Kharga Oasis Tours
Ninety-nine monuments were recorded in Dakhla and Kharga oases by
Ahmed Fakhry, one of the last persons to visit the oases by camel.
That was over half a century ago, but few have yet been explored. We
mention the major sites here, most with something for the tourist to
see, but Kharga is so full of ancient artifacts that every inch of
dirt tells a story.
Bahgat Ibrahim, the director of
antiquities for the New Valley, tells us there are so many sites
that need excavation that a lifetime of digging will not uncover
Most sites have tombs, town, and temples, mostly
buried. There are residential structures of prehistoric peoples
north of Kharga at Gebel al- Teir. There are over fifty sites,
mostly Roman, That have never been touched such as Bir al-Gebel, Ain
Haran, Ain Yasim, Kanafis, Ain Hussein, and Ain Byramdi, all in the
north and Ain Aska, Gebel Siwa, Gebel Sharfa, Ain Mansurm Wakfa,
Badran, Mabruka, and Qasr Baris, all in the south.
The long range plan for the New Valley
includes tourism as one of its major goals. The infrastructure of
new roads, new hotels, and tourism offices in all the oses is nearly
complete. Now the monuments are being prepared for visitors. As
more travelers respond to the lure of the oases, more and more sites
will be on their list of 'must sees.' That means these sites must,
at least, acquire guards.
Qasr Kharga, 86 meters (275 feet) above sea level,
became the capital of Kharga Oasis during Islamic times, replacing
Hibis a few kilometers away. Located in the center of depression, it
stands due south of Gebel Tarif which not only protects it from the
howling northern winds, but deflects the bands of marching sand
dunes of the Abu Muharrik dune belt which tumble down the northern
escarpment around Ain Umm Dabadib.
Founded by a little over thirty
families, the community had an influx of additional families around
A.D. 300 (A.H. 1316). These families were mainly from the Nile
Valley. Hoskins, in 1832, found Qasr Kharga to be inhabited by
3,000 people, only 600 of them male. (This is an unusual head
count. The villagers often believed that travelers represented the
Pasha in the Nile Valley and did not wand them to know the exact
number of men in the village.) The town was " prepossessing," and
its greatest asset was "a magnificent thick forest of date trees,
which extends probably a mile toward the north and south and is
surrounded by a brick enclosure, like the was of a park." He found a
cemetery to the north and a second to the south. He found the town
as "difficult for a stranger to pass through… without a guide, as it
would have been to thread the mazes of the Cretan labyrinth."
Harding King described Qasr Kharga as
built of mudbrick and riddled with tunnels "so low that it is
impossible to stand upright in them, and of such a length as to be
completely dark." In 1898, John Ball found it an "uninteresting
collection of mudbrick dwellings… with dark covered-in streets
resembling tunnels." He also reported it had no shops or bazaars.
The Qasr Kharga of today is very different. The
covered fortress town described by nineteenth-century travelers
expanded north and east during the British occupation. The English
governor's residence to the east of the Darb al-Sindadiya (the
original town) is still in existence, as is the British compound, a
series of gardened bungalows shaded by lofty palm and casuarina
trees, and the Kharga railway station, now a sporting club. In the
1960s, the oases underwent great changes: new housing, wide streets,
clubs, indoor plumbing, and electricity. The population grew to over
16,000. As the seat of the governorate of the New Valley, the city
has grown in all directions.
Today 30,000 inhabitants live in Qasr Kharga.
Hotels, schools, a hospital, a museum, municipal and governorate
buildings keep increasing. Factories exist on the outskirts of the
town. More and more residents are abandoning the gallabiya for
western dress and women, once hidden away in their homes, are seen
walking the streets, shopping, and working in government offices.
One of the first sites to greet the traveler is the
Mabrouk fountain in the midan near the Tourist Information Office.
The statues decorating the fountain were completed in three days by
the local artist Mabrouk. The large breasted woman is intended to
symbolize Egypt as she drags her reluctant child, the people of
Egypt, behind her to a new destiny. The statues are made of cement,
alabaster, and gypsum.
The suq is the traditional marketplace of Qasr Kharga
and although visited by tourists its main purpose is to serve the
local population. That does not man there is nothing for the tourist
to buy-hand-woven baskets, scarves, and other items used by
residents make excellent and authentic souvenirs.
Darb al Sindadiya
Despite the fact that its people lived in isolation,
hundreds of miles from any other inhabited area, almost every
village that was built in the Western Desert during the Middle Ages
was in the form of a fortress. The Darb al-Sindadiya, the original
village of Qasr Kharga, is no exception. Centered around the Ain
al-Dar, a now dry spring, it is the best preserved of all the
fortress cities in the oases. The narrow, covered streets described
by European travelers, in some places only a meter wide, kept out
invaders mounted on horses or camels. Twists and turns provided good
ambush in case the enemy did manage to penetrate the town. The
multi-storied houses with no windows to the outside formed
formidable walls that could not be scaled. Although the interior
was pitch black and even at high noon the passages had to be lit by
oil lamps, the darkness provided cooling shade from the brutal
The name came from a family that once
lived there and it originally designated the main street of the
village. Today it represents the entire structure. As a street, it
once ran for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). It no longer does, but
enough of it exists to give visitors a picture of what life as like
in a medieval oasis town. Although tourists are encouraged to visit
the site, it is not recommended they journey too far into the
interior without a guide for one could easily become lost.
Minimally inhabited by people, the passages are used primarily as
barns for domestic animals. Built entirely of mudbrick with palm
trunks as beams, this tenth-century city is one of the treasures of
Qasr Kharga and plans are underway for its restoration .
Two factories were established in the early sixties
to produce traditional pottery and carpets in the hopes of
establishing new industry in the oasis. Through the years the work
has expanded to include a variety of products. Local artists, using
modern pottery methods make not only traditional pots, but
candlesticks and flatware. Two types of carpet are made in the
carpet factory, knotted siggadas and woven kelims.
The stunning Kharga Museum, housed in a new-building
constructed to resemble the tombs at Bagawat, contains both
Pharaonic and Islamic antiquities found in the New Valley. Located
in the center of Kharga, along the main street, Sharia Gamal Abd
al-Nasser, it is easy to find.
There are three levels, two currently
open to the public and a third for a future library. The museum
contains a great quantity of coins and jewelry from all periods of
Egyptian history. The first floor is devoted to ancient Egyptian,
Greek, and Roman antiquities. Among other things, it contains
ostrich eggs, prehistoric tools, masks, Roman glass items, and Greek
and Roman coins from Muzawwaqa, Zayyan, and Kharga. Its most
important antiquities include:
Sarcophagus of Badi
Bastit This Roman sarcophagus mad
of sycamore was found at Labeka by the French Mission. It has a
complete design and full color. This is the interior coffin-the
mummy is still inside, but in very poor condition.
These wonderful birds were discovered in Dush
by the French Mission. Ba birds were buried with the person to
assure the person would move to the other world. There were five
elements, each represented by a bird: the Ba, which is the soul; the
Ka, which is the double image of the person; the Ren, which is the
name of the person; the Khet, which is the physical body of the
person; and the Akh, which is the shadow of the person. If only one
piece of the person was missing, her or she could not enter paradise
in peace. The birds assured that the entire person reached its
destination. They are 7-10 cm(3-4 inches) long, painted, and made
The Tomb of Im-Pepi
of the Sixth Dynasty is the outer
parts of a tomb discovered by the French Mission in Dakhla Oasis.
False Door Stela of
M Khent-Ka Khent-Ka was governor of the oasis during the Sixth
Dynasty (2700 B.C.). This limestone door found at Balat carries the
earliest reference to the oasis so far discovered: Wahet, which
means 'oasis' in ancient Egyptian. This word is the origin of both
the English word oasis (via Greek) and the Arabic word waha. The
director of he museum, Mahmoud Youssef, himself and Egyptologist,
believes this is the most important piece in the museum.
Double Statue of Ima
Bibi and Wife This painted, color
statue of a governor of the oases was discovered in Balat. It is
30cm by 25cm.
Kellis Wooden Panels
Discovered at kellis in Dakhla by the Canadian Mission, these
sycamore tablets contain documents that list marriage contracts, the
buying and selling of goods, letters, and even some fiction writing.
They provide us with a glimpse of everyday life in Dakhla during the
Roman period. They were found in the home of the craftsman who
fashioned the wooden tablets for people to use as we use notebooks
The second floor of the museum is devoted to Islamic
and Coptic items and is heavy with jewelry, coins, and personal
items. Many of the items on this floor are on loan from other
museums in Egypt. An entire room is devoted to silver service,
plates, tablecloths, and other items from the Manial Palace in
Cairo. There is also a coin display of the Muhammad Ali dynasty,
rounding out the museum's very interesting coin collection.
With all the archaeological work going on in the
New-Valley it won't be long before the museum is filled entirely
with interesting items from the desert and oases.
There are three panels of Coptic textiles on view, dated from
seventh to the ninth centuries. They carry floral and animal
patterns and consist of a woolen head covering, a jacket, and a
panel. All are on loan from the Coptic Museum.
These eighteenth-century wooden icons are of the virgin Mary and
Jesus, and the martyr Mari Girgis stabbing the Dragon. On loan from
the Coptic Museum.
Arabic and Coptic
Books A display of Arabic and
Coptic books show various scripts and designs.
There are a number of interesting coins displayed here from almost
all periods of Islamic history. They include gold inars, silver
coins of the Mamluk sultan Baybars, glass coin-weights of the
Fatimid caliph al-Aziz al-Azhir, tenth-and eleventh-century glass
measures for lentils, cumin, oil, and more. A very interesting
Bagawat, and Environs
Walk, 2X2, some 4X4
N 25 27 531
E 30 32 931
N 25 28 589
E 30 33 527
N 25 28 963
E 30 33 293
The Temple of Nadura, the lookout, is visible atop a
133 meter (425 fot) hill and, as its name implies, commands a superb
view from this strategic position. Dating from 138-161, during the
reign of Caesar Antominus, it is typical of the temple/forts which
were built to protect the oases. The outside wall has disappeared in
places. The interior contains a large open space with a sandstone
temple with hieroglyphic inscriptions in the center, It was later
used as a Turkish fortress.
The main entrance to the complex is
through a sandstone agate in the southern was with a smaller
entrance in the northern wall. Within the was stood the temple, with
three rooms. A church once stood within the enclosure was, but
outside the temple itself. Near the bottom of the hill toward Hibis
is a second, uninscribed temple, also Roman.
Nadura is southeast of the Temple of Hibis and 1.5 kilometers (1
mile) north of the tourist information office at Qasr Kharga. Turn
right (south) on the paved road and park at the base of the
mountain. Enjoy the climb!
Hibis, known as the Town of the Plugh in ancient
times, was the garrisoned capital of the oasis. Easily covering a
square kilometer, it lay in the valley between the foothills of
Gebels al-Teir and Nadura. We know little cultivated land, but
excavations by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1909-10, uncovered
a few huses with vaulted ceilings and fresco paintings.
In the center of the town stood the
Temple of Amun-Re, a sandstone temple, with an Bagawat.
East/west axis, which is the best preserved temple in
the Western Desert (Partly because it was buried in sand until the
Metropolitan team dug it out). It was begun by Apries in 588 B.C.,
during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, continued by his successor Amasis
II, and completed by Darius I in 522 B.C. The temple is one of two
built by the Persians in Egypt, both in Kharga Oasis. Further
addition were made by later pharaohs and a fourth century church was
built along the north side of the portico.
Today the temple is located in
picturesque palm grove in front of what was once the sacred lake. It
is approached through a Roman gate with inscriptions thqat have
contributed greatly to our understanding of Roman rule. Created in
A.D. 68, they provide information on a variety of topics including
taxation, the court system, inheritance, and the rights of woman.
Modern graffiti found in the hypostyle hall includes the names of
nineteenth-century European travelers: Cailliaud, who claims to
have discovered it, Drovetti, Rosingana, Houghton, Hyde,
Schweinfurth, and Rohlfs.
The temple is dedicated to the Theban
triad Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, and reliefs are in very good condition.
There is also a large wall relief of Seth, the god of the oases,
with a blue body and the head of a falcon. Here he is slaying a
serpent with his spear. Recently the temple has been the object of a
five-year epigraphic survey carried out by an American team led by
Eugene Cruze-Uribe. In front of the temple are Greek and Roman
Getting There: Hibis is
1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) after the turn off for Nadura. You can't
Entrance Fee. Cascading
down the southern foothills of Gebel al-Teir are the desert brown,
domed mausoleums of one of the earliest and best preserved Christian
cemeteries in the world, Bagawat. In the center of the cemetery
stands a Christian church that still had "traces of saints painted
on the wall" when Edmondstone passed this way in 1819. Numbering 263
in all, with many pit burial between the chapels, most of the tombs
are a single room. Some are larger and six have domed roofs.
Evidence indicates the area was burial site long before the
Christian era, but the current structures date from the fourth to
the seventh centuries (some sources say only until the fifth
century). Each chapel once had a wooden door with lintels of wood or
stone at the entrance. Most have plain interiors, but there are
several with wall paintings and graffiti. Two stand out: the Chapel
of the Exodus and the Chapel of Peace.
Chapel of the Exodus
One of the earliest chapels in the necropolis, the
interior of the Chapel of the Exodus is decorated with scenes from
the Old Testament,, which run in two circles around the interior of
the dome. The upper register show Moses leading the Israelites, the
Israelites on their journey through Sinai, Pharaoh and the Egyptian
army, Noah's Ark, Adam and Eve, Daniel in the lion's den, Shadrach,
Mishach, and Abednego in the furnace, the sacrifices of Abraham,
Jonah in the whale, Jonah out of the whale, Rebecca at the well, job
in a chair, job suffering, Susanna and Jeremiah at the temple of
Jerusalem, Sarah in prayer, a shepherd, the martyrdom of St. Thekla,
seven virgins, and a garden.
In addition to the original paintings,
there is graffiti in this chapel dating from the ninth century to
the present day, including the scribblings of Turkish soldiers, whom
historians believe may have been garrisoned here 200 years ago.
Chapel of Peace
Located in the southwest corner of the necropolis,
the domed Chapel of Peace also has a richly decorated interior.
Vines, peacocks, and allegorical figures, all in Byzantine style and
reminiscent of paintings in the catacombs in Rome, are found
throughout. The most exciting frescoes are around the central panel
f the dome. Identified in Greek, they are, starting from the panel
above the entrance: Adam and Eve after the Fall; the Sacrifice of
Isaac; Eirene, the Allegory of Peace; Daniel in the lions' den;
Dikaiosyne, he Allegory of justic; Euche, the Allegory of
PrayerJacob; Noah's Ark; The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary; and
the apostle Paul instructing Thekla.
Passing through the gate at Bagawat the road skirts
the western(left) side of the cemetery past the small house once
used by Ahmed Fakhry when he was working in the oasis (perched on
the edge of the Bagawat hill). It continues northwest to the Sixth
Dynasty Tombs, the Monastery of Mustafa kashif, Ain Zaaf, Tahunet
al-Haa, and a few other ruins.
Sixth Dynasty Tombs
Although named after a dynasty of the Old Kingdom,
the mostly unexcavated Sixth Dynasty Tombs have not really been
identified as belonging to the ancient Egyptians and to date little
evidence has been found to suggest that the ancient Egyptians
maintained any significant presence in Kharga Oasis. The rock tombs
are cut into the side of the foothills behind Bagawat and run for
nearly a kilometer.
Monastery of Mustafa Kashif
Just beyond the tombs and a kilometer north of
Bagawat, commanding a magnificent view of the valley, is the
Monastery of Mustafa Kashif, Mustapha the tax collector. Named after
a governor of the oasis during Mamluk times, the site, now in ruins,
was occupied during the Middle Kingdom, the Roman Period, and the
Christian era, when the current structure was built. A Mamluk army
general dug the nearby well, which is no silted up.
With two entrances on the northern
and southern walls, the building, part monastery, part hostel for
travelers, was erected over an ancient tomb and once had five
levels. Home to Christian hermits, it contains a church, where
inscriptions dating to the fifth and sixth centuries are found on
the ceiling. The western side is the oldest.
Despite its ruinous state, the monastery is still a
magnificent structure. Shards cover the ground around the ruin. On
the depression floor below the monastery are several additional
Ain Zaaf, Spring of Palm Fronds, is tucked into the
base of the foothhills of Gebel al_Teir, a kilometer north of the
Monastery of Mustafa Kashif. It contains three structures:
A Christian burial chapel that could have jumped out
of the cemetery of Bagawat, a barrel vaulted tomb, and a recently
excavated Christian church that archaeologists believe could be the
church of the banished Bishop Athanasius. Today, roofless and
standing less than a meter high, the church is a labyrinth of tiny
rooms. Along the northwest corner is Coptic graffiti. For the
naturalist and rock hound the cliffs around Ain Zaaf hold various
clays and colored stones.
On the west side of the road, visible from Ain Zaaf
but accessible only by 4X4, as it is surrounded by sand dunes, is
the well-preserved Roman mudbrick watchtower of Tahunet al-Hawa, the
windmill. Standing 11.5 meters (36 feet) tall with a southern
entrance, the building rises to four stories but is only 5 meters by
6.5 meters)16 feet by 21 feet) at its base. The floors perhaps built
of wood, have collapsed. Like he Monastery of Mustafa Kashif, it
guarded the crossroads of the oasis.
Just before it is an ancient desert track
(N 2530802 E 30 32 061) and beyond Ain Zaaf, is a small chambered
structure of two stories of arches. It may well be Ain Khussa.
Gebel al-Teir, Mountain of the Birds, an outlier
mountain. is located 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Qasr Kharga.
Along its southern side it is 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) long, 1
kilometer 0.6 miles) wide, and 319 meters (1,020 feet) above sea
level. On its northern side it is 5 kilometers ( 3 miles) long and
600 meters (1,920 feet) high.
Gebel al-Teir is a true wilderness. It is the home of
foxes, wild dogs, snakes, including the deadly horned viper, and a
lot fossils. Because of the quarrying roads that have been created
recently, a trip into the wadis of Rock inscriptions at Gebel
Gebel al-Teir is complicated and should not be
undertaken without a local guide.
Located abut 2 kilometers (1.2 miles)
north of Bagawat in one of the wadis of Gebel al-Teir are three
different sets of rock inscriptions and graffiti covering a time
span from prehistory to this century. The first set of graffiti is
on the eastern façade of mountain, at the very entrance to the wadi.
Hunters with bows and arrows, giraffes, gazelles, a boat, ancient
Egyptian gods, and Demotic, Greek, Coptic, and Arabic script collide
in a topsy-turvy jumble of writing and drawing in this timewarp
motel, a billboard still in use after thousands of years.
The second set is located 155 meters (496
feet) further into the wadi along the same side. Here in addition to
more of the same, we have a great deal of hieroglyphic writing and
inscriptions to the ancient Egyptian gods. Located across the wadi
from an ancient stone quarry, this site was heavily inscribed during
The third set of inscriptions, mostly
Coptic, is harder to reach. On the western side, a path leads to the
top of the mountain through a grotto. Here Coptic paintings,
prayers, and invocations dating from the fourth, fifth, and tenth
centuries are the dominant motif. There is also Demotic and Greek
script. Most of these inscriptions, often identified by a cross,
were left by the hermits who lived in these caves.
At the top of the mountain is the Cave of
Mary, which must have been a revered place during the Christian era,
is a painting of the Madonna and Child and a prayer in alternating
red and yellow lines.
2x2 (4x4 beyond Dush or
entrance fee at Zayyan,
Ghweita, and Dush.
N 25 27 531
E 30 32 931
N 25 23 480
E 30 33 314
Ginah (at d)
N 25 19 184
E 30 33 242
N 25 19 144
E 30 33 386
Ghweita Zayyan (at rd)
N 25 17 692
E 30 32 724
N 25 10 719
E 30 32 188
N 24 48 823
E 30 34 825
New Baris/Shams al-Din
Dush(at main road)
N 24 31 747
N 24 40 543
N 24 30 225
N 24 33 318
E 30 35 897
E 30 36 061
E 30 36 949
E 30 27 222
The southern portion of the Darb al-Arbain in Kharga
is in sharp contrast to its northern counterpart. Where the north is
surrounded by escarpments, the south with only an eastern scarp is
open to the rest of the desert. Where water is very scarce in the
north, it is readily available in the south. Unsurprisingly, in this
century it is the south that has seen extensive development. New
villages, all with electricity, primary schools, and health clinics,
have been established, bearing names such as Algeria, Kuwait, and
Aden, in tribute to neighboring Arab countries.
The journey from Qasr Kharga to Dush, the last ruin
in the oasis, covers about 110 kilometers (69 miles) one way. It
moves along a well paved highway and is therefore accessible to all
vehicles. Some of the sites are located along desert tracks, 3 to 10
kilometers (1.8 to 6 miles) off the main road, but most of these
secondary tracks are paved (at least to the major monuments), or are
easily traveled b regular vehicle. Since there is no petrol along
the route, travelers must carry enough for the return trip.
Now Kharga has a new train. Officially opened in
1996, it currently has three routes: Kharga to Qena (and on to
Luxor), Kharga to Baris, and Kharga to Dakhla (under construction).
The train is part of the infrastructure for the new development in
the south which will bring a lot of water to the oasis and is
intended to link the train routes being developed in the Eastern
Desert and Delta, The train from Qena in the Nile Valley arrives
Thursday around 3:30 pm and leaves Friday at 8:00 am, to give
tourists time to visit the major sites at the oasis. The trip to
Qena covers 410 kilometers. It takes about six hours with an
additional two hours to reach Luxor, the most popular destination.
Currently passengers are few in number.
It also has a new train station and it is a work of
art. Designed to resemble an Islamic building with a domed center
hall, the interior is all marble. I is very extravagant and quite a
statement about the future of the New Valley. (For the original
railway built by the British see Nqb al-Rufu below.)