Farafra Oasis
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Farafra Oasis

 

Farafra is a small oasis located in the western desert of Egypt. It is considered to be the most isolated oasis of the governorate of Al Wadi Al Gadid in Southern Egypt. Maybe this is why the people who live in Farafra are still famous until today for practicing their old traditions and customs. The Farafra Oasis has gained the attention of tourists during the last few years because of its unique magic and because the oasis can be the start point for many interesting tours in the Western desert of Egypt like to the white desert and the Crystal Mountains.

The Farafra Oasis is located in the western desert of Egypt inside the borders of the governorate of Al Wadi Al Gadid, the largest governorate in Egypt in terms of space. The Farafra Oasis is 170 kilometers away from the Bahariya Oasis  and 627 kilometers away from Cairo, 370 kilometers to the South West of Marsa Matroh.
Historians believed that the oasis of Farafra went through three phases in prehistoric times when the oasis was exposed to a set of heavy rains. This was a proof that Farafra hosted inhabitants since the prehistoric era when these rains attracted many Egyptians to go and live in the Farafra. Some other historians believe that the Farafra was the connection point between the Libyan Desert and the Egyptian desert. With many trading routs between the Western Desert and the Nile Valley, Farafra was one of the most important transit points for the caravans. The Farafra Oasis had a role as well in the Pharos time as this small oasis was mentioned in many ancient Egyptian texts especially in the reign of the 10th dynasty in the 21st BC. The Farafra was called "Ana Akhet", or the land of the cow as a symbol of fertility in reference to the ancient god Hathour and it was best described as the city of conquest or invasion because of its remoteness. In the new kingdom, there were some evident that Ramsis II used to import stones from the Farafra Oasis to be used in constructing his many temples in Luxor precisely. However, no mining locations have ever been discovered in the Farafra. During the Roman era, the oasis, including Al Dakhla, Al Kharga, Al Bahareya, and Al Farafra were the lands of grains as many grains were cultivated in the lands of the oasis. The Romans left some monuments in the Farafra like the Qaser Al Farafra  and Qaser Abu Monqar and some other rock cut tombs. There are also the ruins of a Roman Temple. In the Coptic time, Egyptian Copts used to escape the aggressiveness and assaults of the Romans and go to the Farafra and the other oasis as well. The Copts left some ruins in Farafra that proof they had a sort of civilization there. After the Arab conquest of Egypt, the trade of dates and olives between the Farafra oasis and the Nile Valley flourished tremendously. Camel caravans used to carry the goods and products of the Farafra to the district of Dirot on the Nile valley. The caravans used to go back to the Farafra full of cloth, tea, and all the products of the Nile Valley. The family of Mohamed Ali gave some attention to the oasis and the Farafra among them. This was why Khedive Ismail sent the German scientist Gerhard Rudolf to see if the Farafra really hosted a river that contained no water. Rudolf tried to pass through the western desert to reach Farafra but he was never able to do so. However he spent three months, with his caravan, in the Egyptian desert and oasis. Rudolf published an interesting study concerning his stay in the deserts of Egypt and this publication worked as a reference for any one who wanted to explore the Western Desert. If you happen to be on a jeep or camel safari to Dakhla Oasis, ask your guide to stop at two sites of geological interest. An area across the highway from Ain Sheikh Mazouk is strewn with hundreds of thousands of iron pyrites shaped like flowers, starbursts, twigs or dog turds (their black colour caused by a chemical change from sulphide to oxide), plus fossils of ancient marine creatures such as Terebratulina and Spirobris. Further south towards Abu Minqar lies the Valley of Shells (Wadi el-Khawaka), strewn with prehistoric sea-shells.

Farafra Oasis Highlight

QASR AL-FARAFRA

Badr’s Museum
Badr Museum is located in Farafra Oasis, it is a combination between a house & a museum to displays the work of a local artist, Badr Abdel Moghny. He works with mud, stone and sand to paint and sculpt art that depicts traditional oasis life.
Badr Abdel-Moghni is a native of the oasis, a self-taught artist who encapsulates the local life in sculpture, oil and watercolor. He is also a mine of information about the life and culture of the oasis. Some of Badr’s most striking work is in local sandstone which he carves into distinctive figures and features. He works with mud, stone and sand to paint and sculpt art that depicts traditional oasis life. This is a great way to learn about how the oasis people live while enjoying some lovely works of art.

The Fortress
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.

The palm groves
The extensive palm groves behind the village look especially lovely just before sunset. They are divided into walled gardens planted with olive and fruit trees as well as date palms. You can walk the paths freely but shouldn’t enter the gardens uninvited.
Although most visitors are content to see the White Desert, those with time to spare might consider visiting other beauty spots in the oasis. Farafra has about a hundred wells and natural springs used for irrigation, some of which are also suitable for bathing. Bir Setta (Well Six), northwest of town is a keyhole-shaped tank of sulphurous warm water that stains your clothes brown. Further north, all kinds of birdlife are drawn to the reedy freshwater lake of Abu Nus. To the south are Ain Besai, a cold pool beside the rock tombs and chapels of a settlement abandoned in Christian times, and Ain Sheikh Mazouk, a hot sulphur spring feeding a tank where local men bathe.

WHITE  DESERT NATIONAL PARK

Crystal Mountain
Gebel Izaz or Crystal Mountain is situated between the Bahariya Oasis and the Farafra Oasis, in the northern part of the White Desert. Despite its name, the Crystal Mountain is not really a mountain, rather a rock or ridge sparkling like a crystal. It is an unusual hollowed circular stone imbedded with crystals. A stop here, however, is definitely worth the time, because it is a perfect spot for lovers of natural rock formations, who adore watching the enchanting quartz crystals. The sun rays make the big rock with its arch to spark even more.
Geologists, who studied the Crystal Mountain, think this structure was once a cave made from limestone and completed with stalactites and stalagmites. This cave was shook by the earth movements and while time was passing by the roof was destroyed by erosion. Others think the Crystal Mountain has a sub-volcanic vault dating probably from the Oligocene age. The layers of chalk from the White Desert and the limestone, the coal and the ferruginous layers of brownish and reddish colours are dating from the Cretaceous age. The layers are broken and folded.
If you visit Crystal Mountain, you should know that it is not indicated to break parts from the arch structure. There are numerous crystals spread around on the ground that can be taken.

Agabat
Agabat is the name given to scores of rock surrounded by sand and powdered chalk. Agabat is a small valley of unusually beautiful mountain formations. Here the white cliffs common to the White Desert meet the dunes and the yellow limestone rocks of Sahara. Also mountain sides here are steeper than elsewhere along the route between Bahariya and Farafra. Up from the lowest point in the valley, there is what must have been a riverbed, lifted up by nature to a position weirdly off any place where water could be brought forth.

White Desert
Most visitors to Farafra Oasis go there to see the White Desert, the area to the north-east of Qasr el-Farafra which is renowned for its spectacular scenery. The chalk-white landscape is strewn with alien shapes, boulders of brilliant white which thrust up from the surface of the desert, intensified by the clear light of noon, shimmering gold at sunset or blackened and shrunken in a cloud-filled sky.
Many of the formations are given descriptive names – sculpted by the harsh desert winds into weird shapes which constantly change over time. There are ‘monoliths’ and ‘mushrooms’, ‘ice cream cones’, ‘tents’ and ‘crickets’, as well as the majestic conical flat-topped ‘inselbergs’, to name but a few of the formations.
In the remote past, the White Desert was a sea-bed, the sedimentary layers of rock formed by marine fauna when the ocean dried up. Later a habitat for many roaming herds of elephant, giraffe, gazelle and other animals, the desert would have been a savannah with lush green areas and lakes full of fish, an ideal hunting ground for pre-historic man. The landscape we see today was formed  by the plateau breaking down, leaving harder rock shapes standing while the softer parts are eroded away by wind and sand. In some parts the chalk surface still has the appearance of delicate wind-ruffled waves on water.
The White Desert is now a protectorate, known as the White Desert Park, where designated routes must be followed when driving in 4WD vehicles. The outer parts nearest the road are known as the Old Desert and can be reached in a normal vehicle.
Many visitors choose an overnight camping safari to witness the drama of both sunset and dawn. The new tracks are laid out to guide vehicles past the most famous desert landmarks, first a field of giant ‘mushrooms’, followed by an ancient lone Acacia tree.
Another area is known as ‘The White House’, an enclosure of rocks surrounded by gleaming white chalk fields and nearby, a narrow entrance to a deep cave penetrates the rock.
Beyond this in the ‘New Desert’ which is only accessible by 4WD or camel, the landscape becomes even whiter. The boulders crowd together, are higher and larger and everywhere weird shapes appear that might remind you of a chicken or a hawk, a troupe of dancers or an old men wearing a hat. The shapes change constantly as the light changes and you move around them and as the sun begins to set they turn a softly glowing pink. The White Desert is a place that is very hard to leave. It is a truly magical experience.

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