The Enigma House

If you had stumbled upon this blog a couple of decades ago, I imagine you would have found a lot of posts about Michael Cretu, the Romanian-born driving force behind the chillout act Enigma. There’s something about those first three albums, MCMXC a.D. (1990), The Cross of Changes (1993), and Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! (1996) that you can’t quite deny makes him a master of his art.

Things started to go a bit wrong after that, though – The Screen Behind the Mirror (2000) is fine, and still has some lovely moments, but it just seems a bit unnecessary. Voyageur (2003) is terrible, A Posteriori (2006) a decent comeback, Seven Lives Many Faces (2008) variable, and I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered to track down The Fall of a Rebel Angel (2016) – I think partly because most purchase options seemed to also require the purchase of a narrated version.

In his sixties now, Cretu has had something of an illustrious career, having left Romania to study in Paris in the 1960s, and then playing keyboards for Boney M‘s megahit Rivers of Babylon in 1978. New wave solo hits followed across Europe over the next decade, but it was the Enigma project which really cemented his legacy, with over 70 million units sold in the thirty years that have followed.

Those sales led to healthy revenues, and Cretu settled on the Spanish Balearic island of Ibiza. Known in the early 1990s as the quintessential trance party island, it also features a stunning hinterland. This was the setting for Cretu’s 3,000 square meter Moroccan-style mansion, at a reported price tag of €18 million ($26 million), which involved shaving three metres of ground off the peak of a hill near Santa Agnès. Construction started in 1996, and was finally completed in 2001, so the then-state-of-the-art A.R.T. Studios, designed by Gunter Wagner and Bernd Steber, is presumably where Voyageur, A Posteriori, and also some side projects were devised and recorded. Contemporary photographs show that it was pretty stunning.

https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m14!1m12!1m3!1d1203.8722290741048!2d1.308329520014409!3d39.034791015487926!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1610390595760!5m2!1sen!2sus

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A new mayor took over in 2003, and started investigations. After years of ongoing legal action, the Spanish supreme court ruled that the property had been built illegally in a conservation area with an illegal building licence, and had to be demolished. Work to remove the property started in May 2009, and it took a matter of weeks to destroy the dream home. Cretu, feeling understandably betrayed, appears to have sold multiple properties on Ibiza and moved to Germany.

He initially fought for compensation, but a criminal case followed in 2013, focusing strongly on the fact that construction was over a considerably larger area than the permit had allowed, and seems to have resulted in a threatened six-month jail sentence for Cretu. This was converted to a fine of €21,600 plus liability for demolition costs, and the mayor and numerous other municipal employees were acquitted. The rubble that now remains on the site is a magnet for urban explorers, who captured this amazing bank of images in late 2016.

The court case seems to have been conclusive, so maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s hard to take sides in this particular story. Yes, obscene amounts of money were involved, and a building was constructed in a protected area, but it isn’t really clear to me whether Cretu himself knowingly broke any laws. Either way, it was probably fair that he should take responsibility – a property on the site was permitted by the town’s mayor in April 1997, although that permit was very late and for a much smaller property. Someone was definitely up to something fishy, but it’s difficult to say whether it was Cretu himself, or people in his employ colluding with the town mayor. The outcome – a ruined mansion sitting on top of a hillside – doesn’t seem ideal for anybody, so it’s tempting to feel a degree of sympathy for someone who thought they were building a dream.

You can also read more coverage here.

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