The Kharga Oasis
The 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", is natural! Whether you are sleeping under the stars, or just relaxing between the high palm-trees, you will find a feeling of integration with the environment. The first time I saw the El-Kharga Oasis, a bright light came to my eyes and I could not overcome the emotion, even I wondered "what better place to go than El-Kharga Oasis?"
The Kharga Oasis, the capital of the governorate of the new valley, or Al Wadi Al Gadeed, in Egypt, hosted inhabitants since prehistoric times and it is still the most populated oasis of Egypt until today.
The location of Al Kharga Oasis:
Al Kharga is located 232 kilometers to the South of Asyut, 550 kilometers to the South of Cairo. The oasis is located to the west of the Nile valley. Al Menya, Asyut, Sohag, Qena, occupies the Eastern border of the governorate, while the governorate of Matruh occupies its Northern borders, and the Egypt international borders with Libya is located on the Western edge of the governorate of Al Wadi Al Gadeed.
The Kharga oasis, in the Arabic language, which means the "outside" is a wide depression that 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 oasis of Kharga is considered to be a major administrative center and the seat of the governorate of the New valley or Al Wadi Al Gadeed.
The history of the Kharga Oasis:
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 the forty days road.
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).
During the third and Forth century AD, a lot of Egyptian Christians resorted to the Kharga Oasis and the surrounding area to escape from the unjust Romans who persecuted the Copts of Egypt because of their Christian beliefs and religion. The Copts lived in peace in the Kharga Oasis and left remarkable monuments like the cemetery of Bagawat.
Al Kharga Oasis Today:
Although the Kharga Oasis occupies around one third of the whole lands of Egypt, it contains the least population density in the whole nation with around 20,000 inhabitants nowadays and a population density of 4 persons in each square kilometer. The reason behind this is the vast areas of the deserts surrounding the Kharga Oasis, the Eastern and Western Deserts of Egypt.
Tourism is not considered a major activity for the people living in Kharga. Most of the people of the Kharga work in normal jobs like the inhabitants of Cairo, Alexandria, and the other cities of Egypt. Al Wadi Al Gadeed also hosts one of the largest phosphates mime in the world in the area of Abu Tartour.
The Kharga Oasis is connected to the Nile valley with a set of roads. The first one goes from Asyut to the Kharga, the second goes from Farafra, to Dakhla, to Kharga. There is also a direct flight from Cairo to the Wadi Al Gadeed Airport in the Kharga Oasis.
The monuments and ancient sites of the Kharga Oasis
The 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.
The 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.
The 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).
The 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.
The 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.
The Cemetery of Bagawat:
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, or "Qubwat" in Arabic 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.
The Temple Of Ghweita
The Temple of Ghweita or Qaser Ghweita, or the "fortress of deep springs" is located 25 kilometers to South of the city of Kharga. This temple together with the Temple of Hibis is the only temples built in Egypt during the Persian or Hyksos occupation.
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.
The Temple of Qaser Al Zayyan
The Temple Of Qaser Al Zayyan is located 5 kilometers to the South of Temple of Ghweita. Thanks to the Egyptian government, there is an asphalt road that links the two temples together now.
This temple was constructed during the Ptolemaic reign and enlarged during the period of the Roman emperor Pius in the 2nd century AD.
The temple of Qaser Al Zayyan was dedicated to the cult of Amun Ra of Hibis. It contains a sanctuary made out of white limestone blocks and many mud brick side chambers all around it.
The Temple of Dush in the Oasis of Paris
This area corresponds to the Ptolemaic and Roman settlement of Kysis and it is located near the oasis of Paris and 120 kilometers South of Al Kharga. There are two Roman fortress and two temples. This site had significant importance in the old world as it granted the control of several Caravan routs in the Roman and Ptolemaic times.
The major monument in this site is a temple that was made out of limestone blocks during the rule of Domitian (81 – 96 AD) and enlarged by many of his successors and it was dedicated to the worship of Isis.
The dug works in the site of Dush has been going on since 1976 by the French institution of oriental archeology. They unearthed a lot of interesting findings that include many golden items. There are also a lot of many interesting monuments in this ancient site.
The museum of Antiquities of Al Kharga
The museum of Al Kharga hosts a lot of the items that were found all over the archeological sites of the governorate. This includes a statue of Horus, some Pharonic reliefs, and a collection of Coptic pottery. The museum is open daily from 9 till 3 and it is located in the city of Al Kharga.
The Oasis of El-Kharga was a prosperous place during ancient times and was linked with the Nile Valley by many routes. The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the great Persian King, Campuses, sent a huge army (about 50,000 men) from Thebes in order to destroy the Oracle Temple of Amon-Zeus at Siwah. The huge army reached the El-Kharga Oasis, was provided with food and water, and then they continued their march towards Siwah, but the campaign vanished and no one can tell what really happened, even today! Some historians suggest that the Persian army was lost in the desert and were sunk in the Great Sea Of Sand, which extends along the borders between Egypt and Libya.
Nowadays El-Kharga is famed for the large number of palm-trees, pigeon-houses, farms, fields, monuments, wells, artisans, traditional handcrafts, and honey-coloured hills, which can be found here. There is also another attraction - riding camels, which is considered by many tourists and visitors, an adventure in itself. On the rocks of some sites some graffiti, left by tourists to commemorate their visit to that beautiful Oasis. Pure springs and natural wells completely unpolluted by chlorine or other chemicals are scattered in several locations in the Oasis. The local people seem to be "at your service"; they are very kind and give visitors the feeling that they are very welcomed. The life there is simple, but extremely satisfying!