An Act of Sheer Folly

We are drawn to the idea of creative design without practical function. The reasons behind these Follies are often quite personal with a hidden narrative. Andrew Downs sheds a light on these strangest of buildings. PE

Humans have always had a love of creation for creations sake. To build at huge costs, either financial or of time, structures that are humorous, frivolous, or pointlessly joyous, they must be one of the more extreme examples of the human spirit, and all wrought in stone.

These structures are not confirmed to one country or one culture, and brought joy to those who owned them and now those who visit them.

Who could possibly resist climbing into the bowels of a Giant Colossus, built in the late 1500’s by Giambologna, to be found in the gardens of  Villa Pratolino in Tuscany. This giant named Appennino stands 35 feet tall and houses a small network of cave like rooms.

2 - Lago da fazendinha

Visiting the Petit Trianon, at Versailles, an entirely fictitious farm, created at the whim by Marie Antoinette. This act of folly perhaps more than any other, as the folly may not just be in the very stones of a fairy tale dream, but the very fabric of Revolution. This foolish milkmaid orchestrated the 

downfall not only of herself, but an entire dynasty. An act of national folly, with watermills, streams, and dairy’s, who would have thought folly could be so dangerous.


Be it an English Country House, Italian aristocratic villa, French Chateau, or Russian Palace, they all may have some kind of picturesque folly on the estate. A phallic obelisk, a rose clad Greek Temple or crumbling Gothic Ruin.  Be it a useful visual fall stop, a hunting lodge to rest and water yourself and guests when “enchase” of some poor creature. Others for les liasons dangereuses,  and clandestine flirtations. Whatever the reason, or, be there no reason, its part of the whimsy of those who can, can! And often did.


The notorious 18th century Hell Fire Club run by Sir Francis Dashwood, was held in a series of man made caves decorated with mythological themes,

phallic symbols and other items of a sexual nature, naughty naughty …but what fun. Nor, is not by any means a historic occupation, if you head to the very rural region of China, the Yelang Valley you can find a mystical castle of enormous proportions that has been the life long passion of Song Peilun, a university professor who resigned 20 years ago to build a “fantasy castle” in China’s Guizhou province which is Folly of city scale, it is of such proportions. If the meaning of Folly is to build for building sake then the estate of Song Peilun is the Sangrila of Folly hunting. May he long continue. The dictionary meaning of Folly may be …… foolishness, foolhardiness, stupidity, idiocy, imbecility, silliness, inanity, lunacy, madness, rashness, recklessness, imprudence, injudiciousness, lack of caution, lack of foresight, lack of sense, irrationality, illogicality, irresponsibility, thoughtlessness, indiscretion;

The world would be a much sadder place with out such foolishness, and in the strongest sense of the word irony, the biggest Folly would be to have no Folly! Bon quest if you are just a visitor to the work of the passionate creators, or a passionate creator of folly your self. Only the bravest amongst us are prepared take a road that others call Folly! Bravo and thank you those who have.


Words by Andrew Downs
Instragram: jamesenglishpro