Visiting the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran can be a somber and, for lack of a better word, religious experience, yet the interior of the central temple looks as though a disco ball exploded, covering nearly every surface with glittering shards of glass and mirror.
The site began as a funereal monument with a mythic past.
As the story goes, around 900 CE a wanderer caught site of a mysterious light shining off in the distance and went to investigate. He found a luminous grave that, when excavated, was found to hold the armored corpse of an important Muslim figure.
Thus the site became a popular pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims, and a domed tomb structure was created to house the grave.
The site was improved and expanded over the centuries with religious schools and other facilities being added to the complex.
In the 14th century the site’s signature mirrorball decoration was ordered at the behest of Queen Tash Khātūn who wanted the mosque intensify any light a thousand times over, the name “Shah Cheragh” roughly translating to “King of the Light” in Persian.
Despite being damaged by human hands and natural disasters over the centuries, the mosque has been maintained and repaired and shines brightly even today.
The increasingly sprawling site is still an extremely important pilgrimage location for Shia Muslims, however visitors of any faith are likely to marvel at the sheer beauty of this glassy wonder.
Oum al-Maa Lake, Ubari Sand Sea. Photo credit: unknown
The Ubari Sand Sea is a vast area of towering sand dunes in the Fezzan region of south-western Libya.
But 200,000 years ago, this was a wet and fertile region with plenty of rainfall and flowing rivers.
These rivers fed a vast lake, the size of Czech Republic, in the Fezzan basin called Lake Megafezzan. During humid periods the lake reached a maximum size of 120,000 square kilometers.
Oum al-Maa Lake. Photo credit: George Steinmetz
Climate change caused the region, a part of Sahara, to gradually dry up and between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, the lake evaporated away into thin air. Traces of this great lake still exist today in the form of micro lakes scattered among the towering dunes like wet patches in the desert.
Currently there are about 20 lakes in the Ubari Sand Sea – beautiful palm-fringed oases that appear like anomalies in the harsh desert environment.
The Sahara Desert is the last place you’d expect to find snow.
It is, after all, one of the driest and hottest regions of the world with an average temperature of 30C.
But in a surreal turn of events to mark the end of an already surreal year, the small desert town of Ain Sefra in Algeria woke up yesterday to find that the red sand dunes had unexpectedly turned white.
The bizarre phenomenon was caught on camera by amateur photographer Karim Bouchetata.
“Everyone was stunned to see snow falling in the dessert,” he said. “It is such a rare occurrence.
It looked amazing as the snow settled on the sand and made a great set of photos.
The snow stayed for about a day and has now melted away.” This is only the second time in living memory that snow has fallen on the Sahara.
The first time was in February 1979, also in Algeria.