The Southern Namib desert is home to some of the tallest and most spectacular dunes of the world, ranging in color from pink to vivid orange. These dunes continue right to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The cold waters of the sea brushing against the dunes of the Namib desert is one of the most surreal sights.
While the sea coast extends for hundreds of miles, one of the best places to see these dunes is at Swakopmund. Known as Swakop in Namibia, it is the country’s biggest coastal town and a mecca for Namibians on holiday. The city’s German origins are quite pronounced in beautiful old German Colonial buildings throughout the city, making an even starker contrast for this town sitting at the edge of the Namib Desert.
The Soviet policy of providing housing for every citizen and his or her family, and the rapid growth of the Muscovite population in these times, also led to the construction of large, monotonous housing blocks, which can often be differentiated by age, sturdiness of construction, or ‘style’ according to the neighborhood and the materials used. Most of these date from the post-Stalin era and the styles are often named after the leader then in power (Brezhnev, Khrushchev, etc.). They are usually badly maintained.
Although the city still has some five-story apartment buildings constructed before the mid-1960s, more recent apartment buildings are usually at least 9 floors tall, and have elevators. It is estimated that Moscow has over twice as many elevators as New York City and four times as many as Chicago. Moslift, one of the city’s major elevator operating companies, has about 1500 elevator mechanics on call, to release residents trapped in elevators.
Moscow is the capital city and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural and scientific center in Russia and in Europe. According to Forbes 2011, Moscow has the largest community of billionaires in the world. Moscow is the northernmost megacity on Earth, the second (after Istanbul) most populous city in Europe, and the 6th largest city proper in the world. It’s also the largest city in Russia with a population, according to the 2010 Census, of 11,503,501. By its territorial expansion on July 1, 2012 southwest into the Moscow Oblast, the capital increased its area 2.5 times; from about 1,000 square kilometers (390 sq mi) up to 2,500 square kilometers (970 sq mi), and gained additional population of 230,000 people.
As we whinge about the wintry weather here in Britain, spare a thought for those living in a Russian hamlet where temperatures can plummet to -71C, so cold even planes cannot land there in winter.
The valley of Oymyakon in northeast Russia is known as the ‘Pole of Cold’ and with an average January temperature of -50C, it is no wonder the village is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the world.
This is the lowest recorded temperature for any permanently inhabited location on Earth and the lowest temperature recorded in the Northern Hemisphere.
The ‘Pole of Cold’: The average temperature for January in the Russian village of Oymyakon is -50C, with -71.2C the lowest ever recorded temperature
The village, which is home to about 500 people, was, in the 1920s and 1930s, a stopover for reindeer herders who would water their flocks from the thermal spring.
But the Soviet government, in its efforts to settle nomadic populations, believing them to be difficult to control and technologically and culturally backward, made the site a permanent settlement.
Murders per 100,000 population:
1. Honduras 82.1
2. El Salvador 66
3. Ivory Coast 56.9
4. Jamaica 52.1
5. Venezuela 49
6. Belize 41.7
7. Guatemala 41.4
8. St. Kitts and Nevis 38.2
9. Zambia 38
10. Uganda 36.3 . . .
103. United States of America 5
150. Canada 1.8
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Crop Circles, England
Crop circles decorate a wheat field in Wiltshire County, England. This southwestern region of the U.K. is also famous for the prehistoric monument Stonehenge.
Once thought to be the work of aliens, crop circles—mysterious patterns that often appear overnight across large swaths of farmland—are now the work of ambitious artists. To stamp out their drawings, artists use stomper-boards that press down corn, wheat, and other crops.
Their designs, some up to three-quarters of a mile wide, started to appear in the 1970s.
Such creative fieldwork could be considered Earth art, or land art—a movement that started in the 1960s to draw attention to the natural world, expand the definition of sculpture, and to reject the commercialization of art, according to Kelly Kivland, a curatorial associate at the Dia Art Foundation, which maintains several Earth art installations around the U.S.
Earth art is landscaping on a larger-than-life scale. It is creating ephemeral drawings along coastlines and making enormous and permanent creations in the desert. It sometimes manifests as a trench excavated in the middle of nowhere or the alignment of spectacular celestial views through cement pipes. And lastly, it is about documenting the journey to the remote landscapes, or canvases, where these installations emerge.
Circle in the Sand, Oregon
Artist Jim Denevan rakes sand to create expansive designs that the tide will promptly wash away. This swirl, drawn on Canon Beach in Oregon in 2005, is just one of dozens of very temporary installations Denevan has imprinted on the Earth. Some reach for miles and take several hours to shape.
The ephemerality of it all is his art. He has been described by friends as the maker of moments.
When he is not carving sand, soil, or ice, he is orchestrating elaborate locavore dinners, through his food-based business Outstanding in the Field, on sandbars that appear only at low tide, in secret sea coves, and on the ever-changing landscapes of ranches and farms.
Celtic Horse, Slovakia
This 330-by-330-foot (100-by-100-meter) geoglyph, or stone sculpture, was painstakingly built in Slovakia by Australian artist Andrew Rogers.
The Celtic horse, unveiled in 2008, was modelled after the drawings on a coin found under the 12th-century Spis (accent on the s) castle (pictured above).
By some accounts, the stone horse is part of the world’s largest land art project—a series of 49 geoglyphs Rogers has built in 14 countries and on all seven continents. The project, which has involved over 7,000 people, is named “Rhythms of Life.”
Rogers emphasizes natural processes and the use of old materials, such as stone, in a new way. “These structures may last for centuries, or may slowly erode into their surroundings,” he told Landscape Architecture Magazine earlier this year. “For me either outcome is acceptable, as I like to leave these works to the vagaries of time, climate, and the control and care of the local community.”
Sun Tunnels, Utah
Unlike artists such as Jim Deneven, whose work is meant to fade, Nancy Holt aims to achieve a sense of permanence. Her installation Sun Tunnels was finished in 1976 and still marks a section of desert in Box Elder County, Utah.
Sun Tunnels is the configuration of four 18-foot-long (5.5-meter-long) and 9-foot-wide (2.7-meter-wide) cement pipes that have been strategically perforated to highlight celestial constellations, as well as the sun during the summer and winter solstices.
Holt was a land art pioneer. She and her contemporaries—creators of the famous installations Double Negative in Nevada and Lightning Field in New Mexico—were drawn to the open desert spaces of the American West. Holt felt an immediate connection with the expansiveness there, according to a recent look at the history of the land art movement in High Country News, a publication that covers Western environment and social issues.
Spiral Jetty, Utah
This work of art—called Spiral Jetty—is a seminal example of Earth or land art. Built in 1970 with mud, 6,650 tons of basalt rock, and the help of contractors, the jetty is 1,500 feet (457 meters) long.
Constructed on the bottom of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the spiral makes an appearance only during prolonged periods of drought—the kind we’ve seen the last two decades.
Artist Robert Smithson was playing with the common land art concept of entropy, according to Dia Art Foundation’s Kivland. “Smithson knew that eventually this work would sucucumb to the forces of nature, if not maintained,” she explained. Dia staffers, in partnership with the state of Utah and the Great Salt Lake Institute, do occasionally clear the site of debris, conduct water-quality testing, and try to ensure that the public has safe access to the jetty.
Smithson’s portfolio helped spark debate about Earth art’s relationship to the environmental movement, which also emerged around the early 1970s. Many pieces of iconic Earth art required serious earth-moving equipment and leave what could be considered scars across the landscape. Critics question Earth artists’ perceptions of the natural world. Is a lake bed, or a desert, a sacred space to draw attention to or simply a canvas on which to make an historic mark?
“Many were very ecological; some weren’t,” said Kivland of the
original land or Earth artists.
Checkerboard Ground, London
Volunteers cut a checkerboard design into the lawn at London’s National Trust Ham House Garden—the 17th-century residence of the Duchess of Lauderdale.
The colossal effort, a project called Manicure led by artist Caroline Wright, was part performance art, part landscaping. Wright set out to mimic the pattern of the house’s grand entrance hallway as part of an exhibition that celebrated the site’s history.
The end product was 256 squares temporarily carved into the lawn. “When we finished I think everyone was a little bit euphoric… quite tired,” said Wright in a National Trust video about Manicure. “But more than anything there was a great sense of achievement between everybody.”
Star Axis, New Mexico
When you stand in the Star Tunnel—part of an elaborate sculpture and observatory in the New Mexican desert—you are perfectly aligned with the Earth’s axis and a view of Polaris, or the north star.
But since our planet’s axis slowly shifts over time, so has the view of this iconic star. To address these planetary changes, the stairs rising within the Star Tunnel line up with Polaris’s positions through the ages.
The tunnel is part of a larger sculpture called Star Axis, an 11-story concept that artist Charles Ross birthed in 1971 and started building years later.
Palm Islands, Dubai
Earth art can come in all shapes and sizes. But whether this man-made peninsula and its associated islands off the coast of Dubai count is a question debated among art scholars and artists.
Palm Jumeirah is one of three offshore resort and housing developments for the uber rich. Together, the islands may be the world’s largest land reclamation project, with Jumeirah alone requiring up to seven million tons of rock.
On whether the islands are land art: “The reason Palm Jumeirah is shaped like a palm is to brand itself. It has to be conceptual to strike a chord, but it’s completely focused on selling itself,” American artist Robert Ferry told Time Out Dubai in 2009.
That was the year Ferry, who works frequently from the United Arab Emirates, and his partner Monoian launched the Land Art Generator Initiative—which is dedicated to creating public art installations that produce clean energy.
Nazca Lines, Peru
Did the Nazca and similar prehistoric Andean cultures create the first land art? From the air, you can see ancient spiders, hummingbirds, and other creatures carved into Peruvian ground.
These centuries-old desert geoglyphs became well known in the 1920s, when commercial planes began flying routes overhead.
Archaeologists and other interested parties have described them as the remnants of old roads, irrigation schemes, astronomical calendars, even as alien landing strips, or images to be admired from primitive hot-air balloons.
More recently, many experts have settled on a religious explanation: that the lines were created as pathways for ceremonies that honored sacred resources, such as water.
Celestial Vault, the Netherlands
The Celestial Vault is a 98-by-131-foot (30-by-40-meter) wide artificial crater scooped out of sand dunes along the Netherlands’ coast.
Finished in 1996, this installation is meant to focus your attention on the sky. From the base of the crater, you can lay down and observe a slice of the heavens.
Artist James Turrell’s main medium is light. “I want to put you directly in front of light, so you see it with your own eyes, not through my eyes,” he told Smithsonian magazine years ago.
Comment: I still want to believe the Space Aliens have something to do with the crop circles and Nazca Lines. But the logical side of my brain just doesn’t allow that to compute.
Chand Baori in Abhaneri village in eastern Rajasthan, India, is one of the most overlooked landmarks in the country. It is one of the oldest stepwell in Rajasthan, and is considered to be among the biggest in the world. Chand Baori looks like anything but a well. This incredible square structure is 13 stories deep, and lined along the walls on three sides are double flight of steps. 3,500 narrow steps arranged in perfect symmetry descends to the bottom of the well 20 meters deep to a murky green puddle of water. Built during the 8th and 9th century by King Chanda of Nikumbha Dynasty, provided the surrounding areas with a dependable water source for centuries before modern water delivery systems were introduced. As the green water at the base attests, the well is no longer in use, but it makes for an interesting stop-over to an architecturally impressive structure that is over 1000 years old. There’s also a temple adjoining the well for visitors to explore.
Stepwells, also called bawdi or baori, are unique to India. These wells have steps built into the sides that can be descended to reach the water at the bottom. Stepwells are generally larger than common wells and are often of architectural significance, just like Chand Baori.
The well’s sheer endlessly appearing geometric complexity made of stairs and steps ensured that Rajput people had access to water at any time of the year, and from all sides. The reasons behind building such an elaborate step well is not fully clear. Some believe it was used as a water harvesting site. Rajasthan is a dry place, and hence, every ounce of water is precious. The large mouth of the well functioned as a rain catching funnel that contributed to the water seeping in from the porous rock at the bottom. In addition to conserving water, Chand baori also became a community gathering place for the Abhaneri locals. The townsfolk used to sit around the step well and cool off during the summer days. At the bottom the well the air is always about 5-6 degrees cooler than at the top.
The steps surround the well on three sides while the fourth side has a set of pavilions built one atop another. The side that has the pavilions have niches with beautiful sculptures including religious carvings. There is even a royal residence with rooms for the King and the Queen and a stage for the performing arts.
Chand Baori was featured in the movie The Fall and also made a small appearance in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.
The well is now a treasure managed by the Archeological Survey of India.