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The Namibian Ghost Town That’s Being Swallowed by a Desert

Darko Nanevski

Founded in the early 1900s, Kolmanskop was a very small but very rich mining town. Located in the Namibian desert, it was named after Johnny Coleman.

He was a transport driver who abandoned his ox wagon during a sand storm and left it on a narrow ascent that was just opposite from the settlement. In the Afrikaans language, the name itself means Coleman’s Hill.

An aerial view of Kolmanskop. Author: SkyPixels CC BY-SA 4.0

An aerial view of Kolmanskop. Author: SkyPixels CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, Kolmanskop is considered to be one of the most exciting and fascinating ghost towns in the world. Tourists, explorers, and photographers from all around are lining up to see what’s left of the town that’s swallowed by the sand and is gradually being taken over by the desert. And is just a matter of time until nature will reclaim it entirely.

The town sign of Kolmanskop. Author: SqueakyMarmot CC BY 2.0

The town sign of Kolmanskop. Author: SqueakyMarmot CC BY 2.0

Kolmanskop’s history begins in 1908 when railway worker Zacharias Lewala uncovered a diamond while working in the area.  He shared the discovery with his boss, August Stauch, who had experience as a diamond hunter. August got the stone tested and when he realized that the area was full of real diamonds he resigned from his job. And the diamond hunt was underway.

The main view of Kolmanskop. Author: Joachim Huber CC BY-SA 2.0

The main view of Kolmanskop. Author: Joachim Huber CC BY-SA 2.0

Together with his partner,  Sönke Nissen secured a 75-acre claim at the Kolmanskop area, and they went public about the diamond fields there. The news spread like wildfire, initiating the diamond rush. German miners were hired to work on the site, and very soon the German Government was also included in the mix. They declared the area Sperrgebiet (meaning “Prohibited Area”) which gave them an unprecedented advantage in the diamond fields.

House of the former mine manager. Author: Harald Süpfle CC BY-SA 2.5

House of the former mine manager. Author: Harald Süpfle CC BY-SA 2.5

A few years later, hundreds of Germans had set up homes in the Namibian desert. The town of Kolmanskop just kept expanding, and due to the enormous wealth the town had accumulated, the residents made Kolmaskop just like a German town. From hospitals to schools, theaters to ballrooms, power stations and sports halls, everything was built and designed in a German architectural style. The town even claimed the right to having the first X-ray station in the southern hemisphere as well as Africa’s first trolley car.

Abandoned houses in Kolmanskop. Author: Harald Süpfle CC BY 2.5

Abandoned houses in Kolmanskop. Author: Harald Süpfle CC BY 2.5

Kolmanskop was at the peak of the diamond frenzy. Over 2,000 pounds of diamonds were taken out from the sands of the Namib desert, and by the 1920s, the town had 300 German adults, 40 children, and 800 native Owambo contract workers living there.

Author: SqueakyMarmot CC BY 2.0

Author: SqueakyMarmot CC BY 2.0

However, after World War I the price of diamonds drastically dropped and the town started to decline. More precious diamonds began to emerge south of Kolmanskop, near the Orange River. That lead many inhabitants to leave their home and follow the rush down south, leaving their possessions behind. And after 40 years of Kolmanskop’s existence, by 1956 the town was completely abandoned.

After the depopulation, sand invaded the houses. Author: Damien du Toit CC BY 2.0

After the depopulation, sand invaded the houses. Author: Damien du Toit CC BY 2.0

Today, after so many years from when it was abandoned, Kolmanskop still remains a hugely popular tourist attraction. Visitors just keep lining up to buy a ticket and to enter into this astonishing piece of history. Photographers have made the location famous and several movies and documentaries have been filmed on the site. Everybody that comes here wants to walk through the interiors of the derelict buildings and houses, filled with desert sand.

Kolmanskop, Coleman’s hill, is a ghost town in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, Kolmanskop Ghost Town Buildings are abandoned. Author: SkyPixels CC BY-SA 4.0

Kolmanskop, Coleman’s hill, is a ghost town in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, Kolmanskop Ghost Town Buildings are abandoned. Author: SkyPixels CC BY-SA 4.0

The Namibian mining company De Beers is responsible for the preservation of some of the buildings, which keeps this ghost town on the world map.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHJAoR0Jw58