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The History of Mazes - Part 2
This is part two of a series about the history of mazes. Click here for part one!!
It’s difficult to know exactly when turf labyrinths began to show up, because unlike the paths laid or etched in stone, these paths were carved into the earth, which is ever changing. Thus, they required a lot of upkeep and evolved over time. The English turf labyrinth is made by removing the top layer of soil (turf) to cut the design into the ground. Scandinavian turf labyrinths are made by arranging rocks in a pattern that creates the “walls” of the design. Most often, these mazes used either the ancient Cretan or Chartres designs. They popped up in villages and towns all over Europe, and were maintained by shepherds or members of the town. There is much folklore surrounding these labyrinths, though most of them do not have a religious connection (like the Chartres labyrinths did).
While most ancient mazes were what we call labyrinths (a unicursal pathway, meaning no choices along the way), at some point the designs became more complicated, with branches leading off the main path. This made it much easier to get lost and turned the maze into more of a puzzle. Garden mazes began to spring up throughout Europe, possibly as an eventual result of unruly plants and vines—as the walls of the labyrinth kept growing, the paths unintentionally changed or new ones were made. Or perhaps they grew out of knot gardens from the Middle Ages: flowers planted in intricate designs that harkened back to the Celtic aesthetic. Small knots were joined by paths, and eventually evolved into twisting pathways. Traces of mazes have been found in England, Italy, Germany, France, and Amsterdam. One of the most complex garden mazes was the labyrinth at Versailles, created by André Le Nôtre for the Sun King, Louis XIV. The walls were not hedges, but rather closely planted trees. The maze contained bronze sculptures and fountains as a form of enjoyment, and spanned about two acres.
The oldest surviving hedge maze is at Hampton Court Palace, along the River Thames in London, England. It was designed in 1690 by George London and Henry Wise, a commission by William III. It was originally planted with hornbeam, but later replaced by yew. It was created purely for the amusement of the royal court, and remains one of the most popular maze destinations in the whole world. Its design is simple, only covering a third of an acre, but one cannot see over the tops of the 8-foot hedge, and there are dead-ends and wrong turns along the way.
By the mid-seventeenth century, hedge mazes became the new “thing,” and no self-respecting garden was without one. “If the classic Cretan and medieval Chartres labyrinths had been journeys with the goal always in clear sight, the new mazes, with their dead ends and wrong turns, were puzzles, mysteries with hidden solutions to be enjoyed simply for the sport of it.” (McCullough 114).
The world became fascinated with the idea of puzzle mazes, a set of twisting pathways that teased the brain and stimulated the mind. Maze designers got more and more creative, using geometric shapes, alphabet letters, numbers, lines and more to create mazes! There was no limit to what a maze could look like, or what shape it could take. Mazes were featured in modern literature and films, telling old and new stories, and feeding the frenzy of modern maze-mania.
A man named Adrian Fisher is considered to be the world’s leading maze designer, having created more than 600 mazes in over 30 countries since the late 1970s. Not only are his designs unique and challenging, they are made out of a variety of materials: mirrors, water, wooden panels, corn, pavement, and more! He’s designed pop-up mazes, made of the same materials as bouncy houses, that are uniquely portable and can travel to parties, museums, and county fairs. Recently, his design efforts have soared to include the first ever ride mazes, roller coasters and water rides where the riders can choose which path they go down!
Click here to read part three!!
Edkins, Jo. "History of Mazes and Labyrinths" History of Mazes and Labyrinths. 2008. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.
Fisher, Adrian. "The World's Leading Maze Designer" Maze Maker. 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.
"Knot Garden." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.
"The Maze" Hampton Court Palace. Historical Royal Palaces, 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.
McCullough, David W. The Unending Mystery: A Journey through Labyrinths and Mazes. New York: Pantheon, 2004. Print.