It is now accepted that Farafra went through
three distinct wet phases 9000 B.C., 6000 B.C., and 4500 B.C.
This is a staggering fact that may eventually rewrite the
history of ancient Egypt. If the desert wasn't the desert how
did that affect the Nile Valley? In addition, Farafra may yet
form the like between the Egyptian Libyan Desert and the
libyan Libyan Desert and the libyan libyan Desert. Barbara E.
Barich in Geoarchaeology of Farafra and the Origin of
Agriculture in the Sahara and the Nile Valley tells us
that 10,000 years ago in the early Holocene there were violent
rains in the area and that "Epipaleolithic groups moved along
a rather extended circuit, connecting the various oases of the
Western Desert, with excursions toward the Saharan plains."
They were looking for game and pastures and it is almost
inevitable that " contacts with the Saharan hinterland were
and pastures evidenced in the technological base of the early
Holocene groups." Around 8600 B.C., the rains stabilized and
so did the population.
Known in ancient times as Oasis Trinitheos,
Ta-ihw, and Land of the Cow (after the ancient Egyptian
goddess Hathor), a better name is probably Land of the
Invaded, for though remote, Farafra lies on the road to Libya
and whenever it was left undefended invasion could be
guaranteed. A Fifth Dynasty statue inscription implies that
Farafra, as well as Bahariya, was part of ancient Egypt at
that time. During the Intermediate Period, the text of the
Eloquent Pesant refers to "rods of Farafra" as part of the
produce carried from Wadi Natrun to the Fayoum. We do not know
what they are.
New Kingdom (c.1570-1070 B.C.)
Ascherson found a stela dated from the
Eighteenth Dynasty, but it sheds no light on activities at
that time. There is written evidence in the Court of Ramses II
at Luxor Temple that precious stones were sent to the Nile
Valley from farafra for Ramses' massive building plans, but no
ancient mining sites have been found. We do not know what
these precious stones might have been: emeralds, lapis,
malachite, turquoise, or perhaps something like alabster.
Farafra was captured by Libyan invaders in the conquest
allowed Farafra to be a stepping stone to the Nile Valley for
Third Intermediate (C. 1069-525 B.C.) and late
Periods (525-332 B.C.)
Although there is no supporting evidence, it is
possible that Farafra was important during the Third
Intermediate Period when Libyans ruled Egypt. Cokser to Libya
than to the Nile Valley, the wells of Farafra could have
served as important way stations for armies and caravans.
There are several major caravan routes going west in the
Farafra area. If this happened , the secrets are well kept.
One thing is sure, this period spawned one of the great
mysteries of the world, the whereabouts of the Persian army.
Roman Period (30 B.C.-A.D. 323)
The earliest antiquities found in Farafra date
from Roman times, though they are far from numerous. We
originally though that Farafra had little to offer Roman but
that is not true. The scarcity of water rendered great
agricultural schemes untenable, unless the Romans knew of the
underground water we have just discovered. The oasis was at
the center of Rom's Africa holdings, linking Egypt's oases and
the Nile Valley to Libya's oases like Jalo and Kufra. If the
area was secure, there would be no reason for fortresses like
at Kharga. One would have served, and that may well have been
the original Qasr at Farafra.
The only Roman sites found so far in Farafra
are at Ain Della, which is really a separate depression to the
north of Farafra; in Wadi Hinnis, along the main caravan route
to Bahariya; and at Ain Besay, a small garden to the the south
of Qasr Farafra. After the Romans, Farafra faded from sight.
In the Byzantine period, Farafra became
Christian and remained Christian far into the Islamic era. A
number of Coptic inscriptions have been found in Farafra as
well as Christian houses and a cemetery of the tenth century.
We do not know if it was a place of banishment like Siwa and
Islamic Era (641-1798)
When Islam swept into the desert it did not
come from the Nile Valley, it came from North Africa. Farafra,
according to Cailliaud, was the first Western Desert oasis
conquered by the Arabs. The first Arabic reference to Farafra
is the Kitab al-Buldan by al-Yaqubi in the ninth
century. He tells us Farafra was inhabited by people of "all
descent." But conversion to Islam was slow in Farafara and
probably happened in the tenth century. Once the invaders, the
Fatinids, had secured the Nile, they maintained a relatively
large desert army and governor of the Bahnasa Oasis was
appointed by the Caliph al-Hafiz (1130-49). By Mamluk times
(1250-1517) Farafra was deppulated. The oases has been
pathetically exploited and many people immigrated to avoid the
When the Ottomans came to power in Egypt
little changed in Farafra except more corruption and a further
decline in the economic situation and population. According to
W.B. Kubiak, during the Ottoman era there was a total decline
in secular literature and for three centuries no information
about Egypt, especially its oases, was recorded.
Throughout the centuries Farafra was the
victim of desert raids, ghozwas. These raidswere
carried out not only by desert peoples but also by government
troops who should have been protecting the oases and
collecting taxes. Once the Europeans began to appear on the
scene they described raiders as coming at night and ravaging
the gardens to steal dates, apricots, and other food: poor
robbing the poor to survive.
The first known European visitor to Farafra
was Frederic Cailliaud from February 17 to 20, 1820. It took
him thirty-two hours to get to Farafra from al-Hayz in
Bahariya and he found 180 people living in a single village,
Qasr Farafra. What he found was a community in poverty,
obandoned by its government for centuries, victim of marauding
tribes who took advantage of the lack of protection and the
decline in population. Next came the elusive Mr. Pacho, and
G.Wulkinson in 1843.
In 1850, the Sanusif founded a zawya
in Farafra (see People for details). The Sanusi movement was
still strong when Rohlfs visited Farafra in December and
January of 1873-4, and the religious order stayed in the oasis
until World War I. In fact, many of the residents of Farafra
carry the surname Sanusi and the attitude and tone of the
Oasis retained strong Sanusi influence up to a decade ago.
Once this author offered a cigarette to a man in Farafra. The
refusal was accompanied by the wrds, " I am Sanusi." This was
over sevety-five years after the Sanusi movement collapsed.
Rohlfs arrived at Farafra with 100 camels
and 100 people. As he appoached the oases his men began
shooting off their guns. This terrified the Farafras. Fearful
of yet another ghazya-they had had one the year
before-they got their guns, stuffed their women and children
in the qasr for protection, and waited. Everything, of
course, was sorted out, but on New Year's Eve, Rohlfs was
at it again. He brought firworks with him and began setting
Rohlfs found Farafra divided into two camps:
Sanusi and non-Sanus. By this time the Sanusi owned the best
wells, the best land, and the best gardens. He found the
people like serfs. Farafra, which Rohlfs savs means 'bubbling
spring', had a spring similar to Cleopatra's Bath in Siwa with
bubbles constantly swimming to the surface. He found only 2
camels, 100 donkeys, and 300 sheep in the oasis, all owned by