The Zerzura Club
Well, life has been busy, but I've managed to get back on track and return to do some blogging. I wrote the following piece as a part of another article. I found myself going down another path with the original article, but this bit kept nagging at my imagination. It is the story of the Zerzura Club, a band of explorers in the 1930s that were hunting the legendary lost city of Zerzura. So, without further ado, here's the story.
The Zerzura Club
|The Sahara Desert, ca. 1920|
Over the next several decades the report permeated European scientific circles and by the 1870s a Zerzura craze gripped their imagination. The first serious expeditions to find Zerzura took place in the early 1900s and 1910s from the central Egyptian town of Dakhla. The explorers travelled west, east, and south combing the desert for the oasis, but found nothing. Still, a great deal of the Sahara had been mapped.
|Ahmed Mohamed Hassanein|
More information on Hassanein's expedition can be found here ...
During this time technological advances in desert travelling were being made, especially in transportation. Ralph Bagnold and his team of British explorers had pioneered the use of automobiles in the desert and developed dune-crossing techniques to help improve mobility. He also developed the sun dial compass, which was vital as normal compasses in the desert were easily led astray by the many hidden iron deposits of the Sahara. Bagnold was also the first to include aircraft in his expedition for aerial surveys. His advances and techniques opened up the possibility to penetrate deeper into the mysterious desert than ever before.
|Ralph Bagnold, 1929|
In 1932 Pat Clayton and Count László Almásy joined an expedition, which made an aerial discovery of two large green valleys near Jebel Uweinat. Almásy was convinced that these valleys, known as Glif Kebir, were the location of Zerzura and he remained loyal to his theory and returned to the area in 1933 to carry out more research. Although he found nothing except for some ancient petroglyphs, Almásy believed that Glif Kebir was the most probable location for the mythical city.
Finally, the last region left blank of the map was the Great Sand Sea between the Kufra and the Siwa Oases (Ahmed Mohamed Hassanein had side-stepped the sand sea on his expedition). This last mapping expedition was undertaken by Patrick Clayton in early 1933.
Smaller expeditions into the Sahara continued under the direction of Zerzura Club until the Second World War, when its members took what they had learned of the Sahara and offered it to king and country.
Zerzura was never found, but Bagnold put it best when he said,
|Almásy's Zerzura, 1932|
Or for the less scientifically minded it may be still more vague; an excuse for the childish craving so many grown-ups harbour secretly to break away from civilisation, to face the elements at close quarters as did our savages, ancestor, returning temporarily to their life of primitive simplicity and physical vigour; being short of water, to be obliged to go unwashed; having no kit to live in rags, and sleep in the open without a bed.
Zerzura is sought in many places, in the desert, at the Poles, in the still unsurveyed mountain regions of Asia. There is no fear that the quest will end, even though the blank spaces on the map get smaller and smaller. For Zerzura can never be identified. Many discoveries will be made in the course of the search, discoveries which will make the seekers very happy, but none will surely be Zerzura. A new water-hole may still be found, a Stone Age burial-ground or a reef of gold, but it will not be Zerzura. The answer to the riddle of the dunes may be discovered, but it will not tell us where Zerzura lies.
As long as any part of the world remains uninhabited, Zerzura will be there, still to be discovered. As time goes on it will become smaller, more delicate and specialised, but it will be there. Only when all difficulties of travel have been surmounted, when men can wander at will for indefinite periods over tracts of land on which life cannot normally exist, will Zerzura begin to decay.
|Waw an Namus|
The pick is withdrawn. The time has come at last when the experts can close their notebooks, for there is nothing else unfound. We see Zerzura crumbling rapidly into dust. Little birds rise from within and fly away. A cloud moving across the sun makes the world a dull and colourless place.
Ralph A. Bagnold - 1935, Libyan Sands - Travel in a Dead World