Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Is this an alien landing site, ancient monument, or something else?

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
In 1997, D.A.ST. Arteam created Desert Breath, a one-million-square-foot art installation in the expanse of desert near the Red Sea in Egypt. Though since weathered, the artwork still remains today. In 1997, D.A.ST. Arteam created Desert Breath, a one-million-square-foot art installation in the expanse of desert near the Red Sea in Egypt. Though since weathered, the artwork still remains today.
HIDE CAPTION
Desert Breath
Desert Breath
Desert Breath
Desert Breath
Desert Breath
Desert Breath
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Google Earth users delved into a range of theories to explain giant spiral in Egypt
  • The shape is actually a 17-year old art installation by D.A.ST. Arteam
  • The artwork is already showing signs of deterioration, and may not last another 50 years

Every week, Inside Africa takes its viewers on a journey across Africa, exploring the true diversity and depth of different cultures, countries and regions. Follow host Errol Barnett on Twitter and Facebook.

(CNN) -- Often, artists create work with a view to immortality; if they can't live on, perhaps their creations can. Danae Stratou, on the other hand, knows one of her seminal pieces has a death sentence.

Crop circles get mowed down
Africa's most impressive designs

In 1997, she joined with industrial designer Alexandra Stratou and architect Stella Constantinides to create a breathtaking spiral made up of alternating conical dips and protrusions in the Sahara Desert, near the Egyptian town of El Gouna just off the Red Sea. The project, known as Desert Breath, spreads over one million square feet of sand.

While the installation is still visible from the sky, there are marked signs of weathering. A body of water that once acted as the work's center point has since evaporated. The earthen mounds have flattened over time, and cracks can be seen on the overall surface of the piece. For the artists (known collectively as D.A.ST. Arteam), Desert Breath's impending demise is the whole point.

"Through its slow disintegration, it's become an instrument to measure the passage of time," says Stratou. And as time has gone on, she adds, she finds she enjoys the piece more and more.

"The more time passes, the more it becomes fragile, but it also has developed a more organic relationship with the site. When it was just made, you could feel the connection to the shape, but now, it looks like it wasn't made by human beings at all, and this is something we like a lot."

Read: Eerie ruins of mysterious stone kingdom

Through its slow disintegration, it's become an instrument to measure the passage of time
Danae Stratou, D.A.ST. Arteam

In fact, to many users of Google Earth, the site doesn't look man made. Before knowing what it was, several commenters speculated it was anything from the imprint of an alien spaceship to the gateway to a parallel universe. A recent discussion on the Google Earth forum led to the work's rediscovery, almost 17 years to the day after it was first built.

"It's surprising that so many years later it would get all this attention, but on the other hand, sometimes things find their own moment," Stratou speculates.

"Perhaps people can appreciate this kind of thing more now than they could back then, when they were caught up in making money or being famous. Today, we're in a financial crisis, and perhaps Desert Breath reflects a new humility people feel, or a new need to connect to nature."

D.A.ST. Arteam spent nine months constructing the work, with the help of a local construction crew who donated the tools and manpower to build the site.

Danae Stratou (center) with the other members of D.A.S.T. Arteam on the Desert Breath site in 1997
Danae Stratou (center) with the other members of D.A.S.T. Arteam on the Desert Breath site in 1997

"I was totally cut off from Western civilization -- though I found that a positive thing. It was a huge change in the life I had led up until then. I woke up at four every morning and worked on the site through to sunset. There weren't mobile phones back then, so I couldn't even speak to my family in Greece," she recalls.

There were times when it seemed the shelf life for the installation would be cut short. In the early stages of construction, the town of El Gouna experienced the worst floods it had seen in 60 years. Five years after it was completed, the government decided to build a new road that cut through the site.

"We had to go back and negotiate with the governor, who nicely agreed to take the road back a few meters. For me, it just showed that the biggest danger is people. I think people are more likely to destroy it than nature itself."

Read: 'Star Wars' film set being swallowed by the Sahara

Read: A bird's eye view of the African Savannah

Read: Dark history of "slave trade ghost town"

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:37 AM EDT, Fri June 27, 2014
lake retba, senegal
On the edge of Senegal's Cap Vert peninsula, a lush coastal region, lies Lake Retba ... a coral pink lake.
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Meet the Rolling Rockets, the skate soccer team made up of polio survivors.
updated 6:09 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Italian photographer Marco Casino spent a month capturing 'staff riders', or train surfers, in Katlehong, a South African township about 20 miles southeast of Johannesburg.
A group of South African youths have taken up the deadly sport of train surfing. For them, it's a shot at redemption.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the oldest people on Earth. Today, they battle for land, and continued survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 6:59 AM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
updated 6:17 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Unhappy with Liberia's image on the Internet, a photographer decided to present his own view, using GIFs.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 6:30 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Vintage clothes are proving a hit with fashionistas across Africa, as retro goes back to the future.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT