Kharga Oasis
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Kharga Oasis

 

Kharga Oasis must be one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially at sunset; everything you see at this "green island in the middle of a yellow ocean of sand", The Kharga Oasis, the capital of the governorate of  Al Wadi Al Gadeed in Egypt, hosted inhabitants since prehistoric times and it is still the most populated oasis of Egypt until today. The Kharga Oasis is located to the west of the Nile valley, extends over an area of 220 kilometers from north to south and comprises the whole Southern Egypt except for the part that is beside the red sea.

The new valley governorate is one of the most important geographical locations in Egypt as it is considered to be one third of the whole area of the country. The Kharga Oasis was an important transit point for the desert caravans since the period of the 12th dynasty (1786 BC – 1665 BC). This was a transition period in the Egyptian history when the Hyksos had control over Northern Egypt and the Pharos ruled over Southern Egypt and the Nubia. The Kharga Oasis was always considered the Southern and Western Gate of Egypt. It connected Egypt to Southern Africa through Darb el-Arba ("the Way of Forty") . In August 2010, the Egyptian-American archaeological mission discovered the ruins of the most ancient residential area discovered in Sothern Egypt until now and it goes back to the second intermediate period. These ruins that the mission has found reflect that Al Kharga was a major administrative and services body at that point in history. The mission has found the ruins of some huge buildings, passageways, and a large bread bakery. These ruins go back to the Middle Kingdom (2134-1569 BC) and the scholars believe that this civilization went on until the new Kingdom (1569-1081BC). however, the area really flourished during the 13th dynasty, the second intermediate period (1664-1569 BC), and the 17th dynasty (1600- 1569 BC).
Kharga Oasis can be considered as an ideal base for an exciting safari into the Western Desert. In and around town, you can visit Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman sites, such as the Temple of Hibis, and buy from local traders at the simple souk for pottery in the southern part of Qasr town, the oasis' main town, before heading to the interesting Kharga Museum of Antiquities. Not far from Kharga, you’ll have the opportunity to explore very old Coptic landmarks such as the Necropolis of Al-Bagawat and Deir Al-Kashef Monastery.

El-Kharga Oasis Highlights

EL-KHARGA

The Museum of Antiquities of Al Kharga
The Kharga museum not only has displays from pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman and the Christian eras, but also considerable information on prehistory, including artifacts. Most of the displays were derived from the Kharga and Dakhla oasis. Museum hours are from 9 AM until 3 PM.

The lower town
From Midan Showla a busy souk runs off into an old quarter of mud-brick houses painted apricot or azure and daubed with the lucky Hand of Fatima. Turn right at the first crossroads and then left to find the Darb as-Sindadyh, a dark, serpentine alley roofed with palm trunks which once extended over 4km through a medieval settlement like the qasr in other oases. Most of this has crumbled into ruin, but a short stretch has been restored to remind visitors of what used to exist here.

NORTH OF EL-KHARGA

Temple of Nadura
Temple of Nadura sat atop a 135-metre-high hill in the desert. Dating from 138-161, during the reign of Caesar Antoninus, 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 gate in the southern wall with a smaller entrance in the northern wall. Within the wall stood the temple, with three rooms. A church once stood within the enclosure wall, but outside the temple itself. Near the bottom of the hill toward Hibis is a second, uninscribed temple, also Roman.

Temple of Hibis
The Temple of Hibis is located approximately one kilometer to the north of the city of Al Kharga. This temple is considered of significant importance as it represents different stages of the Egyptian history. The Pharonic, Persian, Ptolemaic, and Roman eras are well reflected in this ancient beautiful temple. Temple of Hibis was originally constructed during the reign of the 26th dynasty, which was the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC. The period of this dynasty is also called the Saite Period after the city of Sais, where its pharaohs had their capital. Temple was built for the worship of the holy triad (Amun- Mut- Khonsu). The construction work started under the rule of Iris and then Ahmos II. However, most of the construction works were completed during the Persian or the Hyksos occupation of Egypt specifically during the reign of Darius I (522 BC). Temple Of Hibis was enlarged during the period of Nectanebo I (380 -362 BC) and Nectanebo II (360 -343 BC). Ptolemy II (285 -246 BC) has also added the two outmost portals. Temple starts from the East with the sacred lake and the ports. Then there is the Roman gate that dates back to the Roman emperor, Galba, who built this gate in 69 AD. Afterwards, there is the rams' passageway that leads to the major gate of the temple. Afterwards, there is the Sanctum of the temple with its remarkable unique inscriptions.

Bagawat Necropolis
The Cemetery of Bagawat is located three kilometers to the North of the city of Al Kharga behind the Temple of Hibis. This cemetery got its name from its style of architecture as most of the tombs there were constructed in the form of domes, which transformed afterwards into Bagawat. This cemetery hosts one of the most important and most ancient Christian churches in the whole world. The cemetery dates back to period ranging from the second to the seventh century AD when the Christians escaping from Northern Egypt resorted to the Kharga Oasis. It contains 236 tombs constructed as small domed chapels with a central church in the middle which is considered one of the most ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt. The cemetery occupies a surface area of 10,000 squares and the most important tombs of the cemetery is the tomb of Exodus which represents the Israelis going out of Egypt and the Pharos forcing them out of the country. There is also the tomb of "peace' that contains reliefs of Jacob, the Virgin Mary, Saint Paul, and Saint Takla. Other tombs display many colorful Coptic inscriptions and writings that demonstrate the Coptic life during this period.

Deir el-Kashef
Located on a hilltop in the oasis of the El-Kharga, the Deir el-Kashef is worth a visit for all those who love visiting historical monuments and sites. Named after a Mamluke governor, the five-storey Coptic monastery once housed hermits and travellers in its vaulted cells, and still commands a view of the point where the Darb al-Ghabari from Dakhla crossed the Forty Days Road. In the valley below you can see the ruins of a small church or hermitage, with Greek texts on the walls of the nave and the tiny cells where the monks slept. Your tour is incomplete without without visiting the Deir el-Kashef.

ED-Deir
Ed-Deir was a fortress that protected the shortest caravan route between Kharga and the Nile. It stands on the eastern extreme of the Kharga Oasis, at the foot of Umm el-Ghanayin Mountain. It is made up of a fortress with 12 rounded towers, connected by a gallery. Only some of the rooms have survived, and are clearly marked by the long career of the fortress. Graffiti starting centuries ago, also include decorations of early 20th century.

Qasr el-Labeka
Qasr el-Labeka was built between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, it is located northeast of Qasr Kharga in Kharga Oasis not far from El Deir. It is  connected to Ain Umm Dabadib by two desert tracks: a camel track and a caravan trail. It is an extensive site dramatically situated beneath the pastel northern cliffs.  At Labeka are two temples, at least one aqueduct, a large cemetery and a fortress.  As with most of the Roman defensive structures at Kharga Oasis, the fortress has rounded towers at each corner. The exterior walls remain mostly intact while the interior has collapsed into rubble. It must have featured prominently in life along the Darb el Arbain, the ancient north-south slaver's route from Sudan to Asyut, an Egyptian Nile Valley city. Recent archaeological work at Labeka may prove that one of the temples is dedicated to Hercules. This would be a very important discovery.

Ain Um Dabadib
The ruins at Ain Umm Dabadib in the Kharga Oasis are actually very extensive. Located about 20 kilometers west of Qasr El-Labeka and about 40 kilometers north of Qaser Kharga, this is a remote region of the oasis which lay on the Darb Ain Amur, the ancient route to the Dakhla Oasis. It is one of the more adventurous places to visit, absolutely requiring a guide just to find its location. The site is probably best known for its fortress which is situated in a most spectacular setting. It is nestled in at the base of an escarpment that is about 380 meters above sea level and 225 meters above the desert floor. This was an important settlement for thousands of years, and the ruins of Dabadib stretch over some 60,000 acres where three major desert tracks converge on the plain. One track led from the fortress of El-Labeka past Ain Um Dabadib and continued on westward towards Ain Amur and the Dakhla Oasis. Another cross the plain directly heading towards the Hibis Temple, while the third track crossed through Ain Um Dabadib and headed northwestwards over the escarpment, eventually leading to a route connecting the Nile Valley with the Dakhla Oasis. It was probably the Romans who established a major settlement here, though the complicated aqueduct system suggests that it was inhabited and functional long before them. The towing fortress at Ain Um Dabadib is located about one half kilometers southeast of the ruins of the town. The enclosure wall surrounds an area of from 90 to 100 square meters. It is very unusual for its square towers, which flank the entrance on the south. However, like other fortresses in the Kharga Oasis, it is made of mudbrick which are fairly uniform in size, measuring 35 by 17 by 9 centimeters. Because of its rectangular towers, some scholars believe that the fortress is of later date than those with rounded towers in the various oasis. The tallest of the Dabadib towers, on the south-western corner, still contains the remains of a spiral staircase and rises to a current height of about 15 meters. Smaller buildings were crowded around its southern and western walls. While the interior of the fortress is now ruined, several vaulted chambers at ground level are still intact. There are also the ruins of a Christian church, complete with several arches, which abuts the east side of the fortress. The aspe contained Greek, Coptic and Arabic graffiti. Regrettably, however, though the church was still mostly standing in 1997, it was only recently very damaged by an imbecile on a forklift seeking treasure. This is a problem that continues in some of these remote sites.

Ain Amur
Further west beyond the limits of the Kharga depression, the isolated Ain Amur (“Spring of the Lovely One”) is situated 200m up the cliffs of the Abu Tartur Plateau. At 525m above sea level, this is the highest spring in the Western Desert, fed by aquifers in the escarpment rather than deep below the desert floor. Coptic graffiti includes the testimony of a traveller “faint from thirst” who stumbled upon Ain Amur late at night, which “saved him”. Some believe the spring was the last watering hole of the legendary Lost Army of Cambyses, before it disappeared into the Great Sand Sea. Ain Amur, Spring of the Lovely One, is not within any oasis. Kharga lies to the east and Dakhla lies to the west. Its significance is that it was the only water source on the Darb Ain Amur, one of two desert tracks connecting Kharga to Dakhla. Because of its strategic importance, a stronghold was established at Ain Amur. The area surrounding the spring is unexpectedly flat with several palm trees and ancient ruins. The most impressive are the ruins of a Roman temple/fortress which is only decorated on the back wall. There is  graffiti on the jambs of the main gateway. In fact there is plenty of graffiti to be found at Ain Amur, some dating as far back as Paleolithic times. The Coptic graffiti found on the jambs of the temple was left there by hermits living in the caves around Ain Amur during the Christian era. Part of this graffiti tells of an Arab traveler in early Christian times who took on the Darb Ain Amur by himself and on foot. He was "faint from thirst" and "came to [Ain Amur) in the latter part of the night ... and it saved him." Winlock found the entrance and back chambers well preserved in I908. They are made of sandstone blocks excavated from the escarpment. The roof and lintels were of larger limestone blocks.

SOUTH OF EL-KHARGA

Qasr el-Ghweita
Qasr el-Ghweita has one of the nicest locations around Kharga Oasis, on top of a circular mountain. Walking up to the temple, it looks impressive and massive. Which probably was the intent back in the days of villains and competing tribes. About 20 km south of Kharga is the temple Qasr al-Ghweita built between 250 and 80 BCE. It was dedicated to the Theban triad Amon, Mut and Khonsu. According to some guide books, it is in a very ruinous state. This is fortunately not true. The 10 metre high walls are nearly intact, the houses have high walls still standing and the temple is about as complete as any other popular ancient destination in Egypt. Even large parts of the surrounding village can be seen. The construction work of this temple started in the reign of Darius I over the top of a hill that was originally the ruins of a Pharonic settlement that goes back to the Middle Kingdom. The temple was built for the worship of the holy triad (Amun- Mut- Khonsu), the same as the temple of Hibis. It was also enlarged during the Ptolemaic era between the 3rd and 1st century BC. The Temple now includes a hall with 8 huge columns, a hypostyle hall, and a sanctuary.

Qasr al-Zayan
From Qasr el-Ghweita the spur-road loops south to Qasr al-Zayan, a Roman temple that lends its name to a still-thriving village built over the ancient town of Tkhonemyris. This proximity to daily life helps you imagine it as a bustling settlement in antiquity. Dedicated to Amun-Re, the temple is enclosed within a mud-brick fortress, together with living quarters for the garrison, a cistern and a bakery. The plain hereabouts is 18m below sea level, the lowest point in Kharga Oasis.

Bulaq
Returning to the highway, the next settlement, BULAQ (meaning “Watch”), consists of a picturesque old village to the west and a larger modern one to the east. Its rustic hot springs (open 24hr; free) are visible immediately before you enter town, on the right.
South of Bulaq stretch a string of New Valley settlements founded in the 1980s, named Algeria, Kuwait, Palestine, Baghdad and Aden in a gesture of Arab solidarity.

Baris
Paris, or Baris as it is called in most foreign traveller's guides, is neglected by almost all travel companies bringing tourists around the oasis of the Western desert, it is still the place with the most prosperous future. The old town of Paris is practically not visited by tourists; the few people who make it out here, use their time exploring the ancient slave city of Dush. Should you have the time, Paris is actually quite interesting. It is filthy though, since it is mainly abandoned by its former inhabitants and taken over by goats. But some houses are still in use, and the ones not in use are in good condition. Should you be lucky enough to find an empty house with an open door, you have a chance to see how traditional life really was. Some houses are decorated, and then they usually tell the story about the proprietors journey to Mecca, names and details are described with Arabic text, the means of transportation has been painted.

Temple of Dush
The temple of Dush (known as Kysis) was built in the 1st century CE, and dedicated to the gods Isis and Serapis. It has since 1967 been beautifully restored, and it also has a great location. It overlooks the all of the eastern valley below former Kysis. The temple appears to be unusually narrow, giving it a feeling of being long. There are two hypostyle halls, both with entrances in near perfect condition. On the photo below is seen the first entrance; the inscriptions are hardly touched by the near 2,000 years which has passed. Most columns have been knocked down, but large pieces lie around. Note that the eastern side seems to have been without a wall, as allowing the fertile lands below to have been visible during ceremonies. The last and smallest building of the temple was as always the holiest part. Here the divine figures lived, here the highest priests performed daily rituals. According to the world view of the locals, this was the place where the safety and prosperity of all of Kysis was preserved. The inner building is almost intact. The columns stand as they used to, the roof is complete. But the wall decorations have not survived centuries of sand storms. The casing of the roof is complete, and it is easy to climb up. The Christian basilica is the first you see when arriving at Dush. It lies on the highest point here, a place you would have imagined that the older Roman temple would have claimed. Despite its younger age, its condition is completely inferior to the temple. But there is one interesting similarity with the temple, the basilica is also very narrow. During service it can hardly have houses more than 40-50 persons during service. Another similarity is more common; the church was also arranged with one room for the holiest, then a room for laymen, and a courtyard in front.

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