Dakhla Oasis
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Dakhla Oasis


Dakhla Oasis is considered to be one of the most attractive oases in Egypt. The oasis boasts over 500 hot springs, including Bir Tarfawi and Bir Al-Gebel Hot Spring, as well as charming mud-brick housing and ruins in the medieval town and village of Al-Qasr and Balat. Dakhla Oasis lies to the northwest of Kharga and is also about 310 km to the southeast of Farafra. This oasis consists of 14 settlements and has a population of about 70,000 people.

Dakhla is the farthest oasis out of Cairo and is considered one of Egypt's most beautiful oases. Dakhla sits in a depression surrounded by pink cliffs. There are about 30,000 acres of cultivated land. Most of its 70,000 or so residents are farmers who constantly fight the battle of the dunes that threaten their fields and orchards. The fields and gardens are filled mostly with mulberry trees, date palms, figs and other citrus fruits. Research has found that the Oasis has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and that there was once a huge lake here. There are neolithic rock paintings that indicate that the lake was frequented by elephants, buffaloes and ostriches. As the lake dried up, the inhabitants migrated to the Nile valley and were probably some of its first settlers. Dakhla Oasis is dominated on its northern horizon by a wall of rose-Colored rock. Fertile cultivated areas growing rice, peanuts and fruit are dotted between sand dunes along the roads from Farafra and Kharga in this area of outstanding natural beauty. The capital, Mut, named after the ancient goddess of the Theban Triad, houses the Museum of the Inheritance, a traditional house, with an intricate wooden combination lock. Rooms, with sculpted clay figures, are arranged to show different aspects of Dakhlan culture and family life. Al-Kasr, about 35 km. from Mut, was originally a Roman settlement which later became the medieval capital of Dakhla. The old town is a labyrinth of mud-walled alleys narrowly separating houses with elaborately- carved wooden lintels; there is also an Ayyubid mosque. Climb to the rooftop of the 10th century madrassa (school) for wonderful views of the surrounding area. Bir al-Gabel, a palm-fringed salt lake where you can camp and picnic, is on the road back to Mut. Other day trips from Mut could include the 1st-century al-Muzawaka tombs and Deir al Hagar, a temple which was originally dedicated to the Theban Triad and later rebuilt by the Romans. After exploring the temple, bathe in the hot sulphur spring nearby. Visit Bashendi to see Roman tombs and a factory where carpets are still woven with scenes of Dakhlan life. At nearby Balat village, a trading post with ancient Nubia, archeologists are still uncovering dozens of 6th dynasty mastabas.

Dakhla Oasis Highlights

EAST DAKHLA OASIS



Tineida
Tineida is village which said to have its origins in ancient Egyptian times. Today the area is surrounded by cultivated fields which no doubt cover many remains of ancient structures around 135km from Kharga, before reaching Tineida, there are rocks on the south side of the road covered with ancient carvings of giraffes, camels and men on horses. The inscriptions on the northern side of the soft sandstone rocks are well-preserved, suggesting that they may only have been uncovered in recent times. The exact date of the carvings is unknown, but archaeolo gists suggest that some may predate the Pharaonic Period, although modern signatures have now defaced many of the older grafitto. This was once the site of a major crossroads where the caravan route from the Nile Valley met the track from Kharga to Dakhla. On the east side of Tineida village, a Muslim cemetery contains several large domed sheikh's tombs as well as many unusual painted mud grave-stones in the style of tiny houses.

Ain Birbiya
One of the most important sites in the Tineida area is a Temple of Amun-Nakht and his consort Hathor at Ain Birbiya, between the villages of Tineida and Ezbet Bashendi. Excavation of this ‘buried temple’ has been conducted by the Dakhla Oasis Project since 1995 when it was re-discovered after being covered by sand for many years - a process which has been very slow and exacting as the team are conserving the structure as they excavate it. The desert has preserved the decoration well and many reliefs so far uncovered have provided scholars with valuable information about the obscure deity who was known as ‘Amun the Mighty One, Lord of the Desert’. Other titles are similar to those of Horus, suggesting that he was  probably a local aspect of the latter god. Inscriptions claim that Amun-Nakht twice visited Dakhla in order to defeat his enemies. The temple at Ain Birbiya is thought to date from the reign of Augustus Caesar, who constructed the gateway into the enclosure, and probably also the Emperor Hadrian. During the 2004 season Anthony Mills and Adam Zielinski of the   Dakhla Oasis Project, continued excavation and preservation work on the temple. On the rear wall in the sanctuary area, they found a large icon of Amun-Nakht which was originally inlaid.

Ezbet Bashendi
The village of Bashendi lies 4km from Tineida, to the north of the main road. The inhabitants claim that the origin of the name of their village is derived from a medieval Indian prince, Pasha Hindi who settled there and is the ancestor of most of the villagers. This is a romantic story and although Pasha Hindi’s domed tomb (built over a Roman tomb) can be found in the village, the modern name is more likely to be derived from ancient Egyptian. Even the houses are considered to be of pharaonic design and are said to sit on top of pharaonic remains. The village was probably first inhabited during the Christian era and Roman tombs lie under the foundations of many of the existing houses. Some of these are accessible, including the tomb of Kitines (2nd century AD) which consists of six chambers with relief decoration in a mixture of Egyptian and Roman styles. There is also said to be a New Kingdom Temple of Mut in the vicinity. To the south-west of Bashendi, at Ain Tirghi is a cemetery thought to date from the Second Intermediate Period, though most burials appear to date to the Late and Roman Periods. Some of the tombs contain as many as 40 burials.

Balat
The modern village of Balat, around 9km west of Tineida, has spread beyond the older fortified town. Built during the Mamaluke and Turkish eras, the Islamic town is perched on a mound and is little changed since Medieval times. Inside the walls of this once busy town, picturesque winding lanes roofed with palm fronds shelter dark ornately carved doorways of houses typical of the Islamic architecture in the oases during this period. The roofed streets would have acted as additional protection for the inhabitants, as they were too low to admit mounted invaders. The old houses consisted of two or three stories with mudbrick walls plastered and painted in pink or ochre. Bread ovens and storage containers can still be seen on the roofs of some of the crumbling dwellings though few people live in the old town today. The Egyptian government is hoping to clear the area so that it can be restored and turned into a museum Now Balat is beginning to reveal its secrets of an even earlier history, for nearby at Qila el-Dab'a is an Old Kingdom necropolis and an associated settlement from the same period at Ain Asil. These areas are currently being excavated.

WEST DAKHLA OASIS



Mut
Is the main town of Dakhla and is growing into a sprawling city. Old architecture is becoming rare although it is still possible to visit Old Mut with its narrow, shaded streets. The main reason to spend time in Mut is the excellent ethnographic museum. There are no official opening times for this museum. The Tourist Information Office or Culture office will be able to help you to gain access.

Qasr El-Dakhla
Qasr El-Dakhla situated to the north-west of Mut. el-Qasr (meaning ‘the Fortress’) was probably founded around the end of the 12th century AD by the Ayyubids, over the remains of an earlier Roman Period settlement. During this time the fortified town is thought to have been the capital of the oasis, constructed in a defensive position against marauding invaders from the south and west. Like the Medieval town of Mut, its streets were divided into quarters which could be closed off at night by barred gates The narrow covered streets have changed little since Medieval times. and a three-story mudbrick minaret rising 21m above the mosque of Nasr el-Din, erected during the Ayyubid Period, is one of the landmarks of the town. Wooden lintels over the entrances bear inscriptions from the Quran and attached to the mosque is the madrasa where the scriptures were taught to young boys, now renovated and still used as a school and a public meeting place. The madrassa and the restored house of Abu Nafir are open to visitors. This tall house, typical of the Medieval Islamic period, with its heavy carved wooden door, is said to be built over remains of a Ptolemaic Period temple and its door jambs depict hieroglyphs presumably from re-used blooks. As a respite from the scorching heat of the sun, the cool dark twisting alleyways of the old town offer views of many ornately carved beams and lintels which decorate the entrances to houses. The oldest inscription dates to 1518 on the Beit Ibrahim. Recently discovered kilns from a pottery factory, and a corn-mill, suggests that el-Qasr had a thriving community since antiquity. The town still has around 700 inhabitants, many who follow the traditions of craftsmen from a time gone by. Today the town is renowned for its traditional earthenware pots and palm-leaf basketry. The Muzawwaqa tombs are accessed from a dirt road 2km west of Qasr Dakhla. Out of the three hundred tombs here, two in particular stand out. The tombs of Petubastis and Padiosiris are both highly decorated with full colour paintings which are about 2000 years old. Damage to the tombs means they are not always open.

Bir el-Gabal
(Well of the Mountain) is one of the prettiest springs in the entire Western Desert. It has a hot spring, a small picturesque village, interesting Yardage, lush fields and wonderful dunes to the foot of the scarp. The spring is situated in a small palm grove.

Deir El-Hagar
Deir El-Hagar the ‘Monastery of Stone’ is a sandstone temple on the western edge of Dakhla Oasis, about 10km from el-Qasr in the desert to the south of the cultivation. In ancient times it was known as the ‘Place of Coming Home’, or ‘Set-whe’. After being buried in debris and sand for many centuries the temple has been uncovered, restored and partially reconstructed during the 1990s by the Dakhla Oasis Project with the Supreme Council of Antiquities and is now open to visitors. The temple of Deir el-Hagar represents one of the most complete Roman monuments in Dakhla Oasis Dedicated mainly to the Theban Triad and to Thoth, construction of the temple began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 54-68), whose cartouche can be seen in the sanctuary. The walls also bear the names of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and Titus (AD 79-81) and the monumental gateway was decorated during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96), although other Roman rulers have contributed to the decoration, with the latest inscription in the temple dating to the 3rd century AD The temple building measures 7.3m by 16.2m and has a well-preserved outer mudbrick enclosure wall where some remains of painted plaster can still be seen. The main gateway is in the eastern side of the enclosure wall, while another gateway to the south, in the temenos wall of the sanctuary, depicts many Greek inscriptions and graffito written by early travellers who wanted to record their visits to this sacred place. A processional way leading from the main gateway up to the temple entrance still has remains of round mud-brick columns which would have been part of pillared halls flanking the entrance and a few small sphinxes found in this area can now be seen in the Kharga Heritage Museum the entrance to the temple is through a screen wall into the wide pronaos or porch, which has two columns. A doorway leads to a small hypostyle hall containing four columns which in turn opens into a hall of offerings before the central sanctuary. The sanctuary is flanked by two side-chambers - to the south is the staircase which would have given access to the roof and to the north a storage chamber. The sanctuary itself was decorated with a magnificent astronomical ceiling, dating to the rule of Hadrian (AD 117-138), which had painted reliefs including an arching figure of the goddess Nut, representing the sky and the god Geb, who symbolises the earth In the centre of the ceiling the god Osiris is represented by the constellation of Orion, while other astronomical features are represented by various deities whose task was to maintain the universe. The west wall at the rear of the sanctuary gives prominence to the primary gods of the temple, Amun-Re and Mut. The south wall portrays the Theban Triad of Amun-Re, Mut and Khons, as well as Seth, Nephthys, Re-Horakhty, Osiris and Isis, and Min-Re. The northern wall includes the Theban Triad alongside the Heliopolitan creator gods, Geb, Nut, Shu and Tefnut. Here also is an important representation of the Dakhla god Amun-Nakht (seen at Ain Birbiya) and an inscription from the sanctuary denotes his earliest known visit to the oasis. This desert god, who seems to have characteristics of both Amun-Re and Horus, is shown here with his consort Hathor. Thoth, another deity well-represented in the oases is seen with his local consort Nehmetaway. These are all deities which occur in paintings in Shrine 1 at Kellis and probably at the  temple at Ain Birbiya, showing that they were probably partly of local origin or variation. Remains of other still partly-buried structures surround the temple and there is a block field to the west of the enclosure. In the immediate vicinity there is much evidence of agriculture in Roman times, including pigeon-houses. To the north-west of the temple is a Roman Period cemetery where crude human-headed terracotta coffins have been uncovered.

El-Muzzawaka Tombs
El-Muzzawaka Tombs means ‘The Decorated Hill’, but this area, which is really part of the Amheida cemeteries, consists of a series of small soft stone hills or ridges in which over 300 tombs were cut. Primarily Roman and dated to the first and second centuries AD, a few of the tombs are decorated in a mixture of traditional Egyptian and classical style. Although many of the tombs are still unexcavated, two of the most interesting, belonging to Petubastis and Petosiris, are outstanding for their exquisite colourful frescos. The tomb of Petubastis consists of a single decorated chamber with recessed shelves intended to house the mummies of the deceased. On the eastern wall is a portrait of the tomb-owner, painted onto plaster. The ceiling of the chapel is painted with a zodiac in the style of the first century AD. The second tomb, belonging to one Padiosir Petosiris, dates from the early part of the second century AD and contains two chambers. The owner is again portrayed on the northern wall of the outer chamber as a large figure wearing a long pink Roman-style toga. Curiously he is surrounded by representations of traditional ancient Egyptian religious symbols, including a hieroglyphic text. The inner chamber depicts the weighing of the deceased’s heart before Osiris while Isis provides a libation for the spirit of Padiosir. Other scenes are reminiscent of the New Kingdom funerary art. Here, a more complex zodiac than that in the tomb of Petubastis, is painted with figures of birds and animals, a scarab and the god Horus as well as the usual representations of the constella tions.

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