The inner walls, which glowed white with a protective layer of limewash, were made of sun-dried mud bricks. This mixture of clay, sand and straw was layered above stones that insulated them from moisture. Dr Susannah Hagan, emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Westminster and an expert on green architecture, later explained why this building technique is so ingenious: “The secret is in the walls: thick walls of earth or stone that delay the sun’s heat penetrating a building interior during the day, and radiate that heat back to the cold sky at night,” she said. “By morning, the walls have cooled enough to start the protective cycle again.”
She added: “Skilful use of available building materials [achieves] the maximum comfort with minimal means. In the desert, this means coolness without air conditioning, and warmth without heating.”
Continuing, we passed doors of simple palm trunks, some studded with brass, as well as low arches, curved alcoves, and dakkar – built-in benches – which, perfect for lounging, usually indicate a nearby mosque (there are 21 of them, though only a handful are still in use, and only on Fridays). Sometimes the arches were incised, chiselled or decorated with delicate paintings (a hand of Fatima, a star, intricate geometries), adding to the mystery and allure.
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