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Throughout the world there are monuments memorializing love between adoring couples.

Shah Jahan certainly wins first prize for the Taj Mahal, erected in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. But how many shrines exist to memorialize love lost? Perhaps only one: the Coral Castle.

South Florida's Coral Castle is a sculpture garden fashioned from colossal coral chunks, including a 28-ton obelisk soaring 40ft in the air; an elaborate "throne room" with matching his-and-her thrones; and an 18,000lb gate, balanced so perfectly a child’s touch could swing it open. Free of chisel marks and without any gaps between its component pieces, the entire garden was designed, built and maintained over 28 years by Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin, who stood only five feet tall, weighed just 100lb, and worked completely alone, usually under the girding cloak of night. How did one small man do all this?

Fossilized
Long before the castle was built, Edward's fiancée, 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs, broke off their engagement on the eve of their wedding. Dejected, Edward fled to America, eventually settling in Florida City. In 1918, he began excavating the rock below the soil, fashioning everything from a bedroom (complete with a child's cradle), to a 30ft-tall, 60,000lb coral telescope, all in honour of Agnes.

A few years later, he moved 10 miles up the road to Homestead -- the heart of the strike of 1992's devastating Hurricane Andrew, which amazingly caused no damage to the Coral Castle. He toiled only by lantern-light, not letting anyone watch him work, and stopping when passers-by approached.

Over time, Edward placed the carvings on his new property in Homestead, excavated additional gigantic sections of coral, and erected – literally – a castle, complete with lookout walls and a forlorn but breezy turret in which he slept.

Composed of sedimentary rock (successive layers of coral, shells, sand, and other materials hardened over time), exploring Coral Castle is like wandering among a man's hopes which have been encrusted with disappointment. Here, a rocking chair made of rock – capable of pivoting, but stony and uncomfortable. There, a shell-coated bathtub – beautiful, but cheese-grater rough. Beyond, an unbreakable "Feast of Love table" -- a heart-shaped slab surrounded by chairs, but empty of food and never used. It is ironic that large portions of the rock are dolomite, a mineral whose name echoes this man’s endless dolour. His home, like his heart, was almost entirely a fossil.

Construction methods
Roaming the Coral Castle today is a joy. His devotion, detail and creativity pervade the property. Looming larger than Edward’s craftsmanship, though, is a nagging question: how did one man erect a 40ft obelisk? How did he carve a single nine-ton chunk of limestone and make it swing with the touch of a single finger? How exactly did he achieve such an amazing accomplishment?

Rumours persist that Edward used special magnetic currents or that he cast hollow blocks. Others argue that his property sits on a vortex or that he possessed supernatural abilities, such as levitation. But all these suggestions ignore the fact that a single human, with an unwavering focus and a sufficiently powerful motivation, can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

When Edward’s gate stopped spinning in 1986, it took a team of six men (and one crane) to repair it. Even with modern technological advancements, their repair lasted less than a decade. Today, the gate sits open, but is fenced off from curious fingers.

Before Edward died, when people asked him how he achieved his unusual accomplishment, all he ever said was: "It is not difficult if you know how".

Sort of like being in love.

How to
The Coral Castle is a 30-minute drive southwest of Miami. Expect to stay 60 to 90 minutes. Avoid visiting on very wet or very hot days, as the Castle’s open-air design could make the trip uncomfortable.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Florida's Coral Castle’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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