Bok Tower: The American Taj Mahal

When Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok was leaving his home country of The Netherlands at age six, his grandmother told him, “Make (your) world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” After living by this motto all his life, it also became the basis for Bok’s creation of “Bok Tower” and the surrounding gardens, his final legacy.

Placed on the highest point of the Florida peninsula, the 157-acre gardens offer a tourist attraction that could not be any more different than the loud theme parks central Florida is otherwise known for. The fast-paced world seems to stop at the gate of the park, and as the road winds up the hill, the relaxing nature of the park sets in.

The tranquil gardens were designed by the internationally acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to offer secluded areas near small ponds and overlooking vistas that, according to the brochure, include a view of the gulf coast on clear days.

The park offers a safe haven for indigenous and threatened species of plants and animals as well as tropical plants from around the world.

The gothic tower that stands in the center of the gardens was constructed out of four million pounds of Georgia marble. This monument that has been nicknamed “The American Taj Mahal” is reminiscent of the Indian mausoleum and was inspired by the carillon towers of Europe. Every hour, short pieces are played on the 60 bells that range from Bach to folk tunes.

At a distance of about 60 miles from Tampa, the drive to Bok Tower is well worth it. If nothing else, it offers a breather after spending a busy day with The Mouse and Co. The park offers enough to see for several hours, along with a gardening, gift shop and café for snacks. It would be advisable, however, to bring a lunch along and at least during the summer months, bug spray.

Admission to the park is $6 for adults, $2 for children age 5-12, while younger visitors are admitted free of charge. Opening hours are 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. all year-round with last admission at 5 pm.