The Empty Quarter (Rub al-Khali; ‘the Abode of Silence’), conjures up all that was romantic and forbidden about Arabia. European adventurers all dreamt of conquering it, while the Bedu, who called it simply the ‘Sands’, looked upon it as a formidable world of necessity, less enamoured with the beauty of a sand dune than concerned about the number of days’ travel to the next well.
The largest area covered by sand on the planet, the Empty Quarter encompasses 655, 000 sq km, an area larger than France or Texas. The breathtakingly sculpted sand dunes, for which the Empty Quarter is famous, can rise over 250m and form vast chains of longitudinal dune ridges, stretching over hundreds of kilometres, as well as individual barchan dunes. Shifted by the wind, sand dunes can move at a rate of up to 30m per year.