Back to Main Page

<< Back           oasis main page : kharga


Kharga - The Chain of Roman Fortresses

All the oases have always been crossroads of caravan routes converging from the barren desert. In the case of Kharga, this is made particularly evident by the presence of a chain of fortresses that the Romans built to protect the Darb el-Arbain, the long caravan route running north-south between Middle Egypt and the Sudan. The forts vary for size and function, some being just small outposts, some guarding large settlements complete with cultivations. Some were installed where earlier settlements already existed, while others were probably founded anew. All of them are made of mud bricks, but some also contain small stone temples with inscribed walls. So far, many of these sites have suffered relatively little damage, still looking like frozen images of what life must have once been.

The majority of these fortresses lie close to the main road which crosses the oasis north to south (following the ancient track of the Darb el-Arbain) and are in fact visible on both sides of it. Arriving from north, if the wind is not blowing too much sand, the two small forts of Qasr el-Gyb and Qasr el-Sumeria can be seen on the left. Access is by 4x4 only. A few kilometres south, lies 'Ayn Lebekha, which may be reached by a normal vehicle as well, even if the last part of the road is not paved. Here there is a temple, a small fort at a certain distance, and a group of decorated tombs. The land must have been once irrigated by a subterranean aqueduct which has recently been reused by local farmers to start a cultivation north-east of the temple.

One of the most impressive fortresses of the whole area is el-Deir, a huge enclosure with twelve round towers which lies east of the old Darb el-Arbain. The site is definitely worth a visit, but a 4x4 is strongly suggested. There is a well-marked track up to a certain point, but a chain of dunes has cancelled the last couple of kilometres and one must seek alternative access south of them. Immersed in the beautiful landscape immediately east of the main road, is the famous prison of Kharga. Do not attempt to approach it.

The easily accessible forts of Nadura, Qasr el-Ghueita and Qasr el-Zayyan are situated close to the main road on the top of high hills which allowed a strategic control of the territory. All contain small stone temples, the first Roman, the second Persian and the third Ptolemaic. The most amazing fortress of the area is probably Dush, at the southern edge of the oasis. A huge complex contained two stone temples, a monumental gateway built by Trajan, and evidence of an elaborated subterranean water system. The beautiful landscape and impressive setting are­ not to be missed.

Two other Roman settlements must be mentioned, although quite difficult to reach. One is 'Ayn Amur, a little spring halfway between Kharga and Dakhla along the caravan route which bears the same name. Here a small stone temple with a large mudbrick enclosure were built around the spring.




The other is Umm el-Dabadib, a large settlement guarded by a small but impressive fort and once supported by an extensive cultivation, which lies along the Darb 'Ayn Amur in an area today completely isolated. Both sites may be reached by 4x4, but especially 'Ayn Amur requires quite expert drivers. It is worth repeating that all these isolated sites must be visited with the permission of the local Inspectorate.

Apart from the Roman remains, Kharga also offers at least two other sites worth visiting. The Temple of Hibis and the necropolis of Bagawat. The temple of Hibis originally surrounded by a busy town now partly buried under the cultivation, was started during the XXVI Dynasty of the Egyptian kings, completed by the Persian king Darius I and provided with a monumental gateway during the Roman period. Bagawat, just north of Hibis, is the name of the one of the earliest and best preserved Christian cemeteries. It consists of hundreds of tombs and several decorated chapels, containing the remains of beautiful paintings inspired to Biblical events and religious subjects.

Kharga is connected to the Nile Valley by means of two main tarred roads, one in the south from Baris to Armant (and Luxor) and one in the north (following the old Darb el-Arbain) from Kharga to Asyut. The first is being enlarged and tarred anew and does not cross any inhabited place, apart from the temporary settlement of the people who have been working there. The second leads north to Asyut and there joins the Desert Road to Cairo. Here, at about 130 km from Kharga, lies the so-called Valley of the Melons, an area where dark, spheroidal, hard stones pop out of the desert horizon miles forming­ an amazing sight. It is definitely worth a stop and a short walk in this silent and curious spot before heading back to the colours and the noise of the Valley.
(Corinna Rossi)



Baharia Dakhla Explorer & Travellers Farafra Fayum Oasis Main Page Oasis Map Kharga Siwa Western Desert