The Bahariya Oasis Travel Guide
The Bahariya Oasis is a beautiful stop at the northernmost point of Egypt.
This oasis has particular historical significance as it was an important transit point for the Caravan tracks and the Nile Valley. It is also a treasure trove of great and important archeological finds of our modern times.
The name of the Bahariya Oasis
The name Bahareya was likely derived from the word Bahr, which means the sea in Arabic. 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 & geographical significance
Bahareya is 370 kilometers north of Cairo, making it nearer to the capital of Egypt compared to other remote oases 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 Egyptian oasis lifestyle.
The Bahareya features a large depression in the desert that is 94 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide. The oasis also contains some huge mountains like Gebel Ghurabi, Gebel Maghrafa, and Gebel Dist also known as Gebel El Englizi or the English Mountain.
The History of the Bahariya Oasis
The first human settlement in the Bahareya Oasis, recorded in history, was in the middle kingdom. Specifically starting from the 18th dynasty, the Bahareya Oasis started gaining commercial and political importance because of its location on 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 routes of the Western Desert.
The importance of the Bahareya Oasis increased even during the Greco-Roman period. This was because it was not only an important point in the trading routes, but it became a major producer of many goods such as wine, olive oils, dates, and cereals. The fortress of Qaser Masuda is obvious evidence of the importance of the Bahareya Oasis to the Roman empire Particularly, their military and political control over this area.
The Bahareya Oasis Today
The Bahareya Oasis is home to more than thirty thousand people who primarily live in the four main towns of the oasis: Bawiti (the capital and the 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 several mountains with many ancient necropolises like the Abis Necropolis of Qarat Feragi and the Necropolis of Qarat Subi.
The Bahareya Oasis features 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 with many rare birds for bird-watching enthusiasts.
The Valley of the Golden Mummies
In 1996, the famous Egyptian archeologist head of the supreme council of Antiquities, Mr. Zahi Hawas, along with his team, discovered a magnificent, expansive necropolis that dates back to the Roman era and is located 6 kilometers to the Southwest of Bawiti, the largest city of the Bahareya Oasis.
The digging work began in 1999 and they were able to prove that this necropolis was by far the most important burial site of the Romans in all of Egypt. This necropolis contains hundreds of tombs over a surface area of about 36 square kilometers. This astonishing discovery caused news to be spread all over the world and made Al Bahareya Oasis famous, giving the oasis a new touristic dimension.
Dozens 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, cartonnage. This method consisted of covering the face of the mummy with a mask made out of linen and plaster. This mask was then decorated with many colorful reliefs. The mouth and eyes of the deceased 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 that combined the traditional ancient Egyptian Pharaonic shapes with colors associated with Roman mythology.
The valley of the golden mummies in the Bahareya Oasis is one of the unique necropolises in all of 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 maintains credit for most of the discoveries taking 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 are part of a temple complex built during the rule of Amasis, a Pharaoh (570 BC - 526 BC) of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt, the successor of Apries at Sais, and the last great ruler of Egypt before the Persian occupation.
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, consists of two chambers that were decorated with beautiful reliefs which are well preserved today. These reliefs contain images of the Pharo Amasis making offerings to a series of gods that were highly venerated within the oasis of Egypt.
The tombs of Zed-Amun-ef-Ankh and Bannentui at Qarat Qaser Salem
Qarat Qaser Salem is found on a small hill, located in the city of Bawiti, and they contain two grandly decorated tombs that date back to the 26th dynasty, having been 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. supported by four pillars. This room is surrounded by other undecorated rooms, that the Romans once utilized.
The second 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 that of his father's, except for the detail of a fourth pillar. The two tombs contain rich decorations and ornaments with religious scenes connected to the mortuary rituals and the many offerings represented 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 during the first or 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, who was to be watched over by gods. However, all of these scenes are painted in the Greco-Roman style.
The Bahariya Museum
The Ethnographic Museum of Al Bahareya which was built in 2005 is located in the center of the city and was established by Mohamed Eid, one of the oasis's local artists.
This museum hosts terra-cotta sculptures and paintings of Mohamed Eid. Some objects represent the different life aspects in the Bahareya Oasis.