Published on Monday 22nd, Oct 2018

Blue Desert, Sinai, Egypt, Verame, art, installation

It was on the 9th day of our hiking pilgrimage through the Sinai Peninsula, finally entering the territory of the Jebalaya tribe and, hence, approaching Mt. Moses and the St. Catherine Monastery, when we crossed the Blue Desert. We were looking forward to exploring this artistic installation which, although man-made, complements the natural wonders of the White and the Black Deserts that also expand in Egypt. The experience though did not meet our expectations.

The Blue Desert was created in 1980 by the Belgian artist Jean Verame who, inspired by the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Agreement in 1989 after years of combat and hostilities, chose an area in the South Sinai desert region that had hosted several battles and installed an original Peace Monument: numerous boulders from the mountains painted in bright blue – the colour of Peace. For this project, he used ten tons of paint, the raw material being a United Nations donation.  

Sinai, Egypt, Verame, art, installation, peace
Parts of the Blue Desert project at the background, barely visible


It took us a while to detect the first brushes of blue against the barren landscape. The cerulean effect was not vivid as we were led to believe, and the chrome-shaded background dominated our vision. As we approached, we reached the first boulders, their paint faded away, giving a feeling even more desolate than the desert surroundings. Almost forty years after the completion of the project, the Blue of Peace was neither blue nor peaceful anymore – resembling so much the fragile calmness that characterises the region and the threat of devastation that hovers, like a vulture, above the Middle East.

Blue desert, Sinai, Egypt, Verame, Peace, art, project, installation

We stood in the centre of the wadi that was hosting the monument and looked around. Our eyes could now discern the various stones that were part of the installation: some scattered along the passage, others on the slopes of the mountains; some huge, piled in formations, others isolated, emanating a lonesome aura. We spent quite some time contemplating the presence of a potential design in the choice of rocks – maybe a message that could be seen from above, similar to the magic of the Nazca lines. If there was indeed a pattern, it was not evident to us.

Nasser, our Bedouin guide, was keen to cross this passage quickly and reach his favourite rock terrace on the mountain where we would stop for lunch and the obligatory mid-day siesta. We actually hastened through the path at a speed that was much faster than our normal one. Maybe this area was not considered by the locals secure enough; or, perhaps, given our late start on that specific morning, we were behind schedule. In general, though, it was clear that the famous project was not esteemed by him, this echoing either his individual preferences or the overall reaction of his tribe. We barely managed to take a few photos before hiking up the slope, leaving the Blue Desert forever behind.

The ruthlessness of time and, maybe, the futility inherent in humanity’s projects were the prevailing sentiments. The intensity of the desert’s energy overshadowed the feeble human presence, reminding us of our proper position in the vastness of the universe. Ultimately, the project did not seem to radiate hope and peace – what appeared to be the initial objectives. However, it did provoke lengthy discussions, and, after all, this exchange of ideas may be the most precious gift any artistic project can offer.

Blue Desert, Egypt, Sinai, art, peace, Verame, installation

Photo credits: © Konstantina Sakellariou

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