m’zab valley from above

September 5, 2008

I’m sure almost all of you must have seen one of Yann Arthus Bertrand‘s aerial photos before. Even so, every time I see a new photo, like this one of the M’Zab valley in Algeria, my eyes are drawn to the fine details, trying to decipher what it is exactly I am looking at from this unfamiliar angle.

Bertrand has published several books of his photos, but an extensive catalogue of the images is also available online if you fancy a trip around the world from your desk.

His text tells the story of the photo above.

‘Some 370 miles (600 km) south of Algiers, beyond the peaks of the Saharan Atlas Mountains, are towns of pink plaster, gentle light, and narrow covered lanes, extending along the M’Zab wadi, which winds through the first plateaus of the Great Western Erg. The climate here is rough, hot, and windy, and rain is extremely rare. But the towns built in the 11th century by the Mozabites are miracles of their kind which have never ceased to amaze such great architects as Le Corbusier, Ravereau, and Frank Lloyd Wright. With extraordinary uniformity, these towns in the M’Zab wadi are all built high up in order to avoid the rare but violent floods, and they all follow the same basic plan: the houses stretch from the mosque at the top of the town, down toward the lower levels where the city ramparts are, while palm groves provide fruit, vegetables and shade during periods of great heat. Each house is laid out around a main room whose ceiling is pierced by a large square opening, and this is the central patio where the family congregates. A flight of steps leads to the terrace, often artificially constructed and sometimes ringed with small rooms where people sleep in the winter.’

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