The presence of a 17th century style French castle in the heart of a bustling Latin American city is somewhat of an anachronism, and leaves visitors wondering what on earth the castle is doing in Medellin, Colombia.
Arrival at the castle, with its avenue of foreign European trees and its impressive Gothic iron gates, certainly feels like you’re anywhere but Colombia. Strangely enough, the story behind the Museo de Castillo (Castle Museum) is even more interesting than the building itself.
According to Daniela Echavarria, a direct descendant of the man who called the castle home, the preservation of this place and its story is important to the history and culture of the city of Medellin. Echavarria, who today works as the head of communications and director of the cultural program at the museum says, “I think that all the people of Medellin enjoy the spaces that preserve what Medellin was in that period. It has become very important for us, the places where they rescue and preserve these stories.”
The Gothic medieval style of the castle, built in 1930, is intended to recreate the style of the renaissance castles of France’s Loire Valley for the wealthy classes of 20th century Medellin, albeit centuries after Europeans has lived in homes such as these.
The castle was bought by a wealthy Medellin philanthropist and businessman, Diego Ricardo Echavarria Misas, in 1943 as a home for his family. Diego and his new German wife Benedikta were both passionate about art and culture and set about creating a home full of both.
According to Diego’s descendant, Miss Echavarria, “they lived here, everything was perfect, they loved everything to do with art, with culture. A great majority of the art you see in the house is from their trips overseas.”
It was this passion for art and culture that made them want to donate their house and all its possessions to the city of Medellin after they died. Miss Echavarria explained their passion for having their home turned into a museum and arts center, saying, “they had always been concerned with culture and art for the citizens, that it be available for everyone.”
As in any good story, the fortune of the Echavarria’s was not to last and it was 1967 when their only daughter fell ill while studying overseas. She had contracted a rare condition called Guillan Barre Syndrome that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, eventually paralyzing the entire body. She was dead by the time her parents reached her in Europe.
The story of the Echavarrias was only to worsen, and in 1971, with the death of their only child still fresh in their minds, Diego Echavarria was kidnapped. The kidnapping of the wealthy businessman was one of the first kidnappings to take place in Medellin, a city that would later become a hotbed of kidnapping and crime.
According to Daniela Echavarria the crime was carried out by none other than the notorious Pablo Escobar.
“It was one of the first kidnappings here in Medellin, they say it was Pablo Escobar when he was just an assassin, he wasn’t the boss yet. Well, that is the story,” Miss Echavarria explained.
Diego’s body was found 40 days later.
The tour guide at the castle assures me that the ghosts of both Diego and Isolda still roam the halls of the castle, checking on guests and asking if they are being treated well in their home. Although I didn’t spot anything supernatural during my visit to the castle, there is certainly something eerie about being in the home of a long dead family with all of their belongings just exactly as they left them.
“Every room, every space in the Castle has been preserved exactly as it was. Everything was theirs,” Daniela Echavarria said.
The Museo de Castillo is still a center for arts and culture, and a place to preserve one of the stories of Medellin’s past. They offer classes of weaving and embroidery as well as training programs in music and dance.
The castle is open to visitors Monday to Friday from 9AM to 12PM and 2PM to 6:30PM. Entrance costs around $4 for adults and free tours of the castle are available.