For over 30 years there’s been some serious bad juju emanating from the heights of Roca Tarpeya the place where El Helicoide slouches, looking down over the city like an overfed chavista bureaucrat.

Emma Graham-Harrison at The Guardian narrates the story of Venezuela’s infamous political prison and torture chamber.

From Jorge Romero Gutiérrez, the visionary architect whose reputation remained forever tainted by what his creation symbolized, to Hugo Chávez’s santero beliefs, to the astrologer who became its first political prisoner Caldera’s political prisoner , the unfinished structure has always been surrounded by a dark mantle of superstition.

But more than a curse, El Helicoide is actually a metaphor for the last 50 years of Venezuelan history, as nuestra Celeste Olalquiaga, a cultural historian who grew up in Caracas, so eloquently states:

“El Helicoide is a metaphor for the whole modern period in Venezuela and what went wrong.”

She has launched a project to document its extraordinary history and written a book about the mall turned jail.

The transformation from icon of Venezuela’s hopes to emblem of failure and repression was slow and complicated. It began with a coup, stretched over decades of dictatorship and democracy, through the rule of 14 presidents and several cycles of oil boom and bust. Someone looking for bad omens might have found one in the name of the hill where it’s built, Roca Tarpeya; the Tarpeian Rock was an execution ground in ancient Rome.

It’s an unlikely enjoyable read on such a sad topic.

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