Bahariya Oasis
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Bahariya Oasis


Bahariya Oasis is easy to reach from Cairo you will pass through much desert, Bahariya is in the middle of Egypt’s Western Desert, about 365 kilometers south-west of Cairo and it is the best starting point for the Black and White Desert, the conical hills that lie strewn around the valley floor may have once formed islands in the lake that covered the area during prehistoric times. During the Pharaonic era, the oasis was a centre of agriculture, producing wine sold in the Nile Valley and as far away as Rome.

Its strategic location on the Libya–Nile Valley caravan routes ensured it prospered throughout later ages. The most famous of Bahariya , a thermal spring with medicinal and restorative properties, comes out in the Bedouin village of Bawiti. Wildlife is plentiful, especially birds such as wheatears, Bahariya Oasis might also appeal rock hounds . Golden Mummies were discovered - 'Valley of the Mummies' is the biggest of its kind . Estimates are the four-mile strip of desert holds 5,000 - 10,000 mummies. The mummies are covered with a thin layer of gold and wearing gypsum masks. Sumptuous gilded death masks depict lifelike faces of real people, rather than stereotypical images. They were found in four tombs in the town of Bawiti in Bahariya Oasis.
Bahariya consists of many villages of which El Bawiti is the largest and the administrative center. Qasr is el-Bawiti's neighboring/twin village. To the east, about ten kilometers away are the villages of Mandishah and el-Zabu. A smaller village called el-'Aguz lies between El Bawiti and Mandishah. Harrah, the eastern most village, is a few kilometers east of Mandishah and el-Zabu. El Heiz is the southern most village, but it may not always be considered as part of Bahariya because it is so far from the rest of the villages, about fifty kilometers south of El Bawiti.
The people of the oasis are the descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the oasis, Bedouin tribes from Libya and the north coast, and other people from the Nile Valley who came to settle in the oasis. Also traditional music is very important to the Oasis people. Flutes, drums, and the simsimeyya (a harp-like instrument) are played at social gatherings, particularly at weddings. Traditional songs in rural style are passed down from generation to generation.

Bahariya Oasis Highlights

BAWITI



Oasis Heritage Museum
Bawiti’s most visible “sight” is the Oasis Heritage Museum, a qasr-like ensemble beside the highway beyond the town limits. Created by Mahmoud Eed, a self-taught sculptor inspired by Badr in Farafra, the museum is a work-in-progress. Both artists’ figurines portray a way of life that’s almost disappeared in the oases, for men at least, whose job it once was to hunt gazelles and weave mats (women’s roles haven’t changed so much). Besides Mahmoud’s terracotta tableaux there’s a rather sad Reptile Collection of lizards, snakes and hedgehogs from the desert.

Ain Bishmu
Less obvious is Bawiti’s old quarter of mud-brick homes flanked by mastabas where elders sit and gossip. Beyond the domed Tomb of Sheikh el-Bishmu you can track down Ain Bishmu, a fissure in the bedrock where a spring was hewn in Roman times, gushing hot water (35°C) into a natural basin. There’s a wonderful view of the palm groves below the ridge,  where it’s delightful to wander around especially in spring.

Al-Qasr
The old quarter merges into Al-Qasr, built on the site of the former pharaonic capital and continuously inhabited since – though many houses are now abandoned or used as livestock pens. Alleys snake past secretive courtyards and walled gardens, ending in cul-de-sacs or joining up with other lanes. Some houses incorporate stones from a bygone XXVI Dynasty temple and a Roman triumphal arch which survived until the mid-nineteenth century.

Golden Mummies Museum
Near Bawiti’s hospital, the bunker-like Antiquities Inspectorate – locally known as “the museum”  was built to exhibit mummies from a huge cache found outside Bawiti in 1996. Encased in gilded and painted cartonage (linen pasteboard), with sculpted stucco masks, the eleven “Golden Mummies” displayed here include a child buried with its parents. The mother’s head is inclined towards her husband, and she wears a “chest plate” sculpted with tiny triangular breasts – a funerary fashion in Greco-Roman times, when mummification was often perfunctory. Many of the mummies removed from the earth have since deteriorated – some previously on display are no longer fit to be shown. The museum also has an impish statue of Bes, from his shrine at Ain al-Muftillah.

Tombs of Zad-Amun ef-Ankh and Bannentiu
From the Antiquities Inspectorate you can walk downhill and cross the main road to reach Qarat Qasr Salim, a built-up ridge harbouring two tombs found by Ahmed Fakhry in 1938. Both date from the XXVI Dynasty, when rich local merchants built themselves tombs emulating those of the nobility.
The Tomb of Zad-Amun ef-Ankh is sunk in a steep-sided pit. Its votive hall has rounded pillars and is decorated with deities, painted in ochre, brown and black upon a white background. Zad-Amun was wealthy enough to afford his alabaster and limestone sarcophagi to be quarried near Tell el-Amarna and Giza, shipped along the Nile and then dragged 200km overland to Bawiti.
Nearby is the Tomb of Bannentiu, his son, at the bottom of a 10m shaft. Mind your head on the steel grating and the low entrance to its votive hall, whose inscriptions acclaim Bannentiu as a priest and a prophet. Here the pillars are square and the murals are in brick red, golden yellow, pale blue and black upon white. Some of the deities have only been sketched in, but there’s a fine solar barque at the back, and the embalming process is shown on the right-hand wall.

Ain al-Muftillah
The ancient town once extended to Ain al-Muftillah, a spring nowadays on the outskirts of the desert. It’s feasible to cycle here but better to go by car, as the route isn’t signposted or easy to describe. A little way south of the spring is a wooden-roofed enclosure containing four small ruined shrines from the XXVI Dynasty, excavated by Steindorff and Fakhry. Built of friable sandstone streaked with ochre and sienna (which makes them liable to flake and unusually colourful), none conforms to the canons of pharaonic architecture. One was dedicated to Bes, patron deity of musicians, dancers and prostitutes; all that remains of his image is a devilish foot and a tail.
By crossing the rise and a dune beyond, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Al-Qasr, Bawiti and the surrounding countryside.

Temple of Alexander
Temple of Alexander 400m away via a sandy track. Built of the same soft stone as the shrines at Ain al-Muftillah, its reliefs have suffered from being sandblasted by the wind for centuries, obliging the SCA to recreate the face and cartouche of Alexander the Great that archeologists recorded in the 1930s. This is the only temple until now in Egypt to bear Alexander’s figure and cartouche; some believe that he passed through Bahariya en route to Memphis after consulting the Siwan Oracle.

NORTHEAST AND SOUTH OF BAWITI



Hot springs
The nearest spring to Bawiti is Bir Ramla, a nice two-kilometre walk past palm and fruit orchards, although the springs are too hot (45°C) for most tourists and quite public. Men can bathe here in shorts; women only at night, in full-length opaque clothing. Similar rules apply to Bir el-Negba 1km further on.
Bir al-Mattar 5km from Bawiti, is also too hot to bathe in and there is only a trickle of water at Bir el-Ghaba “Well of the Forest” 11km from town, yet the locality is worth a visit purely for its scenery, with palm and eucalyptus groves yielding to scrub and tawny mountains in the near distance.

Jebel el-Dist
Jebel el-Dist “Mountain of the Pot” is more accurately described by guides as “Pyramid Mountain”, while the ever-changing play of light across it has inspired another name, “Magic Mountain”. Its dinosaur beds have been picked bare, but the fields and acacia groves nearer Bir el-Ghaba abound in insects and birdlife. You’ll also see a herd of camels belonging to a Bedouin family, except in July, when the oasis is plagued by camel-ticks and the camels go walkabout in the desert.

Black Mountain
 En route to all these sites you’ll pass the aptly named Black Mountain, whose dolomite and basalt mass is crowned by a ruined look-out post used by Captain Williams to monitor Senussi incursions in 1916, for which it is nicknamed the “English Mountain” (Jebel el-Ingleez). Most of the inhabited parts of the oasis are visible from its summit, whose rocks have an oddly sticky texture and smell faintly of biscuits.

Zabu
The back-road to Mandisha passes a field of dunes threatening to engulf ZABU’s houses and palm groves in sand. Behind the gardens facing the escarpment a track leads into a canebrake harbouring a giant sandstone boulder known as Qasr el-Zabu, inscribed by Libyan nomads and other travellers with petroglyphs: sun symbols, horses, a charioteer, a woman with her arms akimbo and the name of the explorer Hyde.

Black Desert
 The Black Desert is a region of volcano-shaped mountains with large quantities of small black stones.. But the Black Desert is not as black as some people may expect. Tourists who were there said that this desert is totally atypical, making you feel like you are not on Earth but on the other planet. In the Black Desert the mountains has shapes of volcano and a big quantity of little black-colored stones. The ground has a brown-orange color and has black stones too. Black rocks with soft peek, that were blunt by the wind over the years, are all over the desert, and if you will climb one of this rocks you will have a beautiful view of the surroundings. In case that you plan a trip in the Black Desert, you can start with the Gebel el-Ingliz, a rock dune that has on its top a decrepit and huge cliffs with beige sand and black basalt are all over the place.

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