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Most interesting attractions in Africa

Victoria Falls in June
Victoria Falls in June, Zambia and Zimbabwe / Steve Jurvetson, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Many decades have passed since the map of Africa got rid of the white spots of "terra incognita". But, surprisingly, majority of the countless wonders and attractions of Africa remain unknown even to interested people.

Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt
Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt / David Holt London, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Africa has many outstanding wonders and some of the most surprising ones are:

  • Heritage of ancient Egyptian civilization and neighboring civilizations. Oldest extant structures were made by ancient Egyptians - and what buildings these are! Millenia passed until people managed to repeat the ambitions and skills of the builders of Great Pyramids, Karnak Temples, Great Sphinx and many other structures.
  • Tropical ecosystems. Africa is the second largest continent and most of it is located in tropics. Here are found some of the most interesting ecosystems in the world - such as Vallée de Mai in Seychelles with the fantastic coco de mer palms or the pristine "Garden of Eden" - Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo.
  • Vernacular architecture in Sahel. This is lesser known wonder: diverse cultures in this vast region adjusted to the lack of wood and construction stones and used clay, dirt and straw to create amazing buildings. As a result have been created surprising buildings, e.g. Great Mosque of Djenné (Mali) or whole villages (Tiébélé in Burkina Faso) and towns (Oualata in Mauritania).
  • Man made heritage of Maghreb. North of Africa has distinct art and architecture which has developed on the basis of the ancient cultures of Garamantes, Numidians, Romans and later Islamic culture, as well as other influences. Here are located some of most charming historical cities in the world (such as Fes el Bali in Morocco) and impressive structures (Mosque of Uqba in Tunis).
  • Prehistoric rock art. In the central part of Sahara have been preserved millions of artworks created by prehistoric and ancient cultures. "Open air art galleries" in Tassili N'Ajjer belong to highest achievements of the known prehistoric art next to the amazing Australian rock art and cave art in Western Europe.

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Africa.

Natural landmarks

Impact craters, meteorites

Amguid crater, Algeria
Amguid crater, Algeria / Bertrand Devouard and Florence Devouard, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Amguid crater - Algeria, Tamanghasset. Very well pronounced impact crater, less than 100,000 years old. Diameter – 500 - 530 m, 65 m deep.
  • Hoba meteorite – Namibia, Otjozondjupa. The largest known single-piece meteorite and the largest known natural piece of iron on Earth. The stone fell some 80,000 years ago, it weighs more than 60 tons and is 2.7 by 2.7 m long.

Rock formations

Hand of Fatima, Mali
Hand of Fatima, Mali / Timm Guenther, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Aloba Arch - Chad, Ennedi. One of the most impressive natural arches of the world. Arch is 77 m wide and some 120 m tall.
  • Amphitheatre in Drakensberg - South Africa, KwaZulu Natal. One of the most impressive cliff faces on Earth. This enormous cliff is over 5 kilometres long and 1,220 metres high along its entire length, the highest part of the cliff is 1,830 metres high. 948 metres high Tugela Falls fall over Amphitheatre.
  • Fish River Canyon - Namibia, Karas. Second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon (United States). This giant canyon is some 160 km long, up to 27 km wide, up to 550 m deep.
  • Hand of Fatima - Mali, Mopti. One of most impressive rock formations in the world - group of vertical cliffs up to 600 m high and resembling a giant hands rising from the desert. Sacred place to locals.

Volcanoes

Nyiragongo lava lake, Congo DR
Nyiragongo lava lake, Congo DR / Rob Lavinsky, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Erta Ale Volcano - Ethiopia, Afar. One of the most active volcanos in the world, with constant lava lake (sometimes two lakes) in the crater, known since 1906. None of the other known lava lakes in the world have such a long lifetime.
  • Mount Nyiragongo - Democratic Republic of Congo, Nord-Kivu. One of the few volcanos in the world with nearly permanent lava lake in it, often the largest lava lake in the world. Height of the mountain - 3,470 m. Depth of lava lake has reached up to 600 m. Volcano is very active, with frequent eruptions. Eruptions produce very fluid lava of rare type. Speed of lava flows here can reach 100 km/h and the volcano is very steep. When the walls of volcano are fractured, lava flows can become very dangerous, as happened in January 1977 and January 2002.

Other geothermal features

  • Dallol salt springs and geysers - Ethiopia, Afar. One of the visually most outstanding places on Earth, the hot springs have a high salt concentration, which has shaped terrraces and other formations of very bright, unusual colors. Among the hot springs there is also salt geyser - possibly the only one in the world.
  • Loburu Geysers and Hot Springs, Lake Bogoria (Loburu Geysers) - Kenya, Rift Valley Province. A group (some 18) of active geysers on the western bank of beautiful Lake Bogoria.
Bras de Caverne Falls in Trou de Fer, Réunion
View into Trou de Fer from above, Réunion. The cascade of Bras de Caverne in the upper middle part is 300 m tall / jennifer_greatoutdoors, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Waterfalls

  • Trou de Fer canyon and waterfalls - Réunion. Several cascades of streams in Trou de Fer - one of most magnificent slot canyons in the world. Total height of Bras de Caverne Falls is 725 m, first step is 210 m high (mostly dry), next - 180 m high and third - 300 m, several smaller steps in between. There are six more very tall waterfalls in the canyon. Lower Bras Mazerin fall is 270 m tall.
  • Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya) - Southern Province in Zambia and Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. World's largest waterfall, 1,708 metres wide and 108 metres high. One of the most impressive natural sights in world.

Ecosystems

Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava
Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava, Madagascar / Olivier Lejade, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Aldabra - Seychelles, Aldabra atoll. Second largest coral atoll by land area in the world, with unique ecosystem. Contains world's largest population of giant tortoises - 100,000 endemic Aldabra Giant Tortoises (Dipsochelys dussumieri), which dominate the ecosystem. Numerous other endemic species of animals and plants, including the flightless Aldabra rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus).
  • Avenue of the Baobabs - Madagascar, Menabe, some 15 km north from Morondava. Beautiful alignment of some 100 Madagascaran baobabs Adansonia grandidieri. Stout, majestic, up to 30 metres high baobabs are located around a dirt road, creating a unique landscape. Landscape is not natural - initially the roughly 800 years old trees were growing in a dense forest which has been cleared away.
  • Dendrosenecio woodlands on Mt. Kilimanjaro - Tanzania, Kilimanjaro. Just below the snow line of Mt. Kilimanjaro there begin stands of highly unusual, up to 10 metres high plants, endemic to Mt. Kilimanjaro - two species of Dendrosenecio.
  • Fairy rings in Hartmann's Valley and Fairy rings in Giribes Plains - Namibia, Kunene, Kaokoland. Largest of the mysterious fairy rings of Namib desert. Slightly concave, round areas without any vegetation, around the rim of these fairy rings is a ring taller plants. In spite of several investigations no explanation for this phenomenon has been found, although one likely explanation is activity of termites.
  • Goualougo Triangle - Republic of the Congo, Sanga. Large tract of pristine lowland rainforest, dubbed "The Last Eden" or "The Last Place on Earth" due to its virgin wildlife. Local chimpanzes, as well as other animals have never met humans - it seems that humans have never lived here.
    Mysterious Lake Tele, Republic of the Congo
    Mysterious Lake Tele, Republic of the Congo / Photo courtesy of Tom Klaytor, CC BY 2.0
  • Lake Tele - Republic of the Congo, Likuala. Round freshwater deep in swampland and rainforest, possible impact crater. According to local stories in this lake and surrounding area lives mokèlé-mbèmbé - purported giant reptile. This remote area is very rich with rare species of plants and animals including a population of more than 120 thousand gorillas.
  • Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania, Arusha. Largest volcanic caldera in the world, up to 610 m deep and 260 km² large. Area of exceptional concentration of wild animals, with 25,000 large animals living in the crater.
  • Tsingy de Ankarana - Madagascra, Diana. Spectacular tsingy - a karst formation, where a layer of middle Jurassic limestone is dissolved by water, leaving a "forest" of limestone blades. Separate blades might be up to 20 m high. The gorges and canyons dissecting the Ankarana are up to 140 m deep. In many larger gorges and canyons exist patches of primeval tropical forest with numerous endemic species of plants and animals. Some of these forests are available only through caves - total length of explored caves in the region exceeds 100 km. Up to 6 m long Nile crocodiles live in the caves of Ankarana (mostly in River Styx - 4 km long subterranean passage passable only by a boat). This is one of the few places where crocodiles live in Madagascar (it is seen also in Belomotse Forest and some other places) and a unique case where crocodiles live in caves. Numerous fossils of the extinct Madagascaran fauna are found here.
  • Vallée de Mai - Seychelles, Praslin. Relict of Gondwana, natural palm forest with the endemic coco de mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica) grove and five other endemic palms. Coco de mer grows up to 34 m tall and has the largest seeds in plant kingdom - up to 42 kg heavy nuts. Many other endemic species of plants and animals, numerous vanilla orchids.

Early human finds

  • Middle Awash Valley - Ethiopia, Afar. Unique find of Middle Pliocene fossils (Bouri Formation), including some of the oldest known hominids in the world - at least seven species. Here were found remnants of Lucy - Australopithecus afarensis, 3,2 million years old hominid and Ardi - 4,4 million years old hominid Ardipithecus ramidus. Here have been found numerous other valuable fossils, including fossils of extinct elephantoids.
  • Oldupai Gorge (Olduvai Gorge) - Tanzania, Arusha. World's most important source of information about the development of early humans. Homo habilis lived here some 1.9 million years ago, Homo erectus - 1.2 million years ago, Homo sapiens - 17,000 years ago. Here have been discovered some of the oldest stone tools in the world, signs of hunting.
Eerie chimneys at Lake Abbe, Djibouti
Eerie chimneys at Lake Abbe, Djibouti / Rolf Cosar, , CC BY 3.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Lake Nyos - Cameroon, Northwest. Crater lake with a pocket of magma, which leaks carbon dioxide in the lake water from below. As a result lake sediments become oversaturated with carbon dioxide. From time to time lake explodes, emitting huge amount of carbon dioxide. Last eruption in 1986 killed 1,700 people.
  • Limestone chimneys of Lake Abbe - Djibouti, Dikhil. Thousands of limestone chimneys, which are arranged in rows and rise up to 50 m tall. These chimneys are formed by vents of volcanic steam and create unusual landscape.
  • Oclo Mines - Gabon, Haut-Ogooué. The only known site on Earth, where natural nuclear fission has taken place approximately 1.7 billion years ago in some 16 closely located sites. The evidence of this has been testified through unusual composition of uranium, neodymium, ruthenium and other materials.

Man made landamrks

Prehistoric settlements

Ruins of Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Ruins of Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe / Ross Huggett, / CC BY 2.0
  • Abydos – Egypt, Sohag. Ancient city, established more than 5000 years ago. One of the most important ancient metropolises in Upper Egypt, important cult centre. Contains ruins of numerous magnificent buildings, such as the temple of Seti I.
  • Great Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe, Manicaland. Capital city of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, inhabited around 1100 - 1400 AD. There could be up to 18,000 inhabitants in the city at its peak. Today remain impressive ruins of dry stone. Walls are more than 5 m tall, the architecture is monumental and highly distinct.
  • Leptis Magna - Libya, Murqub. Some of the best preserved Roman ruins. This city was founded by Phoenicians around 1000 BC and in the 1st century AD was incorporated into Roman Empire. Abandoned around 650 AD.
  • Memphis – Ethiopia, Cairo. The first capital of Lower Egypt in the times of Old Kingdom. Established around 3000 BC and declined around 1300 BC, was one of the first metropolises in the world. Contains remnants of numerous valuable structures, including several Temples of Ptah and many other temples, Saqqara necropolis, royal palaces.
  • Thebes – Egypt, Luxor. Former capital of Egypt in the times of Middle and New Kingdoms, one of the earliest metropolises in the world. Inhabited in the time period of 3200 BC – 84 BC. City contains ruins of numerous buildings of world importance, including the Temple of Ramses III, Ramesseum, Luxor Temple, Temple of Hatshepsut, Columns of Memnon.

Megalithic monuments

  • Nabta stone circle – Egypt, New Valley. Stone setting in a form of circle, made around 4800 BC, possibly the oldest archaeoastronomical monument in world.
  • Sine Ngayene stone circles - Senegal, Kaolack. Group of 52 stone circles (including one double circle) with 1 102 standing stones, erected mostly in between 640 - 860 AD. Before the erection of stones the site served as necropolis, nearby was located settlement.

Ancient pyramids

Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt
Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt / horax zeigt hier, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Jebel Barkal (Gebel Barkal) - Sudan, Northern state. A small mountain - the southernmost outpost of Ancient Egypt, established around 1450 BC. Mountain has been a sacred place since these times or even earlier. Later here, in the neighbouring Napata city developed independent kingdom of Kush. Notable monuments are the steep-sided pyramids, where were buried kings of Meroe in the 3rd - 1st century BC.
  • Khafre’s Pyramid (Pyramid of Chefren) – Egypt, Giza. Second largest pyramid of Giza, originally 143.5 m tall, now 136.6 m tall. Built around 2500 BC.
  • Khufu’s Pyramid (Great Pyramid of Giza) – Egypt, Giza. Tallest ancient pyramid and ancient structure in the world, built around 2500 BC. Originally was 146.5 m tall, now – 138.8 m. The incredible size and precision of this structure is rarely surpassed today. Contains three chambers, most likely built as a burial and mortuary temple.
  • Pyramid of Djoser – Egypt, Cairo. The oldest cut stone building in the world, built in the 27th century BC for the burial of pharaoh Djoser. This giant, stepped pyramid originally was 62 m tall. This structure marks major innovations in the history of world architecture and culture. Under the pyramid is a maze of underground passages and chambers with a total length of 5.6 km.

Ancient temples and burials

Obelisk of Axum
Obelisk of Axum, Ethiopia / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Axum Northern Stelae Park – Ethiopia, Tigray. Hundreds of Axum stelae made of single stones and up to 24 m high (Obelisk of Axum) and made roughly in the 4th century AD. Stelae mark the burials of emperors and nobles. The tallest stele in past was 33 m tall.
  • Deir el-Bahari (includes Hatshepsut’s Temple) – Egypt, New Valley. Complex of mortuary temples, built around 2100 – 1300 BC. Includes partly rock-cut, partly built, enormous structures. Especially impressive and beautiful is the Hatshepsut’s Temple (around 1450 BC), one of the great achievements of architecture in the history of architecture.
  • Karnak Temple Complex – Egypt, Luxor. Ruins of one of the main temples in the capital of Ancient Egypt, largest ancient temple complex in the world. Consists of four major parts, where the Precinct of Mut, Precinct of Montu, Temple of Amenhotep IV and the best known – Precinct of Amun-Re. Temple was active for millenia. Contains numerous outstanding details, e.g. Hypostyle Hall with 134 massive columns, where 12 columns are 21 m tall, with a diameter over three meters. On the top of these columns are 70 tons heavy architraves.
  • Ramesseum – Egypt, Luxor. Mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Remnants of statue of enthroned pharaoh, 19 m high and weighing more than 1000 tons. Largest transported ancient stone monolith, transported overland 275 km to Luxor. This feat was done in the 13th century BC.
  • Tellem burial caves in Bandiagara escarpment - Mali, Mopti. In different (mostly undisclosed) locations of Bandiagara escarpment are found caves which are filled with bones and utensils of Tellem people who left this area in the 16th century. There are caves where thousands of skulls are located. The historical textiles have been well preserved in the dry climate.
  • Valley of the Kings with KV5, KV17 and other rock-cut tombs – Egypt, Luxor. In total in Valley of Kings are known 63 tombs and chambers. KV5 is the largest rock-cut tomb in the wast necropolis of ancient Egyptian noble families. Belonged to sons of Ramesses II. In KV5 thus far have been discovered 121 rooms or chambers and it is expected that more will be discovered, this complex was made in the 13th – 12th century BC. KV17 – the tomb of pharaoh Seti I – is one of the best decorated tombs and the longest in the valley, 137 m long.
Great God of Sefar - cliff drawing in Tassili N'Ajjer, Algeria
Great God of Sefar - cliff drawing in Tassili N'Ajjer, Algeria. / mitiemp.pe, , public domain

Petroglyphs and rock art

  • Dabous giraffe carvings - Niger, Agadez. World's largest single petroglyph. Unique life-sized rock carvings of two giraffes created some 8 - 10 thousand years ago. The quality and detail of carvings is exceptional. Largest giraffe is 5.4 m tall. The site contains hundreds of other petroglyphs. Niger is very rich with prehistoric cliff art and there are countless sites with petroglyphs, including very interesting and somewhat mysterious round-headed people in Tageuit.
  • Dhambalin - Somalia, Togdheer. Rock shelter in sandstone with some of the best polychrome paintings in Africa, a testimony of one of the oldest pastoral societies in the world. Here are depicted different animals: bovines, goats, sheep, dogs, snake, turtle and also at least eight giraffes which are extinct here now. Site includes also paintings of humans with bow and arrows, one seems to be riding a horse. Many animals and people have white belts. Paintings were made 5000 - 3000 BC.
  • Sefar Wadi rock art - Algeria, Illizi. One of world's largest prehistoric art galleries with many world renowned drawings. Most famous is the "Great God of Sefar".
  • Tadrart Acacus rock paintings - Libya, Ghat. In these spectacular mountains are found numerous sites with thousands of rock paintings. Paintings have been created over an extended period of time from 12,000 BC to 100 AD. Many paintings are made in very high artistic quality, with skilled use of different colors and adjusted to the background. Most drawings show daily activities of people, hunting scenes, rituals.

Other prehistoric landmarks

  • Great Sphinx of Giza – Egypt, Giza. Largest monolithic statue in the world, built around 2550 BC. 73.5 m long and up to 20.22 m high, one of the most iconic sculptures in the world, central object of numerous legends and stories.
  • Sungbo's Eredo - Nigeria, Ogun. 160 km long system of ancient fortifications, one the largest known human built structure in pre-colonial Africa, another is Benin City Ramparts nearby.

Historical cities and towns

Covered walkways in Ghadames, Libya
Covered walkways in Ghadames, Libya / , / CC BY 2.0
  • Ambohimanga - Madagascar, Analamanga. Fortified royal settlement and royal burials on a hilltop. Developed since the early 18th century. Fortifications have seven gates. The largest gate was protected with enormous stone disc, which every morning was pulled aside and in the evening - rolled back. Contains Mahandrihono palace made of rosewood - most valuable example of royal wooden architecture in Madagascar.
  • Fes el Bali - Morocco, Fès-Boulemane. The medieval, fortified part of Fes city. City was founded in between 789 and 808 AD. Here is located the oldest university in the world (859 AD), and, it is possible that this is the largest car free urban area in the world.
  • Ghadames - Libya, Nalut. Beautiful, walled desert town with excellent infrastructure providing a protection from heat. One of ways to avoid the heat are covered walkways between the buildings. City first mentioned in the 1st century BC.
  • Harar Jugol - Ethiopia, Harari. Historical centre of once important commercial city, enclosed in fortification wall. Harar Jugol contains huge amount of historical architecture including 110 mosques. City flourished in the 16th century.
  • Las Palmas Old Quarter - Canary Islands, Gran Canaria. Historical city, founded in 1478. City contains numerous valuable buildings and has preserved its Renaissance street pattern. This city in many ways defined the urban pattern of later Latin American colonial cities, with Plaza Mayor and main buildings around this square.
  • Medina of Tunis - Tunis. One of the best preserved Arab old cities. Its area is 270 ha and it is covered with dense, seemingly chaotic network of buildings and streets. Closer investigation though shows that the planning of city is not random - it is based on socio-cultural code of complex human relations. Here are located some 700 monuments of architecture and history. Parts of fortification wall and some gates have been preserved.
  • Mombasa Old Town - Kenya, Coast Province. One of the main historical metropoles in East Africa, developed since medieval times. Buildings and planning represent a fusion of Swahili, Portuguese and Islam architecture. Buildings often are adorned with intricately carved doors.
  • M'Zab towns - Ghardaia, Bouboura, El-Ateuf, Beni Isguene, Melika - Algeria, Ghardaïa. Unique monument of Berber urban planning and architecture - five closely located walled towns. Each of the towns is built in concentric rings around the mosque. The adobe structures often have unique architecture.
  • Old Cairo – Egypt, Cairo. One of the oldest and most important Islamic metropolises with numerous valuable buildings – mosques, madrasas, hammams. Established in the 10th century AD and flourished in the 14th century, when it was one of the most magnificent cities of the world. More than 600 very valuable historical structures.
  • Oualata - Mauritania, Hodh Ech Chargui. Small, old desert town, established around the 5th century AD. The adobe houses in the village are highly decorative, with ornamented paintings.
House in Tiébélé, Burkina Faso
House in Tiébélé, Burkina Faso / GuideStephane, , CC BY-SA 3.0

Traditional villages

  • Matmâta – Tunisia, Gabès. Unique troglodyte village with numerous underground rock-cut houses which are in use up to this day. Developed as a hideaway from the scorching heat of Sahara desert, possibly already in Roman times.
  • Tiébélé - Burkina Faso, Centre-Sud. Village with typical, highly unusual architecture. Contains Tiébélé Royal Court - area which is encircled with a wall and contains altar of ancestors, sacred stones, cemetery of ancestors and other important features. The contrasting colors of walls are repainted every year after the harvest - this design was created in the 16th century or earlier.
  • Yougou Dogorou and Yougapiri - Mali, Mopti. Village hewn into a vertical cliff by Tellem people. Tellem have left the area, Dogon people have built their traditional house at the base of cliff. Similar villages are widespread along the Bandiagara Escarpment.

Churches and Christian monasteries

  • Lalibela churches - Ethiopia, Amhara. 11 monolithic Christian churches hewn underground from cliff in the 13th century.
  • Monastery of Saint Anthony – Egypt, Red Sea. Coptic monastery, oldest continuously operating Christian monastery in world, built in 356, with important artwork and library.
Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali
Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali / Geri, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mosques

  • Great Mosque of Djenné - Mali, Mopti. The largest adobe building in world, has unique design. First mosque here since the 13th century, current built in 1907 or 1909.
  • Mosque of Uqba (Great Mosque of Kairouan) - Tunisia, Kairouan. Oldest mosque in Western Islamic world, built in 670 AD. Impressive building which resembles a fortress.

Countries and territories of Africa

Africa here is divided in 61 countries and territories which are listed by sub-regions.

Eastern Africa

Country, territoryNo. of landmarks
Burundi1
Comoros0
Djibouti1
Eritrea1
Ethiopia6
Kenya6
Madagascar4
Malawi1
Mauritius2
Mayotte (France)0
Mozambique1
Réunion (France)1
Rwanda1
Scattered Islands (France)0
Seychelles1
Somalia2
Tanzania2
Uganda1
Zambia3
Zimbabwe1

Middle Africa

Angola1
Cameroon1
Central African Republic1
Chad1
Congo1
Democratic Republic of the Congo2
Equatorial Guinea0
Gabon1
São Tomé and Príncipe1

Northern Africa

Algeria3
Canary Islands (Spain)1
Egypt3
Libya1
Morocco1
South Sudan0
Sudan0
Tunisia1
Western Sahara1

Southern Africa

Botswana1
Lesotho1
Namibia1
South Africa6
Swaziland1

Western Africa

Ascension Island (United Kingdom)0
Benin0
Burkina Faso1
Cape Verde1
Côte d'Ivoire2
Gambia1
Ghana1
Guinea2
Guinea-Bissau0
Liberia2
Mali2
Mauritania4
Niger1
Nigeria1
Saint Helena (United Kingdom)1
Senegal1
Sierra Leone1
Togo1

Map of Africa

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