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  • Jamie Thom

Ghost Towns and Interesting Places of Namibia

I recently returned from a week in Southern Namibia, visiting some wonderful and remote places that few people go - but photographers like those places, which offer something unique. One of the stops in that week was at the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop in Namibia and the other was at the Ghost Town of Kolmanskop near Luderitz on Namibia's coastline.

The Quiver Tree Forest comprises about 250 specimens of Aloidendron dichotomum, a species of succulent plant, indigenous to Southern Africa, that is also locally known as the quiver tree because San people traditionally used its branches to make quivers. The tallest quiver trees are two to three centuries old and the forest was declared a national monument of Namibia in 1995.

The quiver tree is also known for looking upside down because the "leaves" look somewhat similar to roots. This tree has a long history of beliefs that it will bring good luck to anybody that worships a tree and nurtures it. Since diamonds are very rich in Namibia, people say that if one of these trees is dug up, one will get diamonds in their lifetime, but since these trees are blessed nobody wants to dig them up.

Photographing the trees and landscapes is a treat, especially the stars at night with the quiver trees lit up - this is one of the cleanest skies you can find!

The Ghost Town of Kolmanskop (Afrikaans for “Coleman's head”, German: Kolmannskuppe) is ten kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz. It was named after a transport driver named Johnny Coleman who, during a sand storm, abandoned his ox wagon on a small incline opposite the settlement. Once a small but very rich mining village, it is now a tourist destination and an interesting one for photographers. I feel like the term 'micro landscapes' describes the type of photography best and the results are intriguing. Dunes and sand have been reclaiming the town and facilities [they have been maintained to keep it intact!] and it is these scenes of sand blown through the rooms and homes that makes for unique imagery.

The history of the town [courtesy of Wikipedia] is interesting reading:

In 1908, in what was then German South-West Africa, the worker Zacharias Lewala found a diamond while working in this area and showed it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch. Realizing the area was rich in diamonds, German miners began settling, and soon after the German Empire declared a large area as a "Sperregebiet", they started to exploit the diamond field.

Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa. It had a railway link to Lüderitz.

The town started to decline during World War I when the diamond-field slowly started to deplete and by the early 1920s, the area was in a severe decline. Hastening the town’s demise was the discovery in 1928 of the richest diamond-bearing deposits ever known, on the beach terraces 270 km south of Kolmanskop, near the Orange River. Many of the town’s inhabitants joined the rush to the south, leaving their homes and possessions behind. The new diamond find merely required scouting the beaches as opposed to more difficult mining.

The town was ultimately abandoned in 1956. The geological forces of the desert mean that tourists now walk through houses knee-deep in sand. Kolmanskop is popular with photographers for its settings of the desert sands' reclaiming this once-thriving town, and the arid climate preserving the traditional Edwardian architecture in the area. Due to its location within the restricted area (Sperregebiet) of the Namib desert, tourists need a permit to enter the town.



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