The Bahariya Oasis in Egypt
The Bahariya Oasis is the northernmost oasis of Egypt. This oasis has a particular historical significance as it was an important transit point for the Caravan tracks and the Nile Valley. This is besides being the theatre of great and important archeological finds in moderntimes.
The name of the Bahariya Oasis:
The name Bahareya was most possibly derived from the word Bahr, which means the sea in the Arabic language. The word more specifically referred to the Mediterranean Sea and generally to the Northern lands of Egypt in ancient times. The pharos named the Bahareya Oasis "Desdes" while the romans named it "Parva" or the little oasis.
The location and geographical significance
Bahareya is located 370 kilometers to the North of Cairo, which made it nearer to the capital of Egypt in comparison to other remote oasis like Siwa or Al Kharga. This is maybe why many Carians and tourists who visit Cairo prefer to travel to the Bahareya if they want to try the taste of the lifestyle in an Egyptian oasis.
The Bahareya consists of a large depression in the desert that is 94 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide. The oasis also contains a number of huge mountains like Gebel Ghurabi, Gebel Maghrafa, Gebel Dist, or Gebel El Englizi, or the English Mountain.
The History of the Bahariya Oasis
The first human settlement in the Bahareya Oasis that is recorded in history was in the middle kingdom. Specifically starting from 18th dynasty the Bahareya Oasis started gaining commercial and political importance because of its location in the track of the trading caravans between the Nile Valley and tribes in Libya and the Western Desert.
The most prosperous period in the ancient history of the Bahareya Oasis was during the reign of the 26th Dynasty Particularly during the rule of Amasi when the ancient city of Psobthis, which was located in the middle of the oasis, became the center of the trading routs of the Western Desert.
The importance of the Bahareya Oasis even increased in Greco-Roman period. This was because it was not only an important point in the trading routs, but also the oasis became a major producer of many goods like wine, olive oils, dates, and cereals.
The fortress of Qaser Masuda is an obvious evident of the importance of the Bahareya Oasis in the Roman period and of their militarily and political control over this area.
The Bahareya Oasis Today:
The Bahareya Oasis hosts more than thirty thousand people who mostly live in the four main towns of the oasis: Bawiti, the capital and center point of the Bahareya Oasis, Al Qaser, the ancient village in the Bahareya Oasis, Mandisha, and Zabw.
The area between Bawiti and Al Qaser contains a number of mountains that host many ancient necropolises like the Abis necropolis of Qarat Feragi and the Necropolis of Qarat Subi.
The Bahareya Oasis has many hot springs like Ain Bishmu which dates back to Roman times, Bir Al Nebaga which is located in Bawiti, and Bir Matar which is located further to the North.
At the Northernmost point of the Bahareya Oasis, there is the small lake of Al Marun that is surrounded by places that have many rare birds for bird watching fans.
Monuments in the Bahariya Oasis
The valley of the golden Mummies:
In 1996, the famous Egyptian archeologist and the head of the supreme council of antiquities, Mr. Zahi Hawas and his team, discovered a magnificent huge necropolis that dates to the Roman era and it is located 6 kilometers to the Southwest of Bawiti, the largest city of the Bahareya Oasis.
The digging work started in 1999 and it showed that this necropolis was the most important burial site of the Romans in all the land of Egypt. This necropolis, in fact contains hundreds of tombs over a surface area of about 36 square kilometers.
This astonishing discovery which news were spread all over the world in TV channels, newspapers, magazines, and over the internet, made Al Bahareya Oasis famous world wide and gave the oasis a new touristic dimension.
Tens of mummies were discovered in perfect preservation state in the valley of the golden mummies. Most of these mummies were mummified using the old method which is called cartonnage. This method consisted of covering the face of the mummy with mask made out of linen and plaster. This mask was then decorated with many colorful reliefs. The mouse and the eyes of the dead person were then painted on the mask to give a clearer image of his face.
The mummies of the Bahareya Oasis had the common Roman decoration of the Roman period that combined the traditional ancient Egyptian Pharonic shapes and colors with those of the Roman mythology.
The valley of the golden mummies in the Bahareya Oasis is one of the most unique necropolises all around Egypt
The temple and chapels of Ain el Muftella:
The site of Ain el Muftella is located three kilometers west of the Al Qaser at the exit point of the track that links the Bahareya to the Siwa Oasis.
This site contains four chapels that were discovered by Ahmed Fakhry, the Egyptian archeologist that holds the credits for most of the discoveries that took place in the Egyptian Western desert, in 1938-1939.
The four chapels belong to the 26th dynasty, the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC. These chapels belong to a temple complex built during the rule of Amasis, who was a pharaoh (570 BC - 526 BC) of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt, the successor of Apries at Sais and he was the last great ruler of Egypt before the Persian occupation of Egypt.
The temple of Ain el Muftella belonged to the city of Psobthis which was located between the temple of Ain el Muftella and the present city of Al Qaser.
The first chapel, which is the largest among the four chapels, consists of two chambers that were decorated with beautiful reliefs which are well preserved until today. These reliefs contain images of the Pharo Amasis making an offerings to a series of gods that were highly venerated in the oasis of Egypt.
The tombs of Zed-Amun-ef-Ankh and Bannentui at Qarat Qaser Salem
Qarat Qaser Salem is a small hill located inside the city of Bawiti and it contains two richly decorated tombs that date back to the 26th dynasty and were discovered by Ahmed Fakhry in 1938.
The first tomb belongs to Zed-Amun-ef-Ankh, a rich merchant and it contains a hypostyle burial chamber which is supported with four pillars. This room is surrounded by some other undecorated rooms that were used during the Roman period when the tomb was used again.
The other tomb belongs to the son of Zed-Amun-ef-Ankh, Bannentui, who was believed to be a priest and a prophet. The design of the tomb of Bannentui is similar to this of his father, except the fact that the burial chamber which connects the burial chamber with two other chambers contains four pillars not three.
The two tombs contain rich decorations and ornaments with religious scenes connected to the mortuary rituals and many the offerings represented to the gods.
The Muzzawaqa Necropolis:
The Muzzawaqa, or the "richly decorated", Necropolis is located north of the city of Mut. It was discovered by the American archeologist, Herbert E Winlock in 1908. The Muzzawaqa Necropolis contains more than 300 rock hewn tombs.
The most important tombs in the Muzzawaqa Necropolis belong to Petosiris and Petubastis who lived in the Bahareya Oasis in the first or the second century AD. The two tombs contain extensive painted decorations that are perfectly preserved.
The two tombs contain all the main themes of an ancient Egyptian tomb: offerings to the dead person, the procession of the funeral, and the dead person watched over by gods. However all of these scenes are painted in the Greco-Roman style.
The Bahareya Museum:
The Ethnographic Museum of Al Bahareya which was built in 2005 is located in the center of the city and it was established by Mohamed Eid, one of the oasis's local artists.
This museum hosts the terra-cotta sculptures and paintings of Mohamed Eid. There are also some objects representing the different life aspects in the Bahareya Oasis.