For travelers to Farafra it is wise to stay on the
main road and only venture into the desert with a local guide.
Farafra is one the most beautiful places in the world but, like many
beautiful things, it can be deadly. It is far into the Western
Desert, hundreds of kilometrs from a large city with modern
services, and unlike Bahariya, where the depression is long and
narrow and a trek in direction from the main road is hemmed by the
escarpment, the main road in Farafra hugs the northwestern
escarpment, leaving the rest of this large depression uninhabited, a
true wilderness. The eastern and western scarps are so far apart
that they cannot serve as markers. The south has no end, but
stretches on forever to places that have seldom seen human
footsteps. For the professional as well as the amateur desert
traveler, misjudgment in such a place can lead to disaster. It isn't
easy to keep one's bearings amid the dunes and rock-strewn plains of
such a place. And heading in the wrong direction can become a life
Tour # 1
Qasr Farafra was once the only inhabited village in
the entire depression. Never heavily populated, in 1819, there were
180 people in Qasr with a total of 600 throughout the oasis. In
1874, there were just 345 people living in III houses. By 1892, the
population had grown to 542. In 1936, about 600. In 1968, I,II8. In
1993, there were 3,000 in Qasr and a total of 5,000 in the entire
oasis. The village sits atop a 10 meter (32 foot) hill of hard white
chalk which rises gently from the desert floor.
Qasr Farafa is 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the
southwestern escarpment and 54 kilometers (33 miles) from the
northeastern one. The main road passes Qasr Farafra along the bottom
of the hill. It is here that new building are growing at a rapid
rate. There is cafeteria, a bus stop, and several small kiosk-type
restaurants which offer ful, canned beef, cheese, and bottled water.
And there is a hotel.
Badr is a local artist and entrepreneur who has fared
rather well in recent years. His original small but interesting
museum, which was located in the village of Qasr itself, has been
abandoned for a wonderful mudbrick structure that the built himself.
Inside is everything from taxidermy to sculpture, and paintings are
on display. It is Badr who is responsible for the unique wall
decorations found in the village.
The fortress of Farafra dominates the top of the
hill. Like its counterparts in other oases, it was once a walled
city used by the inhabitants as protection from invaders. The
villagers would hasten to the fortress for safety, each family
occupying a designated room where they had stored provisions. At
other times, a single occupant guarded the interior. Cailliaud
records the fortress was 35feet high and 350 feet in circumference
in 1819. In 1909, when Harding King visited the oasis, the fortress
had around 125 rooms (earlier travelers record as many as 226 rooms)
and the tower was still standing. Damaged by heavy rain, the
fortress began to crumble in the 1950s and collapsed considerably in
1958. Currently it has two large entrances and, uniquely amongst
buildings of this type, it is still partially inhabited.
Harding King believed the fortress was originally
erected by the Romans and was much the same as the fortresses in
Kharga Oasis. He is probably correct. In the fifteenth century,
probably when desert raids intensified, it was either enlarged or
rebuilt. By the time King visited the oasis the fortress was empty,
guarded by a single watchman who was responsible for protecting the
goods of the various families that used it as storehouse.
Beyond the fortress the square widens and to the
left once stood the mosque. This was an old Sanusi mosque,
with a stone in one of the corners that acted as a sun dial. When
the people built a new mosque at the bottom of the hill, they saw no
reason to keep the old one, so they tore it down. What a pity!
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Bir Sitta is the hot spring designated by the people
for tourists to use. Do not jump into the spring within the vicinity
of Qasr. The road leading to the bir is 3.3 kilometers (2
miles) from the beginning of the road to the Military Intelligence
Camp. Turn right. The bir is visible at the top of the hill
to the left of the new hotel.
Goshna and Gifrin
Suburban sprawl has reached Farafra and the once
empty oasis of Goshna is now crowded with homes. Some of them are
owned by foreigners who find the oasis a perfect place to spend
their vacations. The open plain that once separated Goshna from
Farafra has all but disappeared.
Gifrin is still empty. Gifrin has a proper track
exiting Qasr by a left-hand turn opposite the café along the main
road (see map).