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Farafra Oasis History


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.


Old Kingdam

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 the Libyans.


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 Kharga.


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 harsh rule.

   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.


Modern Times

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 them off.

   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 the Sanusi.


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