For better or worse, humans have gotten pretty good at replicating stuff. Priceless works of art have been forged, engineering marvels have been mass-produced and animals have been cloned.

Nothing will get in the way of the human urge to make copies, not even when it comes to towns, cities and planets. Here we look at four of the world’s most curious replica places. The featured image is by jessgrrrr.




China’s replica European towns

The Chinese, ahem, have a bit of reputation for faking the products of successful Western companies. So news that Chinese developers have built cities that not only mimic the style of famous European and North American destinations, but positively rip-off their most famous hallmarks shouldn’t perhaps be all that surprising.

Two towns particularly stand out: Tianducheng, with its Eiffel Tower, Art Nouveau terraces and out-of-town chateaux is a sort of “Paris Lite“, while the town squares, Gothic church, statue of Diana cobbled streets and Victorian terraces of Thames Town are a weird pastiche of English urbanism through the ages.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When it comes to these places, we’d say that’s debatable.



Mars on Earth

Right now we can’t even get back to the moon, let alone have a wander around our nearest planetary neighbour. Such realities though, are anathema to those scientists fixated on the idea of one day visiting Mars.

Undeterred by the total absence of the funding and technology necessary to make such a mission possible, a non-profit organisation has begun researching what it would be like to actually explore the elusive red planet.

Of course, for their tests to render results of any use they had to be conducted in a place blessed with Martian “qualities”. Enter San Rafael Swell, where the Mars Society has built its very own desert research station.

There, presumably equipped with as much imagination as optimism and dedication, volunteer team after volunteer team boldly goes where plenty have gone before, spending two weeks treading Utah’s red soil in space suits and slumming it in the cramped quarters of the initiative’s “space” pod.



North Korea’s Potemkin village

When the Korean Demilitarized Zone was set up as part of the 1953 armistice, both North and South Korea were allowed to construct a town each within its limits.

The North Korean authorities built Kijŏngdong, and immediately began boasting about its schools, hospitals and the 200 families homed within.

Modern telescopic lenses have revealed an altogether different reality. Rather than the communist idyll the dictatorship would have the world believe, Kijŏngdong is a Potemkin town – a fake settlement with the impression of a fantastic life North of the border designed to seduce defectors from the South.

The town’s bright multi-story buildings are just shells with no windows, while its lights turn on and off a set times. Utility teams sporadically sweep the otherwise empty streets to give the illusion of activity.

South Korean and Western media casually call Kijŏngdong the “Propaganda Village”, not least because loud speakers blared North Korean propaganda towards the South continuously from its opening in the ‘50s, all the way until 2004.


The Ukrainian movie set that has a life of its own

If you believe an article written by journalist Michael Idov for GQ (and who are we to call into question GQ), an obsessive Russian film director has blurred the line between art and life in a way never before seen.

On the face of it, the replica 1950s Soviet Era town Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s built in a massive warehouse complex (the size of two football fields) on the outskirts of the Ukrainian Town of Kharkov for his film Dau was like any other film set. Idov’s research revealed it was anything but.

Day in, day out the town was brought to life with dozens of “extras” dressed in period costume. The extras were not professionals – they were members of the public scouted from ordinary streets. In all, more than 210,000 were put on file. The ones chosen to be a part of the film were instructed never to consider the film set as, well, a film set. The set wasn’t a “set”, but an “institute”. The director was not to be addressed as the director, but the “Head of the Institute”.

They were never to acknowledge the film-making process. Acting wasn’t taking place inside – experiments were. While on set, they were never to speak of the outside world (they were fined if they did).

Cameras were hidden everywhere. Likewise sound recording equipment. Sometimes the cameras weren’t rolling. Sometimes they rolled continuously for days. No one was told.

The turnover of participants was high. Some hated the experience and left quickly. Those who lasted any length of time were quickly indoctrinated into the institute. When stepping onto “set” they robotically adopted the reality and persona they had been given. They unquestionably accepted the era (the 1950s), the communist regime, the lifestyle, the currency … everything.

Cafeteria workers were cafeteria workers. Guards were guards. Only too happy to discipline fellow citizens, the latter were all but Stalinist enforcers. Even director Khrzhanovsky was subject to their authority.

The process began in 2006. At the time of writing, more than six years later, it’s unclear if it has come to any kind of conclusion.

We can’t decide if the completed movie will be an unmissable work of art, or an unwatchable offence to cinema. We suspect it’ll be both. One thing’s for sure, comparisons with the Charlie Kaufman film Synecdoche, New York are unavoidable.


Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…

About the author

Brett AckroydBrett hopes to one day reach the shores of far-flung Tristan da Cunha, the most remote of all the inhabited archipelagos on Earth…as to what he’ll do when he gets there, he hasn’t a clue. Over the last 10 years, London, New York, Cape Town and Pondicherry have all proudly been referred to as home. Now it’s Copenhagen’s turn, where he lends his travel expertise to

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