El Kharga Oasis
El Kharga Oasis, being the nearest oase to the Nile Valley, used to be a place of exile for naughty Nile Valley residents. Remoteness, scorching heat and devastating winds made the oasis a symbol of sorrow and exile.
Its principal town, El Kharga Oasis, was designated as the New Valley Governorate’s capital in the 1950s. The oasis’s life has improved since then, and it’s worth a visit for the old sites.
El Kharga Oasis was at the intersection of important desert trade routes, notably the famed Darb Al-Arba’een.
The Romans improved things as well, digging wells, cultivating crops, and building fortifications to safeguard trade routes from raiding desert nomads.
Even in the 1890s, British soldiers used observation towers here to monitor the Egyptian rear door.
Environmentally dubious land reclamation and intensive cultivation are now a greater danger to Wadi el-Gedid than pillaging tribes ever were.
El Kharga Oasis is the Western Desert‘s biggest settlement and the government’s flagship project to develop the oasis. Its dreary dwelling buildings and vast, stark roadways are unlikely to wow tourists.
Still, the town provides a fantastic base for seeing the valley’s spectacular, gradually disintegrating attractions. There’s a great museum to see, and a stroll through the ancient souq (market) is fun. Most Graeco-Roman sites need transportation.
When we visited, foreigners were urged to join police escorted tours of the town and adjacent attractions.
El-Kharga Antiquities Museum
This two-story museum is built using native bricks and meant to replicate Bagawat’s architecture.
A tiny yet intriguing collection of findings from El-Kharga and Dakhla Oasis. The ancient artifacts, flints, ostrich eggs, and implements detailing the prehistory of the oasis in both English and Arabic are excellent.
There are also a few Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman artifacts. Unusual finds include wooden Roman panels (early equivalents of post-it notes) describing historical farmer reports, weddings, and contracts.
On this stele, a 6th-dynasty governor (c 2700 BC) mentions Dakhla Oasis for the first time. The top level has remarkable Coptic, Islamic, and Ottoman jewellery, books, coins, and textiles.
The ancient oasis capital was Hebet (‘the Plough,’ now Hibis), but only the well-preserved limestone Temple of Hibis survives.
The temple was devoted to the Theban deity triad of Amun-Re, Mut, and Khons. The temple was built during the 25th dynasty, but ornaments and a colonnade were added over 300 years.
A sphinx-lined road leads to a colonnade of Nectanebo, a court, a hypostyle hall, and an inner sanctuary. One of the hypostyle hall’s reliefs depicts the deity Seth against the evil snake Apophis, a St George and the dragon myth. A long inscription from 1818 by Frederic Cailliaud, who claimed to be the first European to observe the temple, is among the 19th-century European graffiti.
To preserve it from rising groundwater, the temple is being repaired and returned to its former site. It’s 2km north of town, slightly to the left of the major road.
The Temple of An-Nadura, off the main road to the north of town, was formerly a fortified lookout. It was erected by Antoninus Pius (138–161) to guard the oasis and contains the ruins of a sandstone temple with Egyptian inscriptions.
The Ottomans used it as a fortification and a Coptic church. Though destroyed, the stunning views are great for sunset admiration. The remains are on a hill just before the Temple of Hibis.
From afar, this Necropolis is one of the world’s oldest and best-preserved Christian cemeteries.
It’s about 1km north of the Temple of Hibis and has 263 mud-brick tombs dating from the 4th to the 6th century AD.
While many domed Coptic tombs are basic, others feature vibrant biblical paintings inside and beautiful façades. The Apostles are visible via Greek graffiti on the Chapel of Peace’s dome squinches.
This tomb’s murals are the finest preserved, containing the Old Testament tale of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, viewable through 9th-century graffiti.
The smaller Chapel of the Grapes (Anaeed al-Ainab) is called from the depictions of grapevines that decorate the walls. A guardian will eagerly lead you to the most vibrant graves.
The ruined Monastery of Al-Kashef (Deir al-Kashef), named for Mustafa al-Kashef, a tax collector, dominates the cliffs to the north of Al- Bagawat, overlooking one of the Western Desert’s most significant intersections – where the Darb al-Ghabari from Dakhla intersected the Darb al-Arba’een.
However, the location has been populated since the Middle Kingdom, when the spectacular mud-brick remnants were discovered. Much of the five-story structure has fallen, but the arched passages that crisscrossed it remain visible. From the Necropolis of Al-Bagawat, take the left trail for approximately 1km.