Through a sea of vaults on a ship of a desert

Aldea nubiaLong-time work colleagues celebrated 25 years of Grupo Sofonias with a private trip to Egypt. Not only did the ancient wonders capture their attention, but also the living history revealed in Nubian architecture. They visited a Nubian village near Aswan. The technique of building vaults and domes of sun-dried clay came from Nubia and has been used since ages. To look out over the village from atop a camel gave an especially strong impact of the architectural rhythm, a virtual sea of vaults and domes.

by Kathryn Pozak

A lifelong dream to visit the wonders of Egypt became reality over Christmas of 2004, not only for myself, but for my long-time work colleagues. We decided to celebrate 25 years of Grupo Sofonias with a private trip to experience more than four thousand years of history expressed through the architectural monuments of the pharaohs. Not only did the ancient wonders capture our attention, but also the living history revealed in Nubian architecture.

Aldea nubia

We had all become “Hassan Fathy” fans after reading “Architecture for the Poor” at the beginning of our Sofonias adventure and, of course, we wanted to see the famous Nubian vaults and domes. We asked our guide where we could see such buildings and he took us on a visit to a Nubian village that we reached by boat from Aswan.

Mohamed

Mohamed Nasr Eldin is not only a German speaking guide, he is a historian with a Master degree. He was as excited as we were, as we were his first visitors to look at a Nubian village from an architectonic point of view. Nubian technique is alive today among the Nubian people. Nubia is located in today's southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The modern inhabitants of southern Egypt and Sudan still refer to themselves as Nubians. They speak the Nubian language as well as Arabic.

Nubia is the homeland of Africa's earliest black culture with a history which can be traced from 3100 BC onward through Nubian monuments and artifacts, as well as written records from Egypt and Rome.
 

Aldea nubia

The technique of building vaults and domes of sun-dried clay came from Nubia, hence the name Nubian. It has been used since ages, as is testified the vaults of the granaries of the Ramasseum at Gourna, Egypt, which was built during the XIXthDynasty, around 1300 BC . Mohamed also explained that the wife of the president of Egypt, Frau Mubarak, ihas taken great interest in keeping traditional architectural design alive and has fostered projects that use the old styles but with modern materials. Thus, in the Sinai one encounters Beduoin architecture and at Aswan the Nubian style is reflected in many public buildings. However, our interest was good old fashioned clay vaults and domes. We were not disappointed! As Isabel Torres and I rode through the village mounted on camels, Martin Melendez and Kurt Rhyner explored on foot, cameras clicking along the way.

To look out over the village from atop a camel gave an especially strong impact of the architectural rhythm, a virtual sea of vaults and domes. We were able to draw attention to buildings that we wanted Martin and Kurt to photograph. We were also able to see the structural design from within some of the houses. According to Martin, the buildings were well built and it was clear that the art had not been lost at the popular level. On the long bus trip back from Abul Simbal Kurt requested the driver to stop the bus at a modern construction site he had seen earlier so that he could photograph clay vaults and domes in the construction. The Nubian technique is indeed alive today among the people!

Aldea nubia

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