Namibia's Magic Mountain - Brandberg

Photo by Nicole Grünert

Namibia's Magic Mountain - Brandberg

24 May 2021 | Tourism

By Nicole Grünert

The Brandberg is one of the richest rock painting sites in Southern Africa and includes the world-renowned painting known as “White Lady”. But the huge massif is also impressive in terms of its geological features. At 2573 metres, the Königstein peak is the highest elevation in the country. The Brandberg Complex has a diameter of more than 20 kilometres and covers a surface area of about 450 kilometres².
Unlike the Erongo Mountains, which consist of both volcanic and intrusive rocks, the Brandberg is mainly made up of various types of granite. Its red granite is the most common rock type that glows like fire, especially at dawn and dusk. Hence the name Brandberg or “Daures”, the latter being a word in the venacular of the local Damara people meaning “burnt mountain”.
The formation of the Brandberg took place some 130 million years ago. As a precursor to the break-up of Gondwana, huge amounts of granitic magma penetrated out of the depths of the earth into overlying rock formations. The rising granite intrusions solidified at least two kilometres below surface and only during subsequent millions of years, were exposed by continuous erosion thus forming what we today know as the Brandberg.

A totally different rock type can be found at the car park at the Tsisab Gorge. The massive dolerite ridge, which was formed during the same magmatic events, shows a black metallic shiny coating. This is desert-varnish, a typical phenomenon of arid areas. Moisture from rain or fog penetrates into the outer layer of the rocks and dissolves iron and manganese compounds. Due to the radiation of the sun, the water evaporates, causing the altered iron and manganese minerals to precipitate. These react with the oxygen in the air and form black oxides of iron and manganese, which coat the rock surface like a varnish. Research has shown that most desert varnish is intensified by bacteria, which can mobilise iron and manganese in their metabolism. However these bacteria are only active during the wet season, while they are hibernating during long periods of drought. Desert varnish is however visible on many other types of rock in Namibia.
When you stand at the base of this imposing mountain, remember that the granitic melts rose out of the inner depth of the earth and solidified several kilometres deep. In the geologically relatively short period of about 130 million years since, erosion was effective to the extent that several kilometres of overlying rocks above and around the massif have been eroded, so that the Brandberg today rises nearly two kilometres above the surrounding planes! Just imagine this huge amount of sediment material, which was gradually removed and finally ended up as fine debri on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

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