“Welcomm to Kolmunh-skopp,” our tour guide said. “Rrrremeberrrr,” her r’s rolled for miles. “Do not go past the fence, it is forrrrbidden.”
And so began our tour of Kolmanskop, the abandoned diamond town on the coast of Namibia. It didn’t look like there was much around – ten minutes to one direction was the Atlantic Ocean, and everything else was desert – but numerous signs warned not to stray off the road: here, you were in the Sperrgebiet: forbidden territory.
Kolmanskop in its Heydey
The first diamond was found here in 1908 by a worker named Zacharias Lewala, who recognized a rock he found to be similar to the diamonds he’d seen in the Kimberely mine in South Africa. He took it to his supervisor who then took it to be appraised, but the appraiser, knowing its true value, refused to appraise it until he was promised a share of half of the proceeds.
Kolmanskop exploded. A railway was built, water was brought in from South Africa, and a town was settled. There was a school, a shop, a bowling alley, an ice-factory, as well as a hospital with the first x-ray machine in Southern Africa.
The town was abandoned in 1954 due to the gradual decline of diamond prices and the more prosperous deposits found further south.
While some of the dwellings had been preserved for archival and touristic purposes, the rest of the town was left to the forces of nature, which eventually windswept the desert through the doors and into every nook and cranny.
The town is the only place within the Sperrgebiet that is easily accessible by tourists (and makes for some great photos – none of these have been touched up). The rest if off limits to tourists, except for controlled tours which visit some other ‘ghost towns’ in the area, and some that visit the mine in Elizabeth Bay, which is only 30 kilometers south, and is actually still operational.
The diamond shop in Kolmanskop still has three diamonds for sale (ranging from $2,000 – $7,000 CDN), but when these finally sell, the shop will close for good.