From the greystone of Montreal to the limestone of Jerusalem, every city has its own iconic identity read through the city’s urban fabric. Scanning the architecture of the 1,110-year-old German town of Nördlingen, the timber frame homes, red pitched roofs, and winding streets appear identical in almost every regard to many quaint medieval communities populating the European countryside.
While the town’s appearance in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory may seem like its most notable claim, there is something entirely unique about the architecture of this south German locale. Nördlingen is literally made of diamonds—millions of microscopic diamonds to be exact—with the town itself constructed within an ancient impact crater.
The 25 kilometer-wide Reis crater in which the town sits was formed approximately 15 million years ago after an asteroid collided with this region of Bavaria. In addition to leaving the indentation where the town was built, molten rock was tossed into the air from the immense pressure of the impact causing the existing rock to form diamonds. This collision also resulted in the creation of a coarse-grained rock containing crystal, glass, and diamond known as suevite.
Around 900 A.D., the first settlements began in the area though it was not until the Middle Ages that the fortified walls surrounding the town were constructed. Gathering the nearest available material, masons quarried the local suevite. For centuries, the citizens of Nördlingen had believed the depression housing the town to be a volcanic crater unaware of the gemstones embedded in very fabric of their community.
While unknowingly constructed inside the crater, geologist Eugene Shoemaker finally confirmed the site was the result of an asteroid in the 1960s and by the 1970s, scientists had analyzed the surrounding rocks to discover that they held more that 72,000 tons of diamond. The Church of St. Georgs, the tallest structure in the town, is constructed entirely of suevite and contains approximately 5,000 carats of diamond. However, the largest gemstones are 0.3 mm and can only be observed with a microscope. Yet the diamond-clad stone structures are said to catch the sunlight, rendering the buildings in a soft glimmer.
Today, the sleepy Bavarian town of over 19,000 people houses the Reis Crater Museum, Bavarian Railway Museum, and guided tours of its sparkling architecture. The city’s iconic suevite fabric continues to draw tourists from all over the world as well as researchers from NASA and the European Space Agency.
News via: Interesting Engineering.