. And for good reason, he had a brief life, five years between 1987 and 1992. However, his crazy (and tragic) story deserves to be told.
An “enchanting” place
Promised to a great future, Mirapolis made its appearance in the very special context of the boom in the leisure industry in France. We are in the last half of the 1980s and the project rivals in ambition with the largest American parks. And this, from its name. “Mira” refers to the idea of mirror and infinity, while “polis” refers to ancient kingdoms.
The project was born under the impetus of the French architect Anne Fourcade and a Saudi billionaire named Ghaith Pharaon. It has nothing to envy to other theme parks of the time: Mirapolis is thought to welcome 2.5 million visitors a year.
When it was inaugurated on May 20, 1987 (in the presence of Jacques Chirac, then Prime Minister), there were already nearly 30 attractions. It will be double five years later. Not to mention the ten shops, eight restaurants and twelve fast food outlets.
The highlight of the show: a huge Gargantua 33 meters high, which is said to have been visible from the A15 motorway. The mascot is not insignificant, it is linked to the theme of the park: French literature, its tales and great novels. It is divided into eight large areas with magical names, such as Les Impressionnistes or the Forest of Brocéliande.
“Mirapolis represents a childhood dream. The theme of the park around tales and legends has particularly marked our generation. All the characters from our favorite books were grouped together in an enchanting place”, confides David Fremery, president of the Mirapolis association, the friends of the park, to the web magazine of Cergy-Pontoise.
Rivalries and difficulties
The problem is that this “childhood dream”, financed by bank loans, was rather a nightmare for its managers. The troubles began on the first day when, furious, showmen under the impulse of Marcel Campion entered armed with iron bars to demonstrate against this place which they accused of unfair competition. Facilities are ransacked. We break. Sand and washing powder are thrown into the mechanisms of the attractions to damage them.
Two days later, fake free entries are distributed in neighboring departments. Result: 1500 people claim them the next day. Again, it’s a blow of the showmen who, that same day, came to spread nails at the motorway exit leading to the park.
The press is bad. Accounts, too. The public is not there. At the end of the first season, there are 600,000 visitors. This is less than a third of what was expected. The descent into hell is on, like a wagon in a ghost train. The park passes from hand to hand. The management team of the first year is replaced by Club Med, itself replaced by a group of showmen.
Mirapolis closes its doors
Initially opposed to Mirapolis, they invested 30 million francs. The former owners filed for bankruptcy in 1990. The showmen thus obtained complete management. They get their revenge, but not for very long. In addition to a multitude of administrative and legal problems, including a defamation lawsuit with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, they never manage to break even financially. The 1991 season was a failure. It’s decided. The doors will not reopen in 1992, the year Disneyland Paris was inaugurated. Gargantua needs to pack his bags.
“It would have taken an envelope of another 100 million francs to be able to respond to the competition, that is to say to bring new attractions to interest the public”, breathes Marcel Campion, last of the buyers, in an interview for FR3 .
Only a little over three million visitors will have pushed through the doors of Mirapolis. “The King of Fairgrounds” believes that “this space has been oversized”. “It’s a regional park that can only accommodate a regional clientele, but it was designed as a European park, he concedes. It was a mistake. It was designed on American studies for a fleet operating all year round. However, you should know that in the Paris region, a park like this can only operate for 160 days.”
The traveling rides set off again on the roads of France and Navarre. The attractions are dismantled. Some of them are resold in Germany, and in particular at the Spreepark in Berlin (which also closed afterwards, in 2002). A permit to demolish the last buildings was issued in 1993. It was the end for Mirapolis.
An abandoned wasteland
Since its destruction, nature has regained its rights. The vegetation has invaded the park and the places are mainly occupied by travelers. While in 2003 a large clandestine party was organized there, the urban wasteland is often used for maneuvers by the mobile gendarmerie or for motorcycle school lessons. It is also a favorite ground for Urbex enthusiasts.
“The park only operated for five years and yet it marked the memories of a whole generation of Cergypontains and Ile-de-France residents”, welcomes David Fremery, still in the columns of 13 Like One. He founded the Mirapolis association in 2013 with the aim of buying elements of the park, in order to restore them and organize an exhibition. It took place in 2017.
What about the 55 hectares left abandoned? In 2017, too, we say, in The echoesthat a conversion project into an “eco-friendly” leisure park must be launched. The idea: to build an artificial lake on the ruins to set up cabins on stilts and promote new activities. A few years later, still nothing. The project, with outlines “too ambitious” for some, was amputated.
Since then, a new buyer specializing in property development, leisure residences and business tourism has arrived. It was in 2019. There, still nothing has changed. Has Gargantua taken with him the hope of bringing Mirapolis back to life?
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