The United Arab Emirates seem to have a monopoly on follies on a grandiose and megalomaniacal scale when it comes to sand. Not, of course, that they use the vast sands of the desert hinterland that herd their cities on to the shores of the Persian Gulf – those sands are useless for their gigantic construction projects; rather, they dredge biblical volumes of essentially irreplaceable marine sands from the Gulf. These they convert into concrete to build, for example, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel (self-proclaimed) and the outrageous developments of Ras Island, or pour and compact into the artificial islands that comprise the monstrous absurdities of the famous “Palm” developments and “The World” – now largely suspended as a result of the economic setbacks experienced by the rich and only somewhat famous, and reportedly, like the world’s economies, sinking. Then there are beaches cooled by water pipes in the sand, and golf courses in the desert – including the famous billion dollar Tiger Woods resort that remains mostly desert.
But now we have perhaps the finest example of self-aggrandizing projects. Although completed a few years ago, this has only been picked up in the world press over the last few days – here, from the UK’s Daily Mail:
Hamad, the biggest name in the desert: Arab sheikh carves two-miles-long name in sand until it's visible from SPACE
Every child has written their names on the beach at some point.
But whereas most people's 'sandwriting' is washed away, one super-rich Arab sheikh has ensured that his doodles will last a little longer. Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, 63, has scrawled his name in sand on an island he owns with letters so big they can be seen from space. The word 'HAMAD' measures 1,000 metres high and is a staggering two miles long from the 'H' to the 'D' on the Al Futaisi island. And rather than allow the writing to be washed away by the ocean, the letters actually form waterways that absorb the encroaching tide.The ruler's name is even visible on Google's map service. Hamad dreamed up the idea and had his workmen toil for weeks to craft the enormous piece of sand graffiti. It is not known how much it cost to make.
Anything's possible: Hamad, 63, ordered workers to write his giant name in the sand. However, the sheikh boasts a personal fortune second only to the Saudi king's. Hamad, also known as the 'Rainbow Sheikh', is a member of the Abu Dhabi Ruling Family. He is understood to have some 200 cars including seven Mercedes 500 SELs painted in different colours of the rainbow which he stores in a giant pyramid. The Arab sheikh has a taste for doing things on a large scale. He built the world's largest truck - eight times the size of the Dodge Power Wagon, with four bedrooms inside the cabin. Hamad constructed a motor home in the shape of a giant globe which is exactly 1 millionth the size of the actual earth.
Alongside his lavish displays of wealth he has become a well-known philanthropist in medicine and supplied a complete kidney stone operating theatre to a public hospital in Morocco where he continues to fund its staff.
As the images at the head of this post illustrate (assuming that Google Earth’s historical imagery dates are roughly correct), Hamad having “his workmen toil for weeks” is something of an understatement; perhaps not surprisingly, their toil seems to have lasted a couple of years.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".