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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 northen escarpment.


   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 Naqb al-Sillim.

   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.


The People

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 fruit.

   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 adversity alone.



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 created.

   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 locations.


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,



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