A Rio de Janeiro man has been living in a sandcastle on the beach for 22 years.
Marcio Mizael Matolias, also known as “the king,” has been living in a series of sandcastles on the beaches of the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood for half of his life. He’s a local phenomenon and a tourist attraction, and he’s delighted to pose for photos with a crown on and scepter in hand. “I grew up in the Bay of Guanabara (near Rio), I always lived on the beach,” he told La Voix Du Nord in a recent interview. “People pay exorbitant rents to live in front of the sea, I do not have bills and here I have a good life.”
Matolias was born in Duque de Caxias, just north of Rio, but left when he was young. He struggled financially in Rio, and so he quickly saw an opportunity when one of his friends taught him how to build a sand pyramid. Since then, his little “homes” have gotten more and more elaborate, requiring the aid of sandbags, driftwood, and logs to stay standing.
On the inside, his sandy home is more cozy than regal. His bedroom inside the castle is a room of about three square meters (approximately 10 square feet), much of it taken up by his collection of books and his fishing and golfing gear. The room is supported by a sturdy wooden framework and has just enough floor space for him to curl up comfortably. When he needs to use the bathroom, a public bathroom less than a minute away (with toilet and shower available for less than a euro) works just fine. Best of all, he doesn’t have to pay rent.
Of course, there are some downsides to living in a sandcastle. During the day, Matolias needs to water the turrets and spires of his castle frequently or risk it drying out in the hot Rio sunshine. And all his hard work (the towers can take 10 – 20 hours for him to sculpt) can be destroyed in a moment when it rains. One time, the tide rose high enough to lap at the foundations of his castle, flooding his “bedroom.” But if you ask Matolias himself, the most annoying thing about living in his little beachside empire is the heat. “The sand holds all the heat, so sometimes at night I can’t sleep here, I’ll spend the night at a friend’s house,” he told La Voix Du Nord. “But I prefer it here, even if I have to lie outside by the sea.”
Matolias’ beachside house hasn’t made him unpopular with the locals; quite the opposite. Friends and neighbors call him “the king,” and one neighbor gave him his plastic crown, which he wears around the beach. Apart from his impressive home, he’s also famous for his lending library that he runs from a nearby stall, where he encourages people to swap books for his books. When asked if he’s ever had a problem with the government or law enforcement, Matolias laughs. “I have become a sort of tourist attraction and social service too.”
To pay for food and other necessities, Matolias has a donation box outside of his castle that people can pay into in lieu of books or as a thank-you for appearing in a photo-op. But it’s a strictly pay-what-you-want system; Matolias doesn’t charge. It isn’t a perfect system, and Matolias sometimes faces people stealing his donations when he leaves them unguarded. But he tries not to get angry about it: “Before, I got upset, I wanted to sleep with the box in my arms so as not to let it go. But I started to live in paranoia. I don’t want that, I’m doing it for pleasure.”
Matolias also earns money building sand sculptures for event venues. He takes his art very seriously, drawing on multiple artistic influences: “I learned a lot in books and my castle mixes styles, from Niemeyer to Gaudi.” And he’s very excited to take it to the next level this year, as he’s preparing to make an exhibit in more permanent materials for a friend’s house.
But, until then, he’s happy to keep tending to his little home and delighting his neighbors.
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