Christo’s Floating Piers Were 50 Years And $17 Million In The Making

In Italy, the legendary artist has completed a project that’s been on the boards for half a century.

After nearly 50 years of planning, 81-year-old Bulgarian-American artist Christo has finally realized The Floating Piers, a two-mile walkway of undulating gold that will allow visitors to step, like Jesus, across the surface of the water to two small islands on Italy’s Lake Iseo.


Although The Floating Piers resemble bolts of saffron fabric unrolled across the surface of the Lombardy region lake and wrapped arounds its two small islands, they are quite safe to walk upon.

Underneath the fabric are 220,000 separate polyethylene cubes, which are affixed to the bottom of Lake Iseo by over 190 concrete slabs almost like buoys, so that they are safe to walk across, even as they bob and sway. The artist himself has described the sensation as being like “walking on the back of a whale.”

Attempts to get The Floating Piers made began 46 years ago, with South America’s Río de la Plata as a suggested site. That plan fell through, as well as an attempt to bring The Floating Piers to Tokyo Bay. But once Lake Iseo was identified as a site for the project, it took relatively little time to create: just 22 months, during which a team of engineers, French divers, and even a group of Bulgarian athletes–working as literal manpower in an eccentric touch by Christo–helped construct the piece. The finishing touch was the fabric covering, which has been designed to change color depending on weather conditions, temperature, and moisture.

Photo: André Grossmann

Over the next 16 days, as many as 40,000 visitors are expected to walk The Floating Piers. They will start in the town of Sulzano, then walk down to the shore and out across the surface of Lake Iseo to the islet of Peschiera Maraglio, before stretching out from two different locations to circle the tiny island of San Paolo. A team of lifeguards will be on hand at all times to make sure no one slips into the lake by accident. Admittance is free, with the estimated $17 million funding for the Piers’ construction provided by the sale of Christo’s original drawings and sketches.

The ephemerality of the experience is part of Christo’s point, so The Floating Piers will disappear on July 3, just 16 days after its grand unveiling. “The important part of this project is the temporary part, the nomadic quality,” Christo told The New York Times. “The work needs to be gone, because I do not own the work, no one does. This is why it is free.”

All Photos (unless otherwise noted): Wolfgang Volz