One evening in 1908, a Namibian railway worker named Zacherias Lewala was shovelling railroad tracks clear of creeping sand dunes when he saw some stones shining in the low light. Lewala’s German employer identified them for what they were: diamonds.
Soon, hordes of prospectors descended on the area. By 1912, a town had sprung up, producing a million carats a year, or 11.7 percent of the world’s total diamond production.
Wealthy Kolmanskop became a well of luxury in the barren desert. There was a butcher, a baker, a post office, and an ice factory; fresh water was brought by rail.
Today, as many as 35,000 tourists visit the site every year, bringing money to the nearby coastal town of Lüderitz.