Saturday Scenes

Thu 15 September 2011

The Forbidden City

Filed under: #satscene —— Sylvia @ 21:20

On the 10th of September 1930, French explorer Michel Vieuchange set off to discover the forbidden city of Smara, in the middle of the Sahara of North Africa. He wasn’t sure where Smara was, exactly, nor did he know how he was going to get there. He didn’t speak Arabic nor Berber, the languages of the nomads. The journey was dangerous and other French nationals in the desert had been held as hostages or even killed. His brother, Jean Vieuchange, stayed behind, ready to rescue Michel if the journey went wrong. He disguised himself as a Berber woman and attempted to make his way into the interior but the trip failed.

This satellite view of Smara on Google Maps is modern but as you zoom out, the scale of the journey that Michel had planned is amazing.

Geoff Wisner :: Book Reviews :: Smara, The Forbidden City

Only about two weeks later, Vieuchange tried again. This time he dressed as an Arab man, but when strangers appeared his companions stuffed him into a pannier on the side of a camel until it was safe to come out. Vieuchange and his companions reached the city of Smara, long deserted and used only as temporary lodging by the nomadic tribes, but Vieuchange had only three hours to look around, measuring and photographing as quickly as possible, before the arrival of a large band of strangers forced him to leave. “I have seen your two kasbahs and your ruined mosque,” he wrote after his departure. “I have seen you completely, seated on your plinth, face to the desert, deserted in the silence, under the glowing sun. I have seen your palms, to-day half withered.”

Michel reached Smara but he fell ill with dysentery on his return journey. Jean had him evacuuated by aircraft to a local hospital but Michel died on the 30th of September. Jean went through Michel’s seven personal notebooks and two hundred photographs and produced Smara: The Forbidden City, documenting his brother’s travels. Michel wrote, “I put all this down because, here, I intend to enter everything, absolutely sincerely. My sincerity in the book will not be the same.” But it is the sincerity and honesty of his notebooks that make Smara: The Forbidden City a fascinating read.

And on the 10th of September in 2011, the following people posted sincere and honest scenes from their Saturday (hopefully without any danger!):

And here are our courageous explorers:

Why don’t you join us?

Simply take a photograph on Saturday and tweet it as a mention to @SatScenes with your location. It’s easy and fun.

PS: If you are interested in buying Smara: The Forbidden City, you could always do so via my affiliate link and support the cause. Er, the cause being my book-buying habit, but still: Smara, the Forbidden City on and Smara: Forbidden City on

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