The Eastern Desert, a large, arid expanse bounded to the east by the Red Sea Mountains and to the west by the Nile Valley, was formerly crisscrossed by historic trade routes and populated with villages that played critical roles in the formation of many of the region’s greatest civilizations.
Today, the rough stretches of the desert are littered with interesting relics of this past, such as rock inscriptions, ancient gold and mineral mines, wells and watchtowers, and religious sites and structures. It is, indeed, one of the highlights of any trip to the Red Sea Coast, and it is a world away from the marketed beachfront.
One of the most amazing collections of ancient rock inscriptions may be discovered in the desolate regions bordering the Marsa Alam–Edfu road, commencing around Marsa Alam, where the smooth, grey granite proved ideal for carving. Hunting scenes with dogs pursuing ostriches, giraffe and cow images, and hieroglyphic tales of trading journeys are among them.
The remnants of a temple reported to have been erected by Seti I can be found in the isolated Wadi Miya, west of Marsa Alam, in what was most likely an old mining works. Wadi Sikait, located approximately 80 kilometers southwest of Marsa Alam, was an emerald mining hub as early as the Ptolemaic period. It supplied emeralds that were utilised across the ancient world and was the Roman Empire’s exclusive supply of emeralds.
Wadi Hammamat’s towering, smooth walls, roughly halfway down the route between Al-Quseir and Qift, exhibit a spectacular collection of graffiti spanning from Pharaonic antiquity to Egypt’s 20th-century King Farouk. The road across the wadi follows a historic trade route, and along the way, relics of old wells and other evidence of the area’s long history may be viewed.
Watchtowers were erected along the path at short enough intervals for signals to be seen in Graeco-Roman times, and several of them are still standing on the desolate hilltops on either side of the road.
Wadi Gimal, which runs inland for roughly 85 kilometers from its coastal mouth south of Marsa Alam, is home to a diverse range of wildlife, gazelles, and mangrove stands.
The surrounding region was formerly a source of emerald, gold, and other materials utilised by the Pharaonic and Roman civilizations.
Wadi Gimal Island, just offshore from the wadi’s delta region, has been designated as a protected area and is being developed as an ecotourism destination. The region has also been considered as a Unesco World Heritage site due to its lengthy history and quantity of historical sites.
A designated footpath departs off the Safaga–Qena road about 40 kilometers northwest towards Mons Claudianus, a historic Roman granite quarry/fortress complex and one of the biggest of the Roman villages dotting the Eastern Desert.
This harsh and lonely location was the last stop for Roman convicts forced to chop the granite out of the arid mountains, as well as a hardship station for the troops entrusted to watch them. It was more of a concentration camp than a quarry – the ruins of the little cells that these unfortunates resided can still be seen.
There’s also an enormous fractured pillar that was left where it collapsed 2000 years ago, as well as a little temple and several other remains. Once mined, the granite was chiselled and carried more than 200 kilometers over the desert to the Nile, where it was subsequently brought to the Mediterranean and the heart of the empire.
The location is about 25 kilometers north of the turn-off along the degraded tarmac. Mons Porphyrites, approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Hurghada, is the location of old Roman porphyry quarries.
The valuable white-and-purple crystalline stone was quarried and then brought through the desert to the Nile by the Via Porphyrites for use in sarcophagi, columns, and other ornamental work across the Roman world.
The imperial royal family in Rome directly controlled the quarries, who erected encampments, workshops, and even temples for the workers and engineers.
The ruins of this quarry village may still be visible, albeit not much of it remains. A road leading to the location diverges from the main route around 20 kilometers north of Hurghada.
The Eastern Desert is home to several Islamic tombs and shrines, in addition to various remains of Pharaonic and other ancient civilizations.
The tomb of Sayyed al-Shazli, a 13th-century Sheikh recognised as one of the most prominent Sufi figures, is one of the most well-known. His disciples think Jesus want to die in a location where no sin had ever been committed.
It was difficult to locate such a location since it was many days’ trip from either the Nile Valley or the seashore. Al-mausoleum, Shazli’s located approximately 145 kilometers southwest of Marsa Alam in Wadi Humaysara, was rebuilt by King Farouk in 1947, and there is now an asphalt road leading to it. Thousands of Sufis attend his moulid (religious celebration), which takes place on the 15th of the Muslim month of Shawal.