Farafra Oasis Geography
Geography and Geology
Geography and Geology
The Farafra depression, carved out of Upper
Crtaceous Khoman Chalk, looks like a draped ghost with its right
kicking a spur of the Great Sand Sea. Spanning 90 kilometers (56
miles) east-west and 200 kilometers (125 miles) north-south, it is
the second largest depression in the Western Desert. It sits at E27
20 and E 28 59 longitude and N 26 18 and N 27 42 latitude.
The escarpment rings the depression on three
sides. The eastern scarp, standing 244 meters (708feet) high, and
the Western scarp are both steep-sided, formidable barriers. The
dazzling white northern scarp, although lower, is actually two
scarps, one behind the other. The southern part of the oasis is
open. The depression floor comprises a mixture of white chalk and
limestone which creates the White Desert, black iron pyrites and
marcasite stones which create the Black Desert, scrub land, mud
lions, and many sif dunes. South to Dakhla, the dunes for over
kilometers (93.5 miles).
To the northwest of Qasr Farafra is the-Quss
Abu Said Plateau, a 10 kilometer (6.25 mile) wide snow-white
limestone plateau of Eocene-upper Cretaceous origin> West of Farafra
and separated from by the Quss Said Plateau is the uninhabited
Daliya Depression. 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide, the floor is
covered entirely by sand dunes. A major tectonic fold that also
crosses the Bahariya Depression (see Bahariya for details), cuts
through Farafra in a northeast/southwest direction.
There is ample evidence of a day lake bed, or
playa, which is under investigation by the Rome University Project.
Mountains and Hills
There are three major mountains in Farafra. Two bear
the same name, Gebel al-Gunna. The first is 10 kilometers
(6.25 miles) northeast of Qasr, just to the right of the main road.
The second is 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of qasr along the road
to Bir Dikker. The third, Twin Peaks, is a major landmark. It
sits to the southeast of the road just below the main descent into
the oasis from Bahariya.
Perhaps the most outstanding mountian features the
Western Desert are the white chalk inselbergs, a 20 kilometer (12.5
mile) long series of free standing hills, all steep-sided but of
various sizes, that look like icebergs standing in front of the
Water, a major problem in Farafra, is one of the
reasons it remained so primitive for so long. While Dakhla has over
250 wells in its 410 square kilometers (256 square miles) Farafra,
up to 1989, had under forty. Through the centuries agriculture was
limited to a few acres aground Qasr and its outlying gardents,
creating subsistence farming in limited crops like dates and olives.
Now all of this has changed. Recent exploration
has determined that there is plenty of water in Farafra, enough for
the development of a major agricultural scheme. South of Qasr
Farafra the land has the appearance of a boom town as well after
well is sunk and town after town planned. Only the people are
missing. The New Valley Governorate is slowly luring people from
the Nile Valley out to this desert frontier to set down roots and
cultivate the land.
Caravan Routes and Roadways
Darb al-Bahariya when in Farafra and Darb al-Farafra
in Bahariya. It was the major caravan route linking Farafra to
Bahariya and the Nile Valley beefore the construction of the
mecadamized road. It runs through the desert about 35 kilometers (22
miles) east of the macadamized road and enters Farafra through the
Darb al-Dakhla, the old caravan route from
Qasr Dakhla to Qasr Farafra, is 200 kilometers (125 miles) in
comparison the 300 kilometers (187 mile) modern roadway, but since
it passes through difficult terrain it has remained a dirt track. It
leaves Qasr Farafra, moves south to Bir Dikker and drops into Dakhla
near Qasr Dakhla. (See below for tour.) Caravans would take four
days to cover the distance. Blundell used it in the 1890s.
Darb Asyut is the old caravan route which linch
Beni Adi, Dashlut, AND Mayr, all near Asyut in the Nile Valley, to
Farafra. It is one of the shortest routes to Farafra, covering about
280 kilometers (175 miles), but the terrain is difficult and it
often took seven or eight days by camel. The Abu Muharrik dunes cut
through the darb in a north-south direction. Along its route is a
wonderful cave. It was first brought to the attention of Europeans
by Gerhard Rohlfs and was rediscovered in this century by Carlo
Bergmann. This road is in the process of being paved.
Despite the fact that Darb Ain Della led
to a single spring in the middle of nowhere, it was one of the most
important routes in the entire Western Desert. Originally running
due north of Qasr Farafra for 75 kilometers ( 46 miles), at Ain
Della it linked with additional routes to Libya, Siwa (via*Bahrein
and Areg), and Bahariya, forming a strategic crossroad. Lisa Giddy
in Egyptian Oases proposes that an ancient text from the First
Intermediate Period products traveling over desert via Wadi Natrun
could indicate that this Della-Siwa route was in use at the time.
Rohlfs used it in 1874; jennings-Bramley in 1898. Today the road has
been macadamized (See Tour #5 below).
The Abu Minqar-Kufra Camel Track is an
ancient route that skirts the southern trips of the Great Sand Sea
and links Farafra with Kufra Oasis in Libya. In the 1950s, when
Gamal Abd al-Nasser was trying to stop caravans from crossing the
border with illegal products over this track, he bombed them.
There is a good deal of Libyan blood in Farafra, and
a lot of the population have the surname Sanusi. (See People for
details.) There is also more Bedouinblood than in the other oases.
The population is very small and, until recently, agriculture was
centered on Qasr Farafra, the few gardens on the hillside to the
south, and the gardens in the nearby oases.
Rohlfs gives us an extensive report on the people
of Farafra. They atr dates and mush (polenta) for breakfast and
dates and fruit for lunch, and more polenta for dinner. For meat
they ate mice, camel-byt only if it died naturally-and jackals. They
goats and sheep for the milk and wool, and chickens for the eggs.
Today the Farafronis eat like the people in Bahariya. They place a
small, short-legged table in the center of the floor and put pillows
around the perimeter for seating. A tray of bread, white salty
cheese, honey or jam, and halawa is prepared for breakfast. For
lunch or dinner potatoes in tomato sauce, peas and carrots in tomato
saucece, rice, sometimes a boiled or stewed meat dish is served.
There is always a bowl of olives, usually pickled by the family.
People sit around the tableand use the bread to dip into the food.
Sometimes a spoon is provided. The meal is often ended with fresh
Rohlfs said the women were uncircumcised, and old
unmarried ones did not cover their faces. The dead were buried
naked, and pottery, filled on the day of the death with water, wheat
and dates, was placed at the head and foot of the grave.
The Vanishing Pat Time, a Polish study on
Farafra, tells us the Farafronis come from four families that
migrated to the oasis within the past 500 years. Blood ties oblige
the people to care for their own, so no one goes hungry or faces
The past was agriculture in Farafra and so will be
the future. New wells (at a million Egyptian pounds each) are being
drilled everyday, eleven new villages are planned with seven already
Three new olive presses are in the oasis. And now
the oasis produces more than it needs and is exporting dates,
olives, apricots, wheat, rice, and beans to the Nile Valley. New
plants currently being developed include medicinal and perfume
plants. New watermelon plantations are developing in several
The Crafts of the Oasis
There is little here to temple the traveler. The
people were poor, the sutside world always far away. The pottery,
similar in design to other oases, was distinguished only because it
was unfired. Not thrown on a potter's wheel, it was hand-shaped by
the women and baked in the sun. There is practically no jewelry and
the dresses are mostly undecorated. There was a nosering, but made
of base metal and long gone.
Despite the lack of major crafts two skills are
worth mentioning: wall paintings and wool. The houses in Qasr
Farafra are beautifully decorated by the local artist Badr.
Interestingly enough, spinning is a man's occupation in this oasis
and men can often be seen in the main square, spindle in hand,
working and talking. Then the men knit the wool into hats, gloves,
and scarves, all for sale by a delightful personality dubbed 'Mr.
Socks, who can be seen riding his riding his motorcycle around town
with a scarf or two dangling behind,