Dakhla Oasis

Verdant cultivated areas and a rugged escarpment across the northern horizon make a feast for the eyes in Dakhla Oasis. Partitioned by dunes into more or less irrigated, fertile enclaves, the oasis supports 75,000 people living in fourteen settlements strung out along the Farafra and Kharga roads. Although it’s the outlying sites that hold the most attraction, the majority of visitors base themselves in or near Mut, Dakhla’s “capital”. Travelling around the oasis, you can see how the Dakhlans have reclaimed land, planted new crops and generally made the best of New Valley developments. Local farmers wear straw sombreros, seldom seen elsewhere in Egypt.
Most villages have spread down from their original hilltop maze of medieval houses and covered streets into a roadside straggle of breeze-block houses, schools and other public buildings. Besides Islamic architecture, Dakhla has pharaonic, Roman and Coptic antiquities, dunes, palm groves and hot springs to explore.
Mut
Dakhla’s capital, MUT (pronounced “moot”), was branded a miserable-looking place by travellers early in the nineteenth century, but has come on apace since the 1950s when the existing town was laid out, complete with wide boulevards. The architect of Mut’s low-rise flats is unlikely to have foreseen their balconies being converted into extra rooms or pigeon coops; donkeys chewing hedges in the backstreets add a bucolic touch to the urban landscape.
The main drag, Sharia al-Wadi, runs past an unfinished tourist village, designed by Hassan Fathy, which later inspired similar domed complexes all over Egypt. As in other oases, locals have embraced modernity and seem keen to forget how previous generations lived.
The old town
Contrary to the impression conveyed by its modern-day flats, Mut originated as a hilltop qasr or citadel, divided into quarters separated by gates that were locked at night. Though the summit is in ruins, the mud-brick lanes below are still bustling with life and exciting to explore (beware of lecherous kids and wild dogs). The old town is hidden away behind a ridge, but easy to find. You can enter from the north and exit on to Midan Gam’a, using the Old and New mosques as landmarks.
Midan Gam’a itself used to be the hub of social life but is pretty sleepy nowadays, despite its role as a bus and service taxi terminus.

Mut el-Khorab wildlife
From Midan Gam’a you can glimpse the remains of Mut el-Khorab (“Mut the Ruined”), an ancient city dedicated to the Theban goddess Mut. Mud-brick walls up to three metres high loom over pits left by treasure-hunters, where Fennec foxes dwell in burrows, emerging to hunt at dusk. Nearby lies a small field of golden dunes, the perfect spot for watching sunset. Dakhla is home to the only species of fruit-bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) found beyond the tropics, of which some 2,500 exist in the oasis. Nocturnal mammals, they feed mainly on dates.
Ethnographic Museum
Mut’s Ethnographic Museum is ordered like a family dwelling, with household objects on the walls and a complex wooden lock on the palm-log door. Its seven rooms contain clay figures by the Khargan artist Mabrouk, posed in scenes from village life. Preparing the bride and celebrating the pilgrim’s return from Mecca are two scenes that remain part of oasis life today.
North of Mut
Top of the list for most visitors is the medieval settlement of Al-Qasr, which is easily reached by minibus. With a bicycle rented from its rest house, you can go on to explore the Muzawaka Tombs and the Roman temple of Deir al-Hagar. To also enjoy bathing in local hot springs, take one of the excursions offered by local safari outfits or hire a taxi through the tourist office. Sunset trips by camel (with the option of sleeping in the desert) are a great way to experience the beauty of the oasis.
There are two routes to Al-Qasr via different villages. If you can, it’s worth following one out and the other one back. Most traffic uses the main road (32km), with minibuses stopping at the villages of Rashda and Budkhulu; while along the secondary and longer loop road (45km) they call at Qalamoun, Gedida and Mushiya.
Mut Talatta
Best visited on the way back, or in the evening, Mut Talatta (daily 24hr; £E10) is the nearest of Dakhla’s hot springs, enclosed by the Sol y Mar Mut Inn. You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy wallowing in the hotel’s large swimming pool of brown, sulphur- and iron-rich water, flowing from a depth of over 1000m, and with chilled beer and wine available, this is a perfect place to relax after a hard day’s sightseeing.
The Fish Pond
One kilometre beyond Mut Talatta is the so-called Fish Pond, a lake created to serve as a fish farm but which became so polluted with pesticides that it’s now merely a drainage lake for irrigation water – but nonetheless great for bird watching (avocet, stilt and coot). Further out, off to the right of the junction where the desert road joins the highway and the loop road begins, you’ll glimpse the hilltop El-Douhous Village, offering jeep and camel safaris.
Budkhulu
If you have a car it’s worth detouring east off the main road beyond Rashda to admire the Al Tarfa Desert Sanctuary, with eucalyptus groves and dunes receding to the escarpment. Back on the highway, olive groves and orchards precede BUDKHULU, whose old quarter of covered streets and houses with carved lintels harbors a ruined Ayyubid mosque with a pepper pot minaret and a palm-frond pulpit. Visible on a hill as you approach is a Turkish cemetery with tombs shaped like bathtubs, grave markers in the form of ziggurats and domed shrines: the freshly painted one belongs to a revered local sheikh, Tawfiq Abdel Aziz.
Bir el-Gabal
Shortly before Al-Qasr, the Badawiya Dakhla hotel marks the turning off the highway leading to the cluster of houses and bathing tank at Bir el-Gabal (6km), set amidst breathtaking scenery on the desert’s edge. Here, the Bir el-Gabal Camp organizes camel trekking and rents bicycles – making it a feasible base for visiting Al-Qasr.
The loop road: Qalamoun, Gedida and Mushiya
An alternative route to Al-Qasr is via the so-called loop road, which links three villages – Qalamoun, Gedida and Mushiya –interspersed by stagnant pools and desert. Just off the road, 1km before Qalamoun, is the Magic Spring, a warm, deep waterhole fringed by palms, so-called because bubbles rising up from below make it impossible to touch the bottom.
QALAMOUN dates back to pharaonic times, with many families descended from Mamluke and Turkish officials once stationed here. Its hilltop cemetery affords fine views of the surrounding countryside. The next village is only two hundred years old – hence its name, GEDIDA (“New”). Traditionally, local men have sought work in Cairo, taking it in turns to share the same job with a friend back home. Local employment is provided by a Woodworking Cooperative where (by arrangement with Mut’s tourist office) you can see palm and acacia trees being sawn and fashioned into furniture and mashrabiya screens.
Shortly before the third village, MUSHIYA, the road passes Bir Mushiya, a keyhole-shaped tank fed by a tepid spring, where tourists may also be taken to bathe. The loop road joins the highway opposite a dune field of crescent-shaped barchans, formed by longitudinal dunes on the plateau above the escarpment cascading down the cliff to reform at the bottom and continue their way southwards. Tourists are brought here by jeep or camel to enjoy rolling down the dunes and to take in the view at sunset.
Al-Qasr
AL-QASR (or Al-’Asr, as locals say) is a must – an amazing Islamic settlement, built upon Roman foundations, which may be the longest continually inhabited site in the oasis and was indubitably Dakhla’s medieval capital. Three or four families still live in the mud-brick old town crowning a ridge above palm groves and a salt lake, set back from New Qasr beside the highway. The “border” is marked by handicrafts sellers beside the New Mosque and a Tour Centre (daily 8am–5pm) where you can pick up a guide to lead you around and unlock houses and workshops. Pay him at the end: £E15– 20 per group seems fair.
Beyond the twelfth-century Nasr el-Din Mosque, whose 21-metre-high minaret has a “pepperpot” finial typical of Ayyubid architecture, you enter a maze of high-walled alleyways and gloomy covered passages. Over thirty houses here have acacia-wood lintels whose cursive or Kufic inscriptions name the builders or occupants (the oldest dates from 1518): look out for doorways with Pharaonic stonework and arabesque carvings, archways with ablaq brickwork, and a frieze painted in one of the passageways.
Near the House of Abu Nafir – built over a Ptolemaic temple, with hieroglyphics on its door jambs – is a donkey-powered grain-mill. Further north, a rooftop mala’af or air-scoop incorporated into a long T-shaped passage conveys breezes into the labyrinth. Beyond is a tenth-century madrassa (school and court) featuring painted liwans, niches for legal texts, cells for felons and a beam above the door for whippings. The maze of alleyways also harbours a restored blacksmith’s forge.
For more information on these and other facets of the old way of life, check out the Ethnographic Museum (daily 10am–5pm; £E10) near the Tour Centre, founded by the anthropologist Aliya Hussein and containing artefacts and photos from all of the oases in the Western Desert.
The best time to photograph Al-Qasr is midday, when sunlight falls through skylights to illuminate the maze of shadowy lanes.
The Muzawaka Tombs
Six kilometers west along the highway from Al-Qasr, a signpost indicates the track to the Muzawaka Tombs, a twenty-minute walk or a slow drive through the silent desert, past eerie rock buttes riddled with empty Greco-Roman tombs. Of the three hundred or so recorded by Egyptologist Ahmed Fakhry in 1972, two provoked the word “Muza!” (Decorations!) – hence the name. Both tombs were later closed for many years as restorers strove to reattach their murals to the friable limestone, but are set to be reopened by 2013, while a visitors’ center and cafeteria are also planned for the site.
The Tomb of Petosiris is vividly painted with Roman-nosed blonds in pharaonic poses, curly-haired angels and a zodiac with a bearded Janus-figure on the ceiling. In the back right-hand corner is a man standing on a turtle holding a snake and a fish aloft – a curious amalgam of Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman symbolism. The grapevines symbolize vitality.
Cruder murals in the Tomb of Sadosiris show Anubis (weighing the deceased’s heart in one scene), Osiris judging on the rear wall, and another Janus – looking back on life and forward into the hereafter – just inside the entrance. Visitors may also be invited to peer into a tomb full of leathery embalmed corpses (baksheesh expected).
Deir al-Hagar
By bicycle or taxi you can reach Deir al-Hagar via an unmarked road 1km past the Muzawaka turning off the highway. The road runs south past some Roman ruins to a small, colourfully painted village (1km); beyond here a track crosses a ridge, whereupon Deir al-Hagar hoves into view on the right.
Notwithstanding its Arabic name, “Stone Monastery”, this was once a Roman temple dedicated to the Theban Triad and the god of the oasis, Seth. The temple’s sandstone hypostyle hall, sanctuary and brick enclosure wall were built in the first century AD, under emperors Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian (whose cartouches can be seen). It later served as a Coptic monastery (notice the mural of Christ, the lion and the lamb in a niche to the left of the temple pylon) until a huge dune consumed it, collapsing the roof and leaving only the tops of the columns visible.
One column is inscribed with the names of almost every explorer who visited Dakhla in the nineteenth century, including Edmondstone, Drovetti, Cailliaud and the entire Rohlfs expedition. It was they who named Dakhla’s only mountain Jebel Edmondstone, after the first European to reach the oasis since ancient times; Sir Archibald Edmondstone beat his French rival, Drovetti, by ten days, in 1819, to “discover” it in the name of England.
East of Mut
Villages on the eastern arm of the oasis are more or less accessible from Mut by minibus; most terminate at Balat or Bashendi, but some go as far as Teneida. Heading out of town, you’ll see where irrigation canals have enabled wheat, rice and peanuts to be grown on once barren land. SHEIKH WALI is on the verge of becoming a suburb of Mut, yet backs onto desert, with olive groves and goat-pens surrounding a Biblical waterwheel, while dunes swell in the distance. ASMANT, 6km on, has the usual sprawl of modern buildings by the road and a high-walled old village on the hill further back, which lends its name to an ancient site 9km further east.
Balat
After the stretch of desert beyond Asmant, it’s delightful to reach BALAT, shaded by mature trees, where minibuses drop passengers at a teahouse. Cross the road to explore the old village beyond the TV mast, with its three hundred-year-old mosque upheld by palm-trunks and a maze of twisting covered streets that protect the villagers from sun and sandstorms, and once prevented invaders from entering on horseback. Painted oxblood, salmon, terracotta or pale blue, with carved lintels and wooden peg-locks, its mud-brick houses are only slightly less impressive than the ones in Al-Qasr, with many still inhabited.
Qila ed-Dabba and Ain Asil
Although the oldest houses in Balat village date only from Mamluke times, this locality was a pharaonic seat of government as long ago as 2500 BC, when the oasis prospered through trade with Kush (ancient Nubia). A few kilometres outside Balat, the ancient necropolis of Qila ed-Dabba is home to five mud-brick mastabas (once clad in limestone but long ago reduced to lumps), marking the tombs of VI Dynasty (2345–2181 BC) governors and their families. Like the mastaba-tombs at Saqqara, these consist of mud-brick superstructures used as funerary chapels and built over burial chambers cut deep into the bedrock.
Since the 1980s, the site has been excavated by the Institut Français d’Archéologie Oriental (IFAO), which has a dig-house nearby. Like the Dakhla Oasis Project, the IFAO hopes to find evidence of a “missing link” between Egypt’s Pre-dynastic civilization and the prehistoric tribes of the desert. Their biggest discovery hereabouts has been the Tomb of Khenitka, who governed during the reign of Pepi II (2292–03 BC). Digging 10m down, they found four chambers containing alabaster and terracotta pottery, copper jewelry, statuettes and ostrich eggs (now in the Museum of the New Valley in Kharga Oasis). Faded but elegant reliefs depict Khentika, his wife and son; people ploughing, driving cattle and sailing boats.
The same ticket is also valid for the ruins at Ain Asil, 1km northeast of the necropolis, where a fortress and farming community, whose name meant “Our Root is Lasting in the Oasis”, existed from the Old Kingdom until Ptolemaic times. From either site, you can see – and walk to – Bashendi (about 2km).

Bashendi
Minibuses from Mut either terminate at, or pass the turning for, the village of BASHENDI, whose name derives from Pasha Hindi, a medieval sheikh who is buried in the local cemetery at the back of the village, where the desert begins. The cemetery dates back to Roman times, and the brick-domed Tomb of Pasha Hindi is itself built atop a Roman structure. Empty sarcophagi separate it from the sandstone Tomb of Kitnes, whose Ancient Egyptian-style funerary reliefs depict Kitnes meeting the desert-gods Min, Seth and Shu. Its key is held by a villager who can be fetched if you want to look inside. Tombs also form the foundations of many of the village houses, which are painted pale blue or buttercup yellow with floral friezes and hajj scenes, merging into the ground in graceful curves.

Teneida
TENEIDA, on the eastern edge of the oasis, is a modern affair centred on a leafy square, whose only “sight” is a cemetery with weird tombstones resembling tiny houses. With a car, you can press on to see some rock inscriptions off the highway 10km beyond Teneida. The carvings include an ostrich at the base of the sandstone outcrop beside the road, while beyond some fields another rock shaped like a seated camel is covered in prehistoric and Bedouin drawings of giraffes, camels and hunters, as well as the name of Jarvis (British governor of Dakhla and Kharga in the 1930s) and many others. Sadly, recent visitors have covered many of the ancient inscriptions with mindless graffiti.

The road to Kharga Oasis
Beyond the last flourish of greenery, wind-sculpted rocks give way to dun table-tops and gravelly sand, persisting for most of the way from Dakhla to Kharga (193km). Following the Darb el-Ghabari or “Dust Road”, the modern road skirts the phosphate-rich Abu Tartur Plateau that separates the two depressions. The appearance of a phosphates factory 45km outside Kharga alerts you for a treat to follow. Golden dunes march across the depression, burying lines of telegraph poles and encroaching on the highway. Villagers faced with their advance have been known to add an extra story to their house, live there while the dune consumes the ground floor and move back downstairs once it has passed on. These dunes are outstretched fingers of the Ghard Abu Muharrik, of the type known as “whale backed”.

El-Kharga Oasis

Despite being the nearest of the oases to Luxor and the capital of the New Valley, Kharga Oasis gets far fewer tourists than the others. El-Kharga, the “capital” of the oasis, is a 1970s metropolis of eighty thousand people with adequate facilities and a good museum, but otherwise dull, and while the oasis contains many ancient sites, relatively few are accessible without a car, and some can only be reached by jeep.
Submerged by the sea aeons ago, leaving fossils on the high plateau, the Kharga depression is hemmed in by 300-metre-high cliffs, with belts of dunes advancing across the oasis. It’s thought that there were no dunes here in Roman times; myth has it that they erected a brass cow on the escarpment, which swallowed up the sand. Many desert trade routes converged on the oasis, notably the Forty Days Road. Both Roman legionaries and Mamluke troops were stationed here, and deserted Roman forts and villages that claim descent from Mamluke soldiers attest to centuries of firm control by Egypt’s rulers, who have used Kharga as a place of exile since antiquity. Under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, Islamist militants were incarcearated in the tuberculosis-ridden Kharga Prison (visible as one enters the oasis from the north).
Kharga is seen by some as a portent that the New Valley spells ruin for the oases. The influx of fellaheen from the Nile Valley has changed agricultural practices; rice cultivation has proved more water-intensive than expected, depleting aquifers and turning land saline – leading to strict limits on its production. It’s indicative of the mixed antecedents of its citizens that the name Kharga may be pronounced “Harga” or “Harjah”, depending on who’s talking. Both the oasis and its capital are called Kharga; we’ve used the prefix “El-” to refer to the city.
El-Kharga
As the capital of the New Valley Governorate (comprising Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra oases), EL-KHARGA has grown into a sprawl of mid-rise buildings and highways, with the only reminder of its romantic oasis-town origins being the souk and lush palm groves in the “lower” town. The modern town was laid out on higher ground than the original settlement, with banks and government buildings lining the wideSharia Gamal Abdel Nasser, which is too long and monotonous for pleasant walking, despite its ornamental obelisks, arches and shrubs. Public minibuses run along its length, en route between the upper and lower parts of town.
Though El-Kharga is no longer encircled by palm groves, they still flourish beyond Sharia Bur Said, and dates play an important part in the social calendar. City Day (Oct 3) celebrates the beginning of the date harvest with a parade of floats along Sharia Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the marriage season is also timed to coincide with the flowering of the date crop (from July until harvest time).
Museum of the New Valley
Housed in an imposing modern building modelled on the Coptic tombs of nearby Bagawat, the Museum of the New Valley exhibits artefacts from sites scattered across three oases. The most impressive are Greco-Roman: painted sarcophagi from Maks al-Qibli to the south of Kharga Oasis; death masks from Qasr el-Labeka to the north; and mummified rams, eagles and ibises from Dakhla Oasis. The Old Kingdom is represented by jewellery, scarabs and headrests from the tombs of the VI Dynasty governors at Qila ed-Dabba, also in Dakhla. Look out for the ba birds, representing the soul of the deceased, unearthed at Dush Temple in the far south of Kharga.
The lower town
From Midan Showla a busy souk runs off into an old quarter of mud-brick houses painted apricot or azure and daubed with the lucky Hand of Fatima. Turn right at the first crossroads and then left to find the Darb as-Sindadyh, a dark, serpentine alley roofed with palm trunks which once extended over 4km through a medieval settlement like the qasr in other oases. Most of this has crumbled into ruin, but a short stretch has been restored to remind visitors of what used to exist here.
North of El-Kharga
Three of the oasis’ most evocative monuments lie a few kilometres north of El-Kharga, within walking distance during winter. Here you can see the Temple of Hibis juxtaposed against the Bagawat Necropolis, one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in Egypt, itself backed by an imposing ruined monastery, Deir el-Kashef. Further north and harder to reach, Ed-Deir, Qasr el-Labeka and Ain Um Dabadib are ancient forts, tunnels and other feats of Roman and Persian engineering.
Temple of Nadura
Hardly anyone bothers to visit the ruined Temple of Nadura, sat atop a 135-metre-high hill in the desert en route to the Bagawat Necropolis. Its eroded sandstone wall and pronaos aren’t anything special, but the view of the surrounding countryside is great, as suggested by its name, Nadura, meaning “The Lookout”. Built during the reign of Antoninus Caesar, Nadura is typical of the Roman temple-forts that once protected the oasis from desert raiders.

Temple of Hibis
Sited just off the highway before the Bagawat Necropolis, the Temple of Hibis is the largest cult-shrine in any of the oases. Dedicated to Amun-Re, it was begun in the reign of the XXVI Dynasty ruler Psammetichus II and completed by the Persian emperor Darius I (521–486 BC). Fields roundabout cover the site of ancient Hibis, a town that prospered during the same period. The temple was reconstructed after a $20 million conservation fiasco, when it was dismantled to move it to higher ground only for engineers to decide that a drainage system was a better solution to the rising groundwater that was undermining its foundations.

Bagawat Necropolis
Some 200m past the Temple of Hibis you’ll see the Bagawat Necropolis, consisting of 263 mud-brick chapels spread over a hilltop. Used for Christian burials between the third and sixth centuries (latterly by followers of Bishop Nestorius, who was exiled to Kharga for heresy), the chapels embody diverse forms of mud-brick vaulting or Roman-influenced portals, but are best known for their Coptic murals.
Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Abraham and Isaac populate the dome of the fifth-century Chapel of Peace near the entrance to the necropolis. Further north, Roman-looking pharaonic troops pursue the Jews, led by Moses, out of Egypt, in the Chapel of the Exodus. Flowery motifs and doves of peace can be seen inside Tomb #25, one of three adjacent family vaults. The scenes in all these tombs are crudely executed but full of life and vividly coloured.

Deir el-Kashef
From Bagawat’s ticket kiosk, a track runs behind the hill past an archeologists’ resthouse and rows of rock-cut tombs to reach the dramatic ruins of Deir el-Kashef (“Monastery of the Tax Collector”). Named after a Mamluke governor, the five-storey Coptic monastery once housed hermits and travellers in its vaulted cells, and still commands a view of the point where the Darb al-Ghabari from Dakhla crossed the Forty Days Road.
In the valley below you can see the ruins of a small church or hermitage, with Greek texts on the walls of the nave and the tiny cells where the monks slept.

Ed-Deir
The best-preserved and most accessible of Kharga’s Roman forts is Ed-Deir, near the eastern scarp-wall, which once guarded the shortest camel route to the Nile. Built during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Diocletian (244–311 AD), its twelve rounded towers are connected by a gallery, with numerous rooms featuring obscene graffiti drawn by generations of Roman, Turkish and British soldiers.
The abandoned railway visible in the distance was built by the British in 1906–8, but gradually blocked by advancing dunes. The same fate befell another railway built further south in the 1980s, whose steel tracks were stolen after the 2011 Revolution.

Qasr el-Labeka
Qasr el-Labeka is the nearest site where you can see the amazing system of underground aqueducts, known as manafis, that drew on ground water like the qanats of ancient Persia (Fakhry suggests that the system originated under Persian rule). Labeka is reached via a spur-road off the highway that turns into a sandy track leading to a tiny oasis, where a farmer has cleared out the manafi to irrigate palms and plots. If you don’t mind getting your feet wet, the horizontal shaft is narrow but tall enough to venture into. The vertical shafts allowing access from the surface give their name to such aqueducts (manafi means “shaft”).
You can tell where water lies near the surface from the scrub or palm trees on the plain beyond. Ruined houses and a temple lie half-buried in the sand, with a Roman fortress looming from a nearby crag. Its twelve-metre walls enclose sand-choked chambers and the rear gate overlooks a palm grove. If Labeka’s Arabic name “Palm-wine Fort” signifies anything, it wasn’t the worst posting for a legionary.

Ain Um Dabadib
Despite its proximity to Labeka, cars may have to backtrack as far as El-Kharga to find a corridor through the dunes to reach Ain Um Dabadib. The largest ancient site in the oasis (covering over 200 square kilometres), it includes a ruined Roman fortress, Byzantine churches and tombs, but is most remarkable for its underground aqueducts, the deepest 53m beneath the surface and the longest running for 4.6km. When one of these manafis was cleared in the 1900s, water began to flow again. Now choked with sand and inhabited by snakes, scorpions and bats, they are risky to explore.

Ain Amur
Further west beyond the limits of the Kharga depression, the isolated Ain Amur (“Spring of the Lovely One”) is situated 200m up the cliffs of the Abu Tartur Plateau. At 525m above sea level, this is the highest spring in the Western Desert, fed by aquifers in the escarpment rather than deep below the desert floor. Coptic graffiti includes the testimony of a traveller “faint from thirst” who stumbled upon Ain Amur late at night, which “saved him”. Some believe the spring was the last watering hole of the legendary lost army of Cambyses, before it disappeared into the Great Sand Sea.

South of El-Kharga
Exploring the southern part of the oasis entails flitting between sites off the highway. The temples of Qasr el-Ghweita and Qasr al-Zayn are both relatively close to town; Dush is further out and harder to reach. Dr Mahmoud Youssef can guide visitors to two lesser Roman ruins, amidst the dunes behind Kharga’s extravagantly marbled train station, moribund since the railway line to Luxor was abandoned to the desert sands in 2008 (its tracks were stolen by looters following the Revolution).
Qasr al-Baramoudi and Qasr al-Nasima
Reached by a farming track turning off the highway just before the train station, these two unguarded sites have been looted since the Revolution. Qasr al-Baramoudi is a small Roman fort with an oven-shaped pigeon tower which once supplied the garrison with fowl. Such towers have been used in Egypt since antiquity and are still seen in the Nile Valley, but this is exceptional for being Roman and being incorporated into military architecture.
Two kilometres further southwest, Qasr al-Nasima is another ruined fort, with an underground shaft which possibly housed an archive of messages transmitted by carrier-pigeons between the forts in the oasis.

Qasr el-Ghweita
Visible from behind Hamadalla Sahara City, where a spur-road runs off towards it, Qasr el-Ghweita (“Fortress of the Small Garden”) is a fortified hilltop temple from the Late Period with a commanding view of the area, which was intensively farmed in ancient times. Its ten-metre-high walls enclose a sandstone temple dedicated to the Theban Triad, built by Darius I on the site of an older shrine. The Hypostyle Hall contains scenes of Hapy the Nile-god holding symbols of the nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt. Inscriptions attest to the quality of the grapes grown hereabouts; wine from Kharga was prized during the New Kingdom, if not earlier.

Qasr al-Zayan
From Qasr el-Ghweita the spur-road loops south to Qasr al-Zayan, a Roman temple that lends its name to a still-thriving village built over the ancient town of Tkhonemyris. This proximity to daily life helps you imagine it as a bustling settlement in antiquity. Dedicated to Amun-Re, the temple is enclosed within a mud-brick fortress, together with living quarters for the garrison, a cistern and a bakery. The plain hereabouts is 18m below sea level, the lowest point in Kharga Oasis.

Bulaq
Returning to the highway, the next settlement, BULAQ (meaning “Watch”), consists of a picturesque old village to the west and a larger modern one to the east. Its rustic hot springs (open 24hr; free) are visible immediately before you enter town, on the right.
South of Bulaq stretch a string of New Valley settlements founded in the 1980s, named Algeria, Kuwait, Palestine, Baghdad and Aden in a gesture of Arab solidarity.

Baris
Seventy kilometres from El-Kharga, BARIS (pronounced “Bar-ees”) is named after the French capital, though its foraging goats and unpaved streets make a mockery of a billboard welcoming visitors to “Paris”.
Two kilometres before town, you’ll pass the abandoned village of Baris Gedida (New Baris), begun in the early 1960s by architect Hassan Fathy and based on the principles of traditional oasis architecture, including wind shafts to cool the marketplace. Work was halted by the Six Day War of 1967 and never resumed, so the initial settlers soon drifted away.
More recently, Baris was poised to develop once the Sheikh Zayed Canal – drawing water from Lake Nasser – reached Kharga, entering the depression here, but the completion of the final 80km stretch was postponed during the Mubarak era and may never happen now that the Toshka scheme has been discredited.

Temple of Dush
Reached via a spur-road leaving Baris next to a radio mast, the Roman Temple of Dush was built by Emperor Domitian and enlarged by Hadrian and Trajan, who added a monumental gateway. Reputedly once sheathed in gold, the temple is covered in dedications to the last two emperors and the gateway in graffiti by Frederic Cailliaud and other nineteenth-century travellers. “Dush” is believed to derive from Kush, the name of the ancient Nubian kingdom.
Abutting the temple to the east is a hilltop fortress dating from the Ptolemaic era, now partially buried in the sands, with mud-brick walls up to six metres high, and four or five storeys below ground.
The fortress formerly protected the ancient town of Kysis, an agricultural settlement enriched by the Forty Days Road, that had potters, jewellers and brothels. Since 1976 these sites have been studied by the IFAO, which is currently investigating nearby Ain Manawir, three deep subterranean aqueducts that once supplied water to Kysis. From October to April visitors will find the IFAO mission in residence near the temple, and also the deluxe Tabuna Camp, an idyllic place to stay if you can afford it.

Maks Bahri and Maks Qibli
From Dush, its 32km by road to MAKS BAHRI (“Customs North”), a village that once lived off the infamous Forty Days Road, taxing each slave that entered the oasis, selling supplies and pandering to the slave masters. Caravans going in the other direction were taxed at MAKS QIBLI (“Customs South”), where you can see a small mud-brick fort, the Tabid el-Darawish, built by the British after the Dervish invasion of 1893. Nowadays, the Forty Days Road has been paved as far south as Bir Tafarwi to link up with the agricultural project at East Oweinat.

Bahariya Oasis

Bahariya Oasis is the smallest of the four oasis depressions, only 94km long and 42km wide. In the Late Cretaceous era, 94 million years ago, this was a steamy mangrove-swamp inhabited by dinosaurs such as the plant-eating paralititan and the carnivorous carcharodontosaurus (whose bones have been found here). The oasis is known to have been under pharaonic control by the Middle Kingdom, when it exported wine to the Nile Valley, and later thrived as an artery between Egypt and Libya, with Arab armies, merchants and pilgrims passing through over millennia.
Although it covers 1200 square kilometers, less than one percent is actually cultivated, with date palms, olive and fruit trees, vegetables, rice and corn. Ominously, where ground water was once tapped at a depth of 30m, farmers must now bore 1000m underground; fruit trees have suffered from being irrigated by hotter water, raising fears for Bahariya’s future sustainability.
Meanwhile, many people have prospered from tourism. Local safari outfits employ hundreds of drivers, cooks and gofers, particularly over Christmas and Easter (when many foreigners living in Cairo come here) and the six-day Pharaon Rally in September, when some 150 jeeps and motorbikes race through the oasis, accompanied by TV crews and spectators.
Unlike the three neighbouring oases that comprise the New Valley governorate, Bahariya comes under 6th October City, one of the high-rise satellite cities built to reduce Cairo’s congestion. Plans to build a Museum of the Oases have been stalled for years as the two governorates squabble over whether it should be located in Bahariya or Farafra Oasis.
You’ll pass 6th October City en route from Cairo, shortly after the Pyramids of Giza. Thereafter the landscape is flat and featureless, until a grubby halfway resthouse followed by a reddish-purple tract of desert whose iron-ore deposits are transported to the Helwan steelworks by a mining-railway.
Bawiti
The oasis “capital” BAWITI (pronounced “Ba-weety”) has a picturesque nucleus of old houses on a ridge overlooking luxuriant palm groves, but that’s not what you see on arrival. Breeze-block dwellings and concrete government buildings line the Cairo–Farafra highway, which doubles as the main street (Sharia Gamal Abdel Nasser/Sharia Masr), busy with trucks, jeeps and donkey-carts. Tourism here is intensely competitive, with touts besieging foreigners the moment they step off the bus.
Oasis Heritage Museum
Bawiti’s most visible “sight” is the Oasis Heritage Museum, a qasr-like ensemble beside the highway beyond the town limits. Created by Mahmoud Eed, a self-taught sculptor inspired by Badr in Farafra, the museum is a work-in-progress. Both artists’ figurines portray a way of life that’s almost disappeared in the oases, for men at least, whose job it once was to hunt gazelles and weave mats (women’s roles haven’t changed so much). Besides Mahmoud’s terracotta tableaux there’s a rather sad Reptile Collection of lizards, snakes and hedgehogs, captured in the desert.
Ain Bishmu
Less obvious is Bawiti’s old quarter of mud-brick homes (reached by following Sharia Safaya and nameless streets northwards), flanked by mastabas where elders sit and gossip. Beyond the domed Tomb of Sheikh el-Bishmu you can track down Ain Bishmu, a fissure in the bedrock where a spring was hewn in Roman times, gushing hot water (35°C) into a natural basin. Although the ravine is disfigured by a pumping station, there’s a wonderful view of the palm groves below the ridge, where it’s delightful to wander around (especially in spring when the almond orchards are in blossom).
Al-Qasr
The old quarter merges into Al-Qasr, built on the site of the former pharaonic capital and continuously inhabited since – though many houses are now abandoned or used as livestock pens. Alleys snake past secretive courtyards and walled gardens, ending in cul-de-sacs or joining up with other lanes. Some houses incorporate stones from a bygone XXVI Dynasty temple, and a Roman triumphal arch which survived until the mid-nineteenth century.
Antiquities Inspectorate
Near Bawiti’s hospital, the bunker-like Antiquities Inspectorate – locally known as “the museum” (Al-Mathaf) – was built to exhibit mummies from a huge cache found outside Bawiti in 1996. Encased in gilded and painted cartonage (linen pasteboard), with sculpted stucco masks, the eleven “Golden Mummies” displayed here include a child buried with its parents. The mother’s head is inclined towards her husband, and she wears a “chest plate” sculpted with tiny triangular breasts – a funerary fashion in Greco-Roman times, when mummification was often perfunctory. Many of the mummies removed from the earth have since deteriorated – some previously on display are no longer fit to be shown. The museum also has an impish statue of Bes, from his shrine at Ain al-Muftillah.
Tombs of Zad-Amun ef-Ankh and Bannentiu
From the Antiquities Inspectorate you can walk downhill and cross the main road to reach Qarat Qasr Salim, a built-up ridge harbouring two tombs found by Ahmed Fakhry in 1938. Both date from the XXVI Dynasty, when rich local merchants built themselves tombs emulating those of the nobility.
The Tomb of Zad-Amun ef-Ankh is sunk in a steep-sided pit. Its votive hall has rounded pillars and is decorated with deities (notice the people bringing gifts, to the left), painted in ochre, brown and black upon a white background. Zad-Amun was wealthy enough to afford his alabaster and limestone sarcophagi to be quarried near Tell el-Amarna and Giza, shipped along the Nile and then dragged 200km overland to Bawiti.
Nearby is the Tomb of Bannentiu, his son, at the bottom of a 10m shaft. Mind your head on the steel grating and the low entrance to its votive hall, whose inscriptions acclaim Bannentiu as a priest and a prophet. Here the pillars are square and the murals are in brick red, golden yellow, pale blue and black upon white. Some of the deities have only been sketched in, but there’s a fine solar barque at the back, and the embalming process is shown on the right-hand wall.
Ain al-Muftillah
The ancient town once extended to Ain al-Muftillah, a spring nowadays on the outskirts of the desert. It’s feasible to cycle here but better to go by car, as the route isn’t signposted or easy to describe. A little way south of the spring is a wooden-roofed enclosure containing four small ruined shrines from the XXVI Dynasty, excavated by Steindorff and Fakhry. Built of friable sandstone streaked with ochre and sienna (which makes them liable to flake and unusually colorful), none conforms to the canons of pharaonic architecture. One was dedicated to Bes, patron deity of musicians, dancers and prostitutes; all that remains of his image is a devilish foot and a tail.
By crossing the rise and a dune beyond, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Al-Qasr, Bawiti and the surrounding countryside.
Temple of Alexander
Ask at the Ahmed Safari Camp for directions to the Temple of Alexander, 400m away via a sandy track. Built of the same soft stone as the shrines at Ain al-Muftillah, its reliefs have suffered from being sandblasted by the wind for centuries, obliging the SCA to recreate the face and cartouche of Alexander the Great that archeologists recorded in the 1930s. This is (or was) the only temple in Egypt to bear Alexander’s figure and cartouche; some believe that he passed through Bahariya en route to Memphis after consulting the Siwan Oracle.
Northeast of Bawiti
With its palm groves, fields and desert, this scenic area can be explored on a half-day tour offered by some hotels and safari outfits (see Tours around Bahariya Oasis and beyond), or by renting a bicycle from New Newasha Handicrafts. To visit Bir el-Ghaba and Jebel el-Dist involves a round-trip of about 25km.
Hot springs
the nearest spring to Bawiti is Bir Ramla, a nice two-kilometer walk past palm and fruit orchards, although the springs are too hot (45°C) for most tourists and quite public. Men can bathe here in shorts; women only at night, in full-length opaque clothing. Similar rules apply to Bir el-Negba, 1km further on.
Bir al-Mattar, 5km from Bawiti, is also too hot to bathe in, and there is only a trickle of water at Bir el-Ghaba (“Well of the Forest”), 11km from town, yet the locality is worth a visit purely for its scenery, with palm and eucalyptus groves yielding to scrub and tawny mountains in the near distance.
Jebel el-Dist
Jebel el-Dist (“Mountain of the Pot”) is more accurately described by guides as “Pyramid Mountain”, while the ever-changing play of light across it has inspired another name, “Magic Mountain”. Its dinosaur beds have been picked bare, but the fields and acacia groves nearer Bir el-Ghaba abound in insects and birdlife. You’ll also see a herd of camels belonging to a Bedouin family (except in July, when the oasis is plagued by camel-ticks and the camels go walkabout in the desert).
Black Mountain
En route to all these sites you’ll pass the aptly named Black Mountain (Jebel Souda), whose dolomite and basalt mass is crowned by a ruined look-out post used by Captain Williams to monitor Senussi incursions in 1916, for which it is nicknamed the “English Mountain” (Jebel el-Ingleez). Most of the inhabited parts of the oasis are visible from its summit, whose rocks have an oddly sticky texture and smell faintly of biscuits.
East of Bawiti
Linked by a country back-road which makes them easy to explore by bicycle, the villages near Bawiti are unaffected by tourism, and people are friendly and hospitable. AGOUZ, only 2km from town, is reputedly inhabited by the descendants of families banished from Siwa Oasis for the loose morals of their womenfolk, but they would rather forget this slur on their ancestors.
Zabu
The back-road to Mandisha passes a field of dunes threatening to engulf ZABU’s houses and palm groves in sand. Behind the gardens facing the escarpment a track leads into a canebrake harbouring a giant sandstone boulder known as Qasr el-Zabu, inscribed by Libyan nomads and other travellers with petroglyphs: sun symbols, horses, a charioteer, a woman with her arms akimbo and the name of the explorer Hyde.
South of Bawiti
This part of the oasis is usually visited on jeep safaris to the White Desert. Some drive around the far side of Jebel Gala Siwa to see a beautiful dune that has formed in the lee of the escarpment – ideal for sandboarding. Most stop for lunch at Heiz el-Bahri, where tamarisk-mounds and palms surround a cold spring, one of several fertile enclaves in the locality called El-Heiz.
In the desert to the west of the highway, roughly 30km from Bawiti, a white monument commemorates Swiss René Michel, a pioneer of tourism to Bahariya, who died here from heatstroke in 1986.
The Black Desert
A hellish landscape of conical and table-top hills with black basalt summits errupting from tawny sand, the Black Desert (Sahara Souda) stretches most of the way to Farafra Oasis. Unfairly under-rated compared to the White Desert, this big-sky country eludes efforts to capture its majesty by photography. During winter-time the Black Desert can be seen from the air in a hot-air balloon – an unforgetable experience. One-hour flights ($100) with Viking Balloons can be arranged through Ahmed Safari Camp
Naqb es-Sillum
The Bahariya and Farafra depressions are separated by a limestone escarpment where gigantic drifts of sand flank the road as it traverses the Naqb es-Sillum (“Pass of the Stairs”). Two microwave masts relay signals between the oases, and there’s a first-aid post with an ambulance by the mast nearest Bahariya. Shortly after the second mast, some safari groups turn off-road towards Agabat and the White Desert.

Farafra Oasis

Farafra Oasis is renowned for its White Desert, which many tourists visit on safaris from Bahariya rather than from the oasis “capital”, Qasr al-Farafra, a one-horse town if ever there was. Historically, Farafra was the least populous and most isolated of the four oases. When camels were the only means of travel, the Farafrans had less contact with Bahariya (a journey of four days) than with Dakhla, which was tenuously connected to the Forty Days Road. Fakhry relates how the villagers once lost track of time and could only ascertain the right day for Friday prayers by sending a rider to Dakhla.
Qasr al-Farafra was the only village in the oasis before the New Valley scheme seeded a dozen hamlets across the depression, now inhabited by fifteen thousand settlers from the Assyut region and the Delta.
Qasr has remained a tight-knit community of four extended families and is noted for its piety, apparent during Ramadan, when the mosque overflows with robed imams and sheikhs.
Compared to Bahariya, few people are involved in tourism so there’s almost no hustling – but little to do at night either. Few tourists stay longer than a night in Qasr, and many simply use it as a pit-stop after camping out in the White Desert and before carrying on to Dakhla Oasis. There are, however, other things to see besides the White Desert, from local hot springs to stalactite caves far into the desert.
Qasr al-Farafra
The low ground in QASR AL-FARAFRA has been colonized by modern infrastructure, which obscures the view of the ancient hilltop village, backing onto palm groves. Even there modernization is apparent, with austerely beautiful old mud-brick houses topped by flowing pediments or crenellations being superseded by breeze-block homes with proper bathrooms. Though Qasr’s population has shot up to five thousand in the last twenty years due to better healthcare, its shops and market are still meagre and frugality is the order of the day, despite a few wealthy locals who’ve built villas on the edge of town.
Come nightfall, there’s little to do but hang out in teahouses or maybe wallow in the hot spring at Bir Sitta, unless you happen to chance upon a zikr in somebody’s home. These play an important role in the religious and social life of Farafra; foreigners of both sexes are welcome, providing they respect that they are guests at a religious ritual, not spectators at a tourist attraction – which means modest dress and behaviour.
Badr’s Museum
The creation of Badr Abdel Moghny, a self-taught artist who has exhibited in Europe, Badr’s Museum resembles a Disneyfied desert mansion, with reliefs of camels and farmers decorating its walls and an antique wooden lock on the door. Its dozen-odd rooms exhibit Badr’s rustic sculptures and surreal paintings, stuffed wildlife, weird fossils and pyrites. Here, “Mr Socks” sells handknitted camel-hair mittens, hats and thick woolly socks, for those cold desert nights.
The Fortress
At the highest point in the vicinity, houses merge imperceptibly into the ruined mud-brick fortress (qasr) that gives the village its name (though the full title isn’t used in everyday speech). Until early in the twentieth century, Farafrans would retreat inside whenever marauders came; each family had a designated room, where, during normal times, provisions were stored and guarded by a watchman. Damaged by heavy rainfall, the fortress began to crumble in the 1950s; the less damaged parts are now home to several families.
The palm groves
The extensive palm groves behind the village look especially lovely just before sunset. They are divided into walled gardens planted with olive and fruit trees as well as date palms (whose branches are used to fence the land). You can walk the paths freely, but shouldn’t enter the gardens uninvited; for single women to do so is regarded as provocative. Likewise, avert your eyes from the men’s bathhouse on the edge of the village, where youths splash around in a concrete tank fed by a pipe gushing warm water. Foreigners are expected to bathe at other springs, such as Bir Setta.
White Desert National Park
Covering 3010 square kilometers on both sides of the highway, the White Desert National Park was established in 2002 to protect this unique landscape from over-exposure to tourism. Heavy fines for littering and the restriction of jeeps to specified tracks forced safari outfits which only cared about making a fast buck to mend their ways. However, after the ticket office was burned down during the 2011 Revolution and park wardens went unpaid, enforcement ceased. At the time of research, safaris were only paying fees to enter or camp in the park if they happened to meet one of the few park wardens on duty.
Crystal Mountain and Agabat
Coming from Bahariya Oasis, you’ll enjoy a succession of fantastic views as you enter the Farafra depression, where safaris halt to let passengers admire the Crystal Mountain (Jebel al-Izaz), a shiny quartz ridge with a human-high natural arch through the middle, which is why locals call it Hagar al-Makhrum, the “Rock with a Hole”.
At this point jeeps can turn off onto a signposted route into the White Desert known as the English Track (after the 1920s explorers who first found a way by car), but most traffic continues along the highway, descending the Naqb es-Sillum past the landmark Twin Peaks, to the east.
Beyond Twin Peaks lies the spectacularly rugged terrain known as Agabat (“Wonders”). Its pale rock “sugarloaves” are a feast for the eyes, but the surrounding soft sand and powdered chalk can easily entrap vehicles – which is why some locals call the locality Akabat (“Difficult”).
The White Desert
Agabat segues into the famous White Desert (Sahara el-Beida) on both sides of the highway. Everywhere you look are chalk yardangs (pinnacles) eroded into surreal forms, looming above a dusty pan strewn with shells, crystals and iron pyrites shaped like sea urchins or twigs. The yardangs glint pale gold in the midday sun, turn violet and pink around sunset, and resemble icebergs or snowdrifts by moonlight. All originated as deposits of countless sea urchins that thrived in the shallow sea that covered this area during the Cretaceous period, one hundred million years ago. After the sea receded in the mid-Tertiary Era, twenty-odd million years of wind-erosion produced the shapes that amaze visitors today.
Most safaris enter the desert at Bir Regwa to follow tracks past such rock formations as the Mushroom, the Tents and the Sphinx. The first two refer to multiple yardangs, each a different shape. Another landmark is a large Acacia Tree growing from a hillock, whose canopy offers welcome shade. Shrubs and palms dot the landscape where subterranean water nears the surface at Ain Sirwal and Ain Abu Hawas. Roman pottery scattered about suggests that this was once a caravan route between Farafra and Bahariya.
The Hidden Valley and the New White Desert
Though relatively few safari outfits run trips there – or even know the area from experience rather than mere heresay – the western reaches of the Farafra depression are no less fascinating than the White Desert. The Hidden Valley (Wadi al-Ubayyid) behind the Qus Abu Said Plateau looks superficially similar but is more geologically diverse, with volcanic massifs as well as chalk yardangs.
The northerly route into the valley passes the well of Bir Bednui; a 20-metre-high pinnacle call ed Al-Qabur (“The Chisel”); and humped monoliths known as Hummocks. In the 1990s, Italian archeologists found the remains of a prehistoric village beside a long-vanished lake, leading to the discovery of the Al-Ubayyid Cave 50m up a cliff-face. Its three chambers contain rock art, with engravings of gazelles and cattle, and the blown-outlines of human hands. The cave is officially off-limits but some safaris visit it nonetheless.
Further west stands the Infidel Rock, an anthropomorphic rock formation that locals believe marks the last known location of the fabled lost army of Cambyses. Sphinx Valley is a locality where almost every yardang calls to mind (and might even have inspired) the famous monument near the Giza Pyramids. The plain beyond is dominated by huge chalk inselbergs, or isolated hills, prompting local safari operators to dub this the New White Desert.
Ain Della
Until a decade ago the New White Desert was off-limits due to the proximity of Ain Della (“Spring of the Shade”), which has played an epic part in the history of the Western Desert as the last waterhole before the Great Sand Sea. Used by raiders and smugglers since antiquity, explorers in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Long Range Desert Group in World War II, it now has a garrison of Egyptian Border Guards. This elite force pursues smugglers using jeeps (rather than camels, as in the days of the Frontier Camel Corps), roaming up to 200km into the Great Sand Sea on four-day patrols. The spring-water is sweet to drink and allows the soldiers the luxury of showers at their barracks in the middle of nowhere.
Off road from Farafra to Dakhla
If you’ve got time to spare, the off-road journey from Farafra to Dakhla is an amazing two-to-three-day journey that takes you through constantly varying scenery. Safaris starting from Bahariya may travel via the White Desert, or take the easier approach used by outfits in Farafra, via road (62km) to Bir Qarawein. This ancient well has now been supplemented by boreholes, allowing watermelons to be grown among dunes that are perfect for sandboarding. When the boreholes were first sunk in the late 1990s, enterprising locals grew a far more lucrative crop – marijuana – until their plantations were spotted by chance from an army helicopter.
From Qarawein, jeeps backtrack by road to pick up a track to the sweetwater spring of Bir Dikkur, marked by two palms and a camel’s skeleton, and into the dune lanes advancing in a southeasterly direction. Some have trees protruding from their crests where the dunes have buried whole palm groves on their relentless march towards Dakhla Oasis. Over the next 100km or so, safaris pass through the Black Valley, strewn with iron pyrites, and the Marble Labyrinth, whose sharp stones are equally hard on cars’ tyres. The route ends with a steep descent from the plateau to Al-Qasr in Dakhla Oasis.
El-Qaf
Some safari outfits run trips to El-Qaf (also known as Gara or Djara), beyond the limits of Farafra Oasis. Entered via a shallow depression in the desert, this remote stalactite cave was known to local Bedouin long before it was “discovered” by Gerhard Rohlfs in 1873, though its whereabouts were subsequently forgotten until it was rediscovered by Carlo Bergmann in 1989. Archeologists have since found stone arrowheads and knives in the cave predating similar tools in the Nile Valley by five hundred years, suggesting that Neolithic technology originated in the desert.
The cave was formed some 100,000 years ago but its limestone formations stopped growing when the rains ceased about 5000 BC. Since then it has filled with sand to a depth of 150m – what’s visible today is a fraction of its total size. Some of the pure white stalactites and veil-formations are six metres tall; each one resonates with a different note if gently tapped at its point. Bring lighting, since there’s none in the cave.
Ghard Abu Muharrik and the Sand Volcano
Safaris to El-Qaf often contiunue 20km further east to see the Ghard Abu Muharrik (“Dune with an Engine”). Stretching from Bahariya to Kharga Oasis, this is the longest whale backed dune in the Western Desert, only disqualified from being the longest in Africa by two ridges that trisect the dune into three stretches 100–125km long. It’s an awesome sight, dune piled upon dune from horizon to horizon.
Somewhere out in these wastes, Samir from Western Desert Safari in Bahariya has discovered what he calls a Sand Volcano, where sand blows up from a subterranean fissure – a phenomenon that has yet to be explained and which can only be seen on his tours, since he jealously guards the secret of its location.
The road to Dakhla
Relatively few vehicles follow the 310-kilometre road between Farafra and Dakhla Oasis. Once you’re past Ain Sheikh Mazouk, the desert shifts from white stone to gravel and golden sand until you reach Abu Minqar (“Father of the Beak”), an expanse of crops and acacia trees in the wilderness where wells have been sunk and houses built in an effort to attract settlers. It’s also the westernmost point on the Great Desert Circuit, and an obligatory tea-stop.
Beyond lie more undulating golden sands, with the escarpment that delineates Dakhla Oasis visible a few kilometres to the left of the highway. Notice the telephone pylons, half-buried by dunes. Entering Dakhla Oasis, you’ll pass through Al-Qasr and Mut Talatta before reaching Dakhla’s main center.

Siwa Oasis

Isolated by hundreds of kilometers of desert, Siwa Oasis remained virtually independent from Egypt until the late nineteenth century, sustaining a unique culture. Yet despite – or because of – its isolation, outsiders have been drawn here since antiquity. The legendary Army of Cambyses was heading this way when it disappeared into a sandstorm; Alexander the Great journeyed here to consult the famous Oracle of Amun; and Arabic tales of Santariyah (as the oasis was known) were common currency into the nineteenth century. In modern times, Siwa has received visits from kings and presidents, anthropologists and generals. Tourism only really began in the mid-1980s but has gathered steam since then.
The oasis offers all you could ask for in the way of desert beauty spots: thick palm groves clustered around freshwater springs and salt lakes; rugged massifs and enormous dunes. Equally impressive are the ruins of Shali and Aghurmi, labyrinthine mud-built towns that once protected the Siwans from desert raiders. Scattered around the oasis are ruined temples that attest to Siwa’s fame and prosperity during Greco-Roman times.
Visitors are also fascinated by Siwan culture and how it is reacting to outside influences like TV, schooling and tourism. Nowadays, it is mostly only older women who wear the traditional costume, silver jewellery and complex hair-braids; younger wives and unmarried women dress much the same as their counterparts in the Nile Valley. But the Siwans still observe their own festivals and wedding customs; and among themselves they speak Siwi, a Berber tongue.
Though things are changing, the Siwans remain sure of their identity and are determined to maintain it. Siwans remain deeply conservative in matters of dress and behavior. The tourist office asks visitors to refrain from public displays of affection, and women to keep their arms and legs covered – especially when bathing in pools. Women should also avoid wandering alone in places with few people around, especially palm groves (which is seen here as an invitation to sex). Local people are generally more reserved than Egyptians, and invitations home less common.
The best time to come is during spring or autumn, when the Siwans hold festivals and the days are pleasantly warm. In winter, windless days can be nice, but nights – and gales – are chilling. From May onwards, rising temperatures keep people indoors between 11am and 7pm, and the nights are sultry and mosquito-ridden. Even when the climate is mild you’ll probably feel like taking a midday siesta or a swim.
Brief history
Beyond the fact that it sustained hunter-gatherers in Paleolithic times, little is known about Siwa Oasis before the XXVI Dynasty (664–525 BC), when the reputation of its Oracle spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Siwa’s population seems to have been at risk from predatory desert tribes, so their first settlement was a fortified acropolis, about which Classical accounts reveal little beyond its name, Aghurmi, and its position as a major caravan stop between Cyrenaica and Sudan. The Siwans are related to the Berbers of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and their language is a variant of the Berber tongues, so their society may have originally been matriarchal.
Shali and early Siwan society
According to the Siwan Manuscript (a century-old compilation of oral histories whose sole copy is seldom shown to outsiders), repeated Bedouin and Berber raids had reduced Aghurmi’s population to a mere two hundred by the twelfth century AD. Around 1203, seven families left Aghurmi to found a new settlement called Shali, whose menfolk are still honoured as the “forty ancestors”. Later, newcomers from Libya settled in the oasis, giving rise to the enduring distinction between the “Westerners” and the original “Easterners”, whose historic feud began after they disagreed over the route of a causeway that both had undertaken to build across the salt lake of Birket Siwa. Nonetheless, both coexisted within a single town built of kharsif: a salt-impregnated mud which dries cement-hard, but melts during downpours – fortunately, it rains heavily here only every fifty years or so. Fearful of raiders, Shali’s elders forbade families to live outside the walls, so as the population increased Shali could only expand upwards, with passageways regulated to the width of a donkey.

Another feature of Shali was the tradition of violent feuds between the Westerners and Easterners, in which all able-bodied males were expected to participate. Originally ritualized, with parallel lines of combatants exchanging blows between sunrise and sunset while their womenfolk threw stones at cowards and shouted encouragement, feuds became far deadlier with the advent of firearms. Despite this, the Siwans immediately closed ranks against outsiders – Bedouin raiders, khedival taxmen or European explorers. The Siwan Manuscript relates how they considered poisoning the springs with mummies in order to thwart the Muslim conquest.
Modern Siwa
Paradoxical as it sounds, Siwa’s biggest problem is an excess of water, Smelly, mosquito-infested ponds attest that the water table lies only just below the surface, and the water supply is saline or sandy, so residents have to collect water from springs by donkey. Engineers are installing a water-purification plant at Dakhrour, but it will be some years before it’s finished.
The road to Mersa Matrouh (completed in 1984) has spurred exports of dates and olives, along with tourism to the oasis, Some five hundred Siwan women are now stitching traditional embroidery for an Italian company, earning twice the local wage for an agricultural labourer: the unmarried ones have saved so much money that they can be choosy about taking a husband.
Meanwhile, the Siwans’ desire for breeze-block houses with proper bathrooms rather than the traditional dusty mud-brick dwellings has alarmed conservationists. Britain’s Prince Charles is among the VIPs backing the Friends of Siwa Association, a conservation body set up by Mounir Nematalla. Many locals regard the Friends of Siwa as a scam to embezzle donations, and resent Nematalla for expropriating part of Shali for his own profit.
In 2002, Italian NGOs helped establish the Siwa Protected Area to safeguard some 7,800 square kilometers within and beyond the oasis. The three protected zones harbor mammals (two species of gazelles and four kinds of desert fox), birds (26 species breeding locally, plus seventy migratory) and prehistoric fossils.

Pyramids of Giza

Pharaonic sites

When most people think about towns and cities in Egypt they only tend to think of the major cities or the ones associated with tourist attractions, but there are actually more than 200 towns and cities which have populations of over 15 milion
Pyramids of Giza

Among the major tourist sites, there is only one considered to be “The major” and on top of any list – The Pyramids of Giza.

There are three main Pyramids here, which were built in the 4th Dynasty (circa 4650 B.C). The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built as tombs for Kings (and Queens), and it was the exclusive privilege to have a Pyramid tomb. However, this tradition only applied in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Today there are more than 115 Pyramids in Egypt; the most famous ones are those at Giza.

Now let’s go for a little tour around the site of the Pyramids and try to explore the magnificence of the area:

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The Great Pyramid of Khufu is by far the most famous Pyramid in Egypt, the biggest, tallest, and most intact. After its construction it became one of the “Seven Wonders Of The World”, and today, it is the only one of them remaining. For a period of 4300 years, the Pyramid was also the tallest building on earth, until the French built the Eiffel Tower in 1889 to take that accolade.

Pyramids

Khufu’s Pyramid is built entirely of limestone, and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It contains around 2,300,000 blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 tons to 20tons, in total 6 million tons and is built on a square base with sides measuring about 230m (755ft), covering 13 acres! Its four sides face the four cardinal points precisely and it has an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5m (488ft), but today it is only 139m (463ft) high, the 8m (27ft) that is missing is due to the theft of the fine quality limestone covering, or casing stones, by the Ottoman Turks in the 15 Century A.D, to build houses and Mosques in Cairo.

You will find that the entrance of the Pyramid is located at the northern side, the same as almost every Pyramid in Egypt. On this side there are actually 2 entrances, one is the original, and is 17m (55ft) above ground level, and the other one is a man-made forced entrance located below it. Created in the 9th Century A.D by Khalif El-Mamoun, who was seeking the treasures that he thought might have been kept inside the Pyramid. He sent out stonemasons to open up an entrance, and they cut it midway across the centre of the northern side. Their tunnel goes almost 35m into the Pyramid, and was crudely cut, and at the end it connects with the original inner corridors of the Pyramid. Nothing was found inside, as it was plundered in antiquity. Nowadays visitors, to the site, use Mamoun’s entrance to gain access into the Pyramid, as it is actually considered to be a shortcut.

Please Note: If you attempt to go inside the Pyramid, you will have to bend down all the way till you reach the burial chamber!

From the main entrance of the Pyramid there is a long narrow corridor with low roof that descends for more than 100m (330ft), which takes you to a chamber, located about 24m (79ft) below ground level, which is an unfinished burial chamber with very little fresh air inside, and is inaccessible today.

Almost 20m (66ft) from that descending corridor there is another corridor connected to it, which takes you up into the heart of the Pyramid. This ascending corridor ends up at one the great parts of the Great Pyramid, the “Grand Gallery”! It is a large, long, rectangular hall, which is 49m (161ft) long, and 15m (49ft) high, with a long tunnel, at the bottom, that takes you the 2nd chamber, which is famously known as the “Queens Chamber”. It actually has nothing to do with a Queen, and was given this name by the early Arabs, who went inside the Pyramids and gave it its name. It is commonly believed that it served as a magazine, or a storeroom, inside the Pyramid.

Sphinx

When you ascend the “Grand Gallery”, you will find, at its end, an entrance to the 3rd chamber, which was the real burial chamber of King Khufu, and this is where you will find his stone sarcophagus, which was made out of one block of granite. You will find this chamber to be really amazing, it is rectangular in form, has a flat roof, and is built out of granite that was brought from the city of Aswan, which is located 1000Km (625 miles) away. The roof consists of 9 slabs of granite; each one estimated to be around 50 tons in weight! Above the roof of the burial chamber, the Ancient Egyptians built 5 small relieving chambers so that the huge pressure, of the weight above, would not cause the burial chamber to collapse. These 5 chambers are also made of granite, and are about 1m (3 ft) above each other. The tops of the first 4 are flat, the 5th one having a pointed top to divert the enormous pressure of weight away from the burial chamber.

Both the northern and southern walls of the burial chamber have two small tunnels with rectangular entrances. They are small, and once were thought to go all the way through the outer sides of the Pyramid, though no exterior openings have been found, and are believed to be “star shafts” that served a certain purpose in the ancient cult connecting the King with the stars.

If you need to know more about these small tunnels, and their connection to the stars, it is a long story! I guess you will need to come to one of my lectures!!!

One last point! The Great Pyramid is the Pyramid of the great Egyptian King, Khufu. The name “Cheops” is also associated with this King and his Pyramid, the name being given to him by the Greeks. Though both names are generally accepted, Khufu was used in this description because it was his birth name! The same goes for Khafre (Chephren in Greek) and Menkaure (Mycerinus), and their Pyramids are described below.
The Pyramid of Khafre

Khafre’s Pyramid, or the 2nd Pyramid, is easily recognizable by the layers of its original casing stones that still remain near its summit and this, along with the fact that it actually stands on a higher part of the plateau, gives the impression that it is taller than the Great Pyramid. An optical illusion, as it is only 136m (446 ft) tall, with sides of 214.5m (704ft), a surface area of 11 acres and an angle of 53 degrees. It also has lost some of its original height through the years, once being 143.5m (471ft) tall.

The only similarity to his father’s Pyramid is the entrance in the same, north facing side. There are no corridors leading into the heart of this Pyramid, the burial chamber being underground, and a long descending passageway has to be negotiated to reach it. This entrance is 50 feet (15m) above ground level, leading to the narrow passage, which descends at a 25-degree angle into the large burial chamber, which measures 14.2m by 5m by 6.9m (46.5ft by 16.5ft by 22.5ft). To take the weight of the pyramid, the roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the pyramid face. A large, black sarcophagus is found in this room.

A lower corridor is directly under the upper corridor, and once contained a portcullis that could be lowered to prevent entry as well as an unfinished burial chamber, which was cut from the bedrock and, it is thought, unused. Like the upper corridor, this one has a 25-degree slope, it then levels out, climbs slightly, and eventually the 2 of them join together. The united passageway then leads to the burial chamber.
The Pyramid of Menkaure

Khafre’s son, Menkaure, built the smallest of the 3 main Pyramids on the Giza Plateau. This one was only a mere 65.5m (215ft) tall, nowadays 62m (203ft), with sides of only 105m (344ft) and an angle of 51.3 degrees. It is thought that this Pyramid was altered during its construction, and made a lot bigger than originally planned. The original, smaller Pyramid had a simple descending corridor and burial chamber, but when it was enlarged, a new corridor was built with 3 portcullises and a small panelled chamber. Later still, another burial chamber, along with a storeroom were added at a lower level. This Pyramid, like its 2 neighbors, has a north facing entrance.

Apart from the size, Menkaure’s Pyramid differed from the other 2 in the choice of casing stones. Whereas the Pyramids of his father and grandfather were completely cased in fine, white, Turah limestone, Menkaure’s Pyramid was only partly cased in Turah limestone, from about 15m up! The first 15 meters was cased with pink granite, which had come from Aswan, the last of which was taken by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848) who used them to construct his arsenal in Alexandria.
The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx, or as the ancients knew it, “Shesib Ankh” or “the living image”, has to be one of the most recognizable constructions in history. Think of the Sphinx and you automatically think of Egypt and the Giza Plateau.

Sculpted from soft sandstone, many believe that it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried in the sand for so many long periods in its lifetime. The body is 60m (200ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Its face is 4m (13ft) wide with eyes measuring 2m (6 ft) high. It faces the rising sun, and was revered so much by the ancients, that they built a temple in front of it.

sphinx

The 18th Dynasty King, Thutmose IV installed a stele between its front paws, describing how, when Thutmose was a young Prince, he had gone hunting and fell asleep in the shade of the Sphinx ‘s head. Thutmose had a dream where Ra Hor-Akhty the sun God, talking through the Sphinx, spoke to him, telling the young Prince to clear away the sand because the Sphinx was choking on it. The Sphinx said to him that if he did this, he would become King of Egypt.

Thutmose cleared away all the sand and s after 2 years, the god fulfilled his promise to the price and he was made king of Egypt

Today, part of the “uraeus” (the sacred cobra at the forehead ), and the nose are missing (not shot off by Napoleon’s men as many believe, but were destroyed by Muhammad Sa’im Al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the Khanqah of Sa’id Al-Su’ada.

In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa’im Al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose!). There are parts of a beard in the Cairo and British Museum in London which reputedly belong to the Sphinx, but many Egyptologists deny this, as the style of beard found, does not relate to the “Nemes” that The Sphinx wears – different Dynasties!

Because of the soft sandstone, the Sphinx has been repaired many times; sometimes the repairs causing even more damage! Also, due to the wind, humidity, and pollution from modern Cairo, its condition is still deteriorating, and the present renovations are a never-ending task.

I hope this gave you a glimpse of information about the Pyramids of Giza.

The Egyptian Museum

A historical back ground

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is considered to be one of the oldest, most famous, and largest museums in the world.  The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities has a long history that dates back to the year 1825 when Mohamed Ali Pasha, the ruler of Egypt at the time, issued a decree to establish a museum for the antiquities of Egypt and the first location of the museum was in front of the Azabakeya Lake, between the squares of Opera and Atabba today.

The Ruler of Egypt at this period didn’t really realize the real value of the antiquities and ancient historical finds of Egypt and they started giving them to the European tourists who visited Egypt at this period of time in the middle of the 19th century.

At the end, the rest of the antiquities that were kept near the Azabakeya Lake were taken to an abandoned room in the citadel. When the Austrian Archduke, Maximilian, visited the citadel and was fond of the belongings of this room.

This was because Khedive Abbas, the ruler of Egypt at the time, gave the Archduke all the items that were kept in the room. Afterwards, Maximilian took theses antiqutieis with him to Austria and they are still there until today.

After a number of attempts and a lot of efforts that were exerted by the great Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette, the recent Egyptian Museum of Antiquities that is located in the famous Tahrir Square was opened for public in the 15th of November of the year 1902.

About the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

Situated in front of the main entrance of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, there is a small artificial lake that has some of the lotus and the papyrus plants, the most important plants for the ancient Egyptians.

The papyrus is that green long plant that was used by the ancient Egyptians to produce papers. Moreover, the words “paper” in English and the word “Papier” in French are both derived from the word Papyrus.

The sections of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities located in the Tahrir Square in Cairo is considered to be the largest museum in the whole world. With so many exhibits put on display in the Egyptian museum, and even double the number of exhibits kept in storage rooms, the guests would take days to view everything in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities.

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities consists o two floors; the ground floor that hosts the heavier displays like coffins, huge statues, and stone carvings.

The displays of this floor were organized according to the historical periods which are the Old Kingdom, the Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom, the Late Period, the Greco Roman Period, and the antiquities of the Nubia.

The upper floor of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities hosts the lighter displays that include gadgets and tools, funerary objects, smaller statues, papyrus papers, wooden coffins, jewelry, and most importantly, the displays of the Tut Ankh Amun tomb.

The Narmer Plate

Among the most important displays that the guests of the Egyptian Museum should view during their visit is the Narmer Plate or the Plate of the King Menes.

The Narmer Plate is a large plate made out stone and it is the only remaining evidence that King Narmer or Menes was able to unify the two regions of Egypt, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt in one unified kingdom, beginning the dynastic era of the Egyptian history.

The name of the King Menes is inscribed at the two sides of the plate. The King Menes is portrayed on one side of the plate wearing the long white crown and he is about to beat a war prisoner with his hands

On the other side of the Narmer Plate, the king is portrayed wearing the two crowns and walking with his followers to supervise the process of prosecuting the war prisoner.

The Displays of the Old Kingdom

The displays of the Old Kingdom in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities are located to the left hand side of the entrance door and they are among the most remarkable among the whole displays of the museum.

The Old Kingdom, or the Pyramids builders’ period, is a section of the ancient Egyptian history that starts with King Menes. The most important achievements of this period is the Pyramids of Giza, the step Pyramid of Saqqara, the Pyramids of Dahshur, and the Pyramids of Abu Sir.

The first capital of a unified Egypt was founded by King Menes in the 32nd century BC and it was called Memphis, located nowadays to the South of Giza. The most important Egyptian kings that ruled over the country from Memphis are King Menes or Narmer of course, King Zoser, King Senefru, King Chespos, and King Khafre.

There is a wonderful statue of King Khafre made out of alabaster and it is put on display in the second hall of the ground floor of the museum. There are also four heads of some of the relatives of the king and they were made out of limestone.

Moving forward in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, the guests will find a collection of attractive smaller statues of servants carrying out their everyday duties and responsibilities.

There is a statue of a woman grinding the grains and beside her there is a statue of a man getting the dough ready to produce beer. On the other side there is am man grilling a goose and beside him, there is another man holding a large bag on his shoulder.

These statues were found in some of the tombs of the Nobles who included these servants with them in their burial chambers to serve them in the afterlife as they have served them during their lives.

Afterwards, moving on with exploring the ground floor of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, the guests will find a large collection of coffins that were made from different types of rocks and stones with its notable decorations and carvings.

There is also the walls of the funerary chamber that was reconstructed after being brought from one of the tombs of Saqqara. This piece is the best example of the magnificent art of the 6th dynasty of the Old Kingdom. The guests will view on the walls of the chamber a list of items showing what the deceased might need in the after life.

The Old Kingdom is considered to be among the most powerful periods of the ancient Egyptians. This is why the guests will find huge statues that are featured with the accuracy in its design and beauty.  An example of this is the wonderful statue of king Khafre that was made out of the strong diorite stone.

Another example of the wonderful statues of the old kingdom would be the sycamore wooden made statue of the “Sheikh of the town”, one of the most important figures that date back to the ancient Egyptian and which is still practiced until today.

The Displays of the Middle Kingdom

The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities hosts ten notable statues that date back to the Middle Kingdom. The ten statues portray the king Senosert I, a king that belongs to the 12th dynasty and they are all made out of limestone.

There are also three other statues of Senosert portrayed as a the god Osiris and they were found near the El Lisht, an area near El Fayoum and the Pyramid of Meidum  to the South of Cairo.

The Middle Kingdom period started in Egypt with the fall of the Old Kingdom and it was, according to historical records and researches, a relatively negative period of the ancient Egyptian history.

However, with the beginning of the rule of the 12th dynasty, the living conditions of the Egyptians were improved and the arts and industries have greatly flourished.

Another transition took place in Egypt once again with the nobles fighting among each others, and the living conditions getting worse once more, all these facts paved the way for the Hyksos to invade the country.

When the 17th dynasty came to rule over Egypt, from Thebes, they started to fight these forigen invaders until the King Ahmose was able to defeat the Hyksos and expel them out of Egypt. Ahmose founded the 18th dynasty, which is the first dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt.

The Displays of the New Kingdom

The 18th dynasty which is the first dynasty of the New Kingdom is considered among the greatest dynasties that ruled over Egypt and the most important rulers of this period are Queen Hatshepsut, King Amenhotep, Ikhnaton, and King Tut Ankh Amun.

There are so many displays in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities that date back to the New Kingdom. Among these there are several statues of the Goddess Hathour and the god Amun, the most famous god of ancient Egypt.

The displays of the New Kingdom also include a large collection of mummification tools, chairs, wooden objects, crowns, and a large collection of statues of gods, kings, and queens that date back to many different periods of the New Kingdom.

There are a number of remarkable statues of Queen Hatshepsut with some of them portraying her in the shape of the sphinx while the other shows her in the disguise of a man.

There are some notable statues of King Tuthmosis III, the successor of Hatshepsut, who is one of the most skilful military leaders of ancient Egypt to the extent that he was called, the Napoleon of Egypt.

Sakkara

Sakkara is one of the most extensive archaeological sites in Egypt, it was the cemetery for Memphis the capital of ancient Egypt.
Yet again it is one of the very virgin archaeological sites. despite the fact that we found so many moments in Sakkara .

Sakkara is dominated by the step pyramid of king Zoser that goes back to 2700 BC. It is one of the oldest stone structures in the world.

Sakkara is also the site of many tombs from the first and 2nd dynasty. Mostly made out of mud break other tombs that are made of limestone decorated with daily life scenes. When you are in Sakkara, you will notice that Sakkara is divided into southern Sakkara where it is dominated by the step pyramid and northern Sakkara dominated by the pyramid of king Titi and mastaba tombs of the old kingdom.
When conducting a visit to Sakkara don’t miss the following sites:
– The step pyramid of king Zoser and it surrounding complex.
– The pyramid of king Titi.
– The tomb of Meriruka and the tomb of Kagimni.
– The mastba tomb of TI and the tomb of Petah hotep.

It was built for king Zoser to be a tomb, today is considered as one of the oldest stone structure built by men in the ancient world and the first time the ancient Egyptians would attempt to use limestone. King Zoser is considered as one of the greatest kings of the third dynasty (2721-2780 BC). This pyramid was designed and built by his great architect Imhotep.
The pyramid is built as step pyramid, raising the height of 60 meters and consisting of 6 steps on top of each other each is smaller than the one below. The pyramid is entirely built of limestone. They used small bricks of limestone, yes it is not he best quality of stone but it remained for more than 4700 years. The pyramid is surrounded by a rectangular enclosure wall that measure 277*544 meters mostly ruined today but it was originally ten meters high. You will be able to see parts of it.

In the southern eastern part of the wall you will find the entrance to the complex, most of what you are going to see when you get through this door is recently restored!  Notice at the end of the little hall that the door leads you to , there is a an imitation of two doors swung open. The entrance leads you to a colonnade that has 40 columns. Each columns is attached to the wall behind, the style of  such columns are called engaged columns, they were built to ensure that these columns would be able to endure the heavy weight of the ceiling.

You will notice in between the columns there are large numbers of little rooms created in between, they once contained statues representing king zoser as ruler of upper and Lower Egypt. The long hypostyle hall leads to an open court yard. This vast empty space was to be used by the king performing the rituals of the jubilee feast called the Hep-Sed festival. One of the rituals performed by kings of Ancient Egypt to ensure that they are able to rule the country for 30 years to come. To the right wing of the open court yard, Imhotep the architect of king Zoser built a temple known as  the Hep-Sed temple, for the king to be able to practice that ritual in the after life.

Behind that temple further north you will notice two building behind each other they are called the northern and southern house where the king is supposed to host those dignitaries who have come to attend the king’s ritual in the temple and his recognition as a king of upper and lower Egypt.

The pyramid’s four sides almost face the four cardinal points. The original entrance of the pyramid is located at the northern side.
One the north western side you will notice al little room that is built with a gradient angel of the pyramid itself , there we found a beautiful statue of king Zoser made of limestone, it was moved to the Egyptian museum in Cairo and it was replace by a replica
The pyramid is closed for visitors since a very long time it is not safe to get inside this pyramid.
I frequently was admitted inside this pyramid with many TV crows that I have leaded around Sakkara, we had to get a very special permission to get inside.

The northern entrance is not used anymore it is very dangerous; mainly the people use another one that was made the time of the 26th dynasty at the southern reside of the pyramid.
When you go underneath this pyramid you will there is strange feeling that haunts you , when you keep in mind that you are exploring 4700 years of time . yet down there is like a maze , there are hundred of little corridors and virtually it is like maze of little tunnels. We found in some of these tunnels more that 30, 000. Jars made out of several types of stone, like alabaster marble, diorite and slate.
To the southern side of the pyramid, you will find burial shaft almost 28 meter deep is believed to be a symbolic tomb for the kind, as kings of the first three dynasties used to build tow tomb for themselves one is a real tomb and the other one is just a cenotaph.

Next to the step pyramid complex on the southern side you will see the ruined pyramid of king Unas, dates back to the end of the 5th dynasty. It is the first pyramid inside of which we find inscription decorating the walls of the burial chamber, they are more than 700 incantations which are supposed to help the dead king throughout the afterlife and they are known as the pyramid texts. When you get inside this pyramid the inscriptions on the walls of the burial chamber are awesome. Unfortunately the pyramid is closed since more than 6 years ago.

Tomb of Meriruka
It is the largest tomb in Sakkara, it was built for Meriruka and his family and today considered as the largest tomb in the southern Sakkara, it consists of 32 rooms. The tomb was discovered at 1893, it is located 20 meters to the north of the pyramid of king Titi.
The tom goes back to the time of 6 dynasties (2240 BC). The tomb is divided into sections where he and his wife and son are buried. The walls of the tomb are decorated with marvelous daily life scenes illustrating the daily life in Ancient Egypt. It is full of many details of Meriruka with his family and servants.

The Valley of the Queens

Is an isolated cemetery, at the southern part of the vast necropolis of Thebes, on the west bank of Luxor It contains about 70 tombs, mainly belonging to Queens, Princesses, Princes and Nobles, who lived during the XIX and XX Dynasties.

In general, these tombs are smaller than the ones of the Kings. The plans of these tombs usually consist of a small antechamber, a long narrow corridor with several side chambers, and at the end – the burial chamber.

One of the most important tombs in the valley is the one that belongs to the famous Queen Nefertari, the principal consort of King Ramses II. This beautiful tomb was in a bad condition because of the salt crystals seeping through its poor quality limestone. It was restored and reopened for visitors, though nowadays it is closed to the general public because of the high CO2 levels, and water in breath particles, which were damaging the beautiful artwork. Her tomb consists of a stairway leading down to a hall, where on the walls, there are representations of the Queen with different Gods and Goddesses. This hall leads to an inner side chamber decorated with religious scenes such as Queen Nefertari burning incense, and giving offerings to the Gods Osiris and Atum. A corridor then leads to the burial chamber, whose walls are decorated with scenes of the “Book of the Gates”.

Also located in the valley, are the tombs of three of the sons of King Ramses III, who were also buried there.

Tomb 55 is considered to be one of the most important tombs amongst them. It was dedicated to Prince Amon-khopshef, a son of King Ramses III who had died at an early age. Among the most beautiful scenes in this tomb, are on the walls of the 1st chamber. It is a scene representing the Prince, with his father, with the King making offerings to various deities. The large hall is decorated with some scenes of the “Book of the Gates”.

Tomb 44 belongs to Prince Khaem-waset, who was another son of Ramses III. It consists of 2 long corridors, with 2 side chambers, and a square burial chamber. The walls of this tomb are decorated with various painted scenes, some of them representing the Prince with different deities, and with his father in front of the deities of the after world.

The unfinished obelisk

pharonic sites

The unfinished obelisk lies in its original location in a quarry of granite in Aswan. It is 42 m. in height. Most probably it was abandoned in its place after discovering some cracks in the rock.

If this one was to be complete it would have been the heaviest obelisk ever been cut in Ancient Egypt, the obelisk alone wait 1100 tons.

We think that it belongs to the queen Hatshebsut (dynasty XVIII). The obelisk was a sacred symbol of the cult of the sun.

In the early ages, the Ancient Egyptian knew the so called  Pn-pn” which was a pyramidal stone with a pointed top. And according to their beliefs the “Pn-pn” symbolized to the primeval hill from which the World appeared.

Then in course of time this Pn-pn was evolved to be a obelisk usually made of granite with a pyramidal shape on top.

During the 5th dynasty the obelisk began to play an important role inside the temples of Re.

It was erected on a great base in an open court then when the sun rays were fallen on its pyramidal top; the bright light filled the place to give the prayer a great emotion of the power of the sun. One of the most important obelisks which still stands in pride at the district of El Mataraya, is the one which was erected in front of the entrance of the vanished temple of Re at Heliopolis.

It was dedicated to the temple by king Senwsert I to commemorate the ceremony of the (Heb-sed).

In the New Kingdom,  especially at the time of the XVIII and XIX dynasties the kings used to erect obelisks in front of the different temple for religious and political reasons.

The Temples of Abu Simbel

pharonic sites

The temples of Abu Simbel are one of the most interesting Pharonic temples located near the Southern borders with the Sudan. It is located 280 km to the South of Aswan and it consists of two rock-cut temples both date back to the reign of Ramsis II (1290-1223 BC).

Abu Simbel

Unfortunately these two unique temples suffered from the raising water of Nasser Lake after while building the high dam, therefore UNESCO helped the country and contributed to save them. The two temples were cut to number of pieces, then they were reconstructed again in a high site 65 M higher than the original location and 200 M back in land to escape the rising water level. The works of this great rescue operation began in June 1964 and finish

The first temple was built by king Ramsis II and dedicated to god Re-Hor-Akhty, Amon, Ptah, and king Ramsis II as a deified person.

Its façade is 35 m. long and 30 m. high. The façade has four seated colossi of the king, each one is 20 M in height and represents the king seated on his throne wearing the double crown, while accompanied by 3 small figures of his wives, daughters and sons flanking his legs.

Above the entrance stands the figure of Re-Hor-Akhty. Near the submit of the façade there are number of baboons.

Inside the temple there is a hall supported by Osirid shaped pillars, cut in the the rock. The walls of this hall are decorated by battle and offering scenes. At the end of the temple is the sanctuary which contains four statues represent Re-hor-akhty, Amon-Re, Petah and the fourth represents the deified Ramses II. Also there are some side rooms decorated with various scenes.

ed in September 1968.

Unfortunately these two unique temples suffered from the raising water of Nasser Lake after while building the high dam, therefore UNESCO helped the country and contributed to save them. The two temples were cut to number of pieces, then they were reconstructed again in a high site 65 M higher than the original location and 200 M back in land to escape the rising water level. The works of this great rescue operation began in June 1964 and finish

The first temple was built by king Ramsis II and dedicated to god Re-Hor-Akhty, Amon, Ptah, and king Ramsis II as a deified person.

Its façade is 35 m. long and 30 m. high. The façade has four seated colossi of the king, each one is 20 M in height and represents the king seated on his throne wearing the double crown, while accompanied by 3 small figures of his wives, daughters and sons flanking his legs.

Above the entrance stands the figure of Re-Hor-Akhty. Near the submit of the façade there are number of baboons.

Inside the temple there is a hall supported by Osirid shaped pillars, cut in the the rock. The walls of this hall are decorated by battle and offering scenes. At the end of the temple is the sanctuary which contains four statues represent Re-hor-akhty, Amon-Re, Petah and the fourth represents the deified Ramses II. Also there are some sided rooms decorated with various scenes.

The small temple of Abu simbel

The temple of queen Nefertari is about 120 m. from the Temple of Ramsis II, it was built also by Ramsis II, dedicated to goddess Hathor and to his wife queen Nefertari, she was principal and the beloved wife of king Ramses II. It is also a rock-cut temple with a façade of about 28 m long and 12 m high. The façade contains 6 standing colossi, each one is about 11 m. in height

Four of them represent Ramsis II and two represent the queen Nefertari and each is accompanied by two smaller figures of their children.

The entrance leads to square hall which supported by 6 Hathor-headed pillars decorates with

scenes depicting the king and the queen making offerings to the different deities.

At the end of the hall there is a doorway leading to a transverse Vestibule decorated with scene of the king Ramsis the II making offering to Re-Hor-Akhty while the queen presenting flowers to Khenum, Sat-tet and Anket.

The Transverse Hall leads to the Sanctuary which contains a niche in the rear wall with a statue of goddess Hathor as a cow protecting Ramsis II.

The temple of Queen Hatchesput

pharonic sites
The temple is built t of limestone unlike most of the other like most of the other funerary temples of the New kingdom period.

It is thought that Senmut the genius architect who built this temple was inspired in his design by the plan of the neighboring mortuary temple of King Neb-Hept-Re of the 12th dynasty. The temple was built for the great queen Hatshepsut ( 18th dynasty) to commemorate her achievements and to serve as a funerary temple for her.  As well as a a sanctuary of God Amon-Ra.

This unique temple reflect clear ideas about the serious conflict between Hatshpesut and her Nephew and son in low Tohutmosis III, since many of her statues were destroyed and most of her Cartouches were damaged by the followers of Tohutmosis III after the mysterious death of the queen.

The temple consists of three raising imposing terraces. The two lower ones would have been full of trees. On the southern end of the 1st colonnade there are some scenes among them the famous scene of the transportation of Hatshepsut’s two obelisks.

On the north side of the colonnade there is a scene which represents the queen offering four calves to Amon-Re.

The 2nd terrace is accessed by a ramp, originally it had stairs.  The famous punt relief had been engraved on the southern side of the 2nd colonnade. This Journey to Punt or Somalia was the 1st Pictorial documentation of a trade expedition recorded and discovered in ancient Egypt, until now. The scenes depict in great details the maritime expedition which queen Hatshepsut sent via  the Red Sea to Punt (Somalia today! ) just before the 9th year of her reign ( 1482 BC ) This famous expedition was headed by her high official Pa-nahsy and lasted 3 years. His mission was to exchange Egyptian merchandise with the products of Punt, especially gold, incense and tropical trees.

To the south there is the shrine of Hathor. The court that leads to this chapel has columns where Hathor is shown with a woman’s face and cow’s ears carrying her sistrum (a musical tool) and on the walls she is depicted as a cow. In this part King Tohtmosis III erased the queen’s names.

On the northern side of the 2nd colonnade there is a scene of the divine birth of Hatshepsut as the queen claimed that she was the divine daughter of Amon-Re to legitimize her rule.

Beyond the colonnade to the North arpharonic sites

The temple is built t of limestone unlike most of the other like most of the other funerary temples of the New kingdom period.

It is thought that Senmut the genius architect who built this temple was inspired in his design by the plan of the neighboring mortuary temple of King Neb-Hept-Re of the 12th dynasty. The temple was built for the great queen Hatshepsut ( 18th dynasty) to commemorate her achievements and to serve as a funerary temple for her. As well as a a sanctuary of God Amon-Ra.

This unique temple reflect clear ideas about the serious conflict between Hatshpesut and her Nephew and son in low Tohutmosis III, since many of her statues were destroyed and most of her Cartouches were damaged by the followers of Tohutmosis III after the mysterious death of the queen.

The temple consists of three raising imposing terraces. The two lower ones would have been full of trees. On the southern end of the 1st colonnade there are some scenes among them the famous scene of the transportation of Hatshepsut’s two obelisks.

On the north side of the colonnade there is a scene which represents the queen offering four calves to Amon-Re.

The 2nd terrace is accessed by a ramp, originally it had stairs. The famous punt relief had been engraved on the southern side of the 2nd colonnade. This Journey to Punt or Somalia was the 1st Pictorial documentation of a trade expedition recorded and discovered in ancient Egypt, until now. The scenes depict in great details the maritime expedition which queen Hatshepsut sent via the Red Sea to Punt (Somalia today! ) just before the 9th year of her reign ( 1482 BC ) This famous expedition was headed by her high official Pa-nahsy and lasted 3 years. His mission was to exchange Egyptian merchandise with the products of Punt, especially gold, incense and tropical trees.

To the south there is the shrine of Hathor. The court that leads to this chapel has columns where Hathor is shown with a woman’s face and cow’s ears carrying her sistrum (a musical tool) and on the walls she is depicted as a cow. In this part King Tohtmosis III erased the queen’s names.

On the northern side of the 2nd colonnade there is a scene of the divine birth of Hatshepsut as the queen claimed that she was the divine daughter of Amon-Re to legitimize her rule.

Beyond the colonnade to the North are the chapel of Anubis, god of mummification and the keeper of the necropolis.

The 3rd terrace is accessed by a ramp, it consists of two rows of columns, the front ones take the Oisirid form (a mummy form) unfortunately they were damaged by Tohtmosis III), while the rear ones have been destroyed.

As well, the colonnade which leads to the sanctuary of the temple has been severely damaged. This sanctuary consists of two small chapels.

In the Ptolemaic period a third chapel was added to the sanctuary and it was decorated with various scenes, here the most remarkable, are the scenes representing Amenhotep son of Hapo (18th dynasty).another genius architect from Ancient Egypt after Imhotep of the 3rd dynasty.

In the 7th century AD, it was named after a Coptic monastery in the area known as the Northern monastery. Today it is known as the Temple of El Deir El Bahary which means in Arabic the “Temple of the Northern monastery”. Yet there is another theory suggesting that the temple in the Early Christian Period was used as a Coptic monastery.

e the chapel of Anubis, god of mummification and the keeper of the necropolis.

The 3rd terrace is accessed by a ramp, it consists of two rows of columns, the front ones take the Oisirid form (a mummy form) unfortunately they were damaged by Tohtmosis III), while the rear ones have been destroyed.

As well, the colonnade which leads to the sanctuary of the temple has been severely damaged. This sanctuary consists of two small chapels.

In the Ptolemaic period a third chapel was added to the sanctuary and it was decorated with various scenes, here the most remarkable, are the scenes representing Amenhotep son of Hapo (18th dynasty).another genius architect from Ancient Egypt after Imhotep of the 3rd dynasty.

In the 7th century AD, it was named after a Coptic monastery in the area known as the Northern monastery. Today it is known as the Temple of El Deir El Bahary which means in Arabic the “Temple of the Northern monastery”.  Yet there is another theory suggesting that the temple in the Early Christian Period was used as a Coptic monastery.

The Temple of Kom Ombo

pharonic sites

The  temple stands on the east bank of  the Nile, right one the Nile bank located almost 4 KM far from the town, it was  dedicated to two gods, Horus and Sobik

Mainly the temple was dedicated to go Sobik the crocodile god, together with his wife in another form of goddess Hathor. The temple is Greco roman structure, it dates back to the year 119 BC, and it was built out of limestone by Ptolemy VI who started the construction. The emperor Neo Dionysus finished most of the building while the emperor Augustus finished the final touches.

The left side of the temple is dedicated to god hours the elder, god of victory, here Horus was known as the good doctor. The temple became famous for its healing power. It was a major pilgrimage site here a healing cult was developed and the temple was a sanctuary for many patients who were seeking help and treatment by the priests. They would fast for a night in the temple precinct.

You will enter the temple from the Easter side where there is an ancient gate built by Neos Dionysus (Ptolemy XIII) who was the father of Cleopatra.

To your right after crossing the gate m you will find a small room that was built and dedicated to goddess Hathor. Now it is used to display mummified crocodiles that were found in the vicinity of the temple.

The first pylon of the temple is now destroyed and only stones the foundation and part of the wall remained. This court was the construction of King Tiberius.

When you enter from the main forecourt you will find that entrance is dived into two gateways, each leads to one half of the temple dedicated to each the twin deities

The rear wall leads to the second hypostyle that leads to twin entrances and has 15 columns five of them are incorporated in the front wall, this section shows Ptolemy VII holding hymnal texts before the Nile gods.

After that you will find a three double entrance vestibule, each is smaller and higher than the last, the out vestibule shows goddess Shehsat measuring the layout of the temple and the king laying the foundation, the middle chamber were dedicated to the offering and it was only allowed to the priests.

To your right you will find here long lists of calendars telling us about the various festivals dedicated to various gods the temple

The inner vestibule has two doors leading the two separate sanctuaries of Horus and Sobik.

On the inner side of the back wall of the temple is a very remarkable scene that shows the first illustration of medical and surgery tools which are presented to a seated god.

Here you will find, scalpels, suction cap, bone saws, and dental tools, such tools In the north west side of the temple there is a huge well with staircase connected with the worship of the crocodile and was used as a Nile meter. You still can see water there !

The Temple of Dendera

pharonic sites

The temple in located in Qena the capital of the province inhabited by Coptic and Muslims, pop 2,000,000. This town is very famous for manufacture of water pots, called in Arabic “gula” jars. The modern town of Qena was founded by the holy Muslim Shiek Abdel Raheeem El Kenawi who spent all of his life in this town and died in 1170 AD. The birthday of this saint is celebrated every year, and a great number of pilgrims come from all over Egypt for this celebration. The name of the city goes back to the time of the pharaohs , it was taken from the ancient Egyptian word Qeny, which means to bend. this name was chosen for the city because the Nile river is taking a curve shape in this spot

The temple of Hathor at Dendera was built in the 1st c BC and It is one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt. It was built by Ptolemy 8th and Queen Cleopatra 2nd and then later Roman Emperors continued to decorate it and honour of the goddess Hathor, the goddess of love, music and maternity. The goddess Hathor was identified by the Greeks with Aphrodite.

When visitors pass through the first gateway, built by Roman Emperor Domitian at 80AD. This gate leads to the main building of the temple. The great hall of the temple is decorated with Hathoric columns, columns with the face of Hathor. This is found is very good state of preservation. The front upper edge of the cornice is decorated with the winged sun disc. The front portion is enclosed by stone screens between the columns and the scene which represent the Roman Emperor Tiberius and other rulers who present votive offerings to the goddess of the temple. Hathor is chiefly represented with the horns of the sacred cow protruding from her head, supporting the solar disc of the sun, and in her hands holding the symbol of life and sceptre. Sometimes she is represented with the head of a cow.

The interior walls of the great Hall represent remarkable scenes that mainly depict sacrifices being made to the goddess of the temple. The amazing ceiling with astronomical representations is also very interesting. The ceiling is divided into 7 divisions. The first division on the eastern side depicts goddess Nut, goddess of the sky, bending herself towards the earth and the sun disc is seen shining on the temple and the mask of Hathor. Next to this is a representation of the sun boat and star goddess. Next to this the western ceiling shows a divine in a perfect representation of the zodiac signs, which makes this temple one of the most famous temples. The original zodiac is in the louver museum. The 12 figures of the ram, the bull, the heavenly twins, the crab, the lion, Virgo, the scales, the scorpion, the archer, the goat, the watering pots and fishes with glittering tails. On the inner walls of the screen the hawk headed god hours and the ibis headed god Thoth are pouring drops of holy water over the king. This scene is called the baptism scene, symbolizing life and happiness.

The second hall was 6 columns adorned with rich capitals and granite pedestals. On both sides of this hall are small rooms which were used as store rooms to store the wine jars that came from Crete island and the fertile oasis of Fayioum and Kharga oasis.

Next is the central chapel which has two altars, one for the sacred boat and the other one for the sacrifices offered to goddess Hathor. The beautifully sculptured reliefs on the walls of the shrines represent Ptolemy 8th and other rules whose names were left blank in the oval cartouches, dancing with offerings to the sacred boat of Hathor and her husband Horus. The king’s representatives, the high priests, noblemen used to gather in the great hall in attendance for the daily rituals. The ceilings are covered in stars and black smog from the fires of the later inhabitants of the temple. The rooms around the sanctuary were used for scientific purposes, the storing of the sacred boat, the sacred reath, the golden image of goddess Hathor, musical instruments.

You have to note the small corridor on your right will take you to a small room which contains the crypt, which is highly recommended.

The staircases which lead to the roof of the temple are decorated with some beautiful symbols representing the 12 months of the year. ON the east corner of this roof lies the chapel of God Osiris. The scenes on the walls represent Osiris’s rising from the dead and becoming the god of the underworld. It is from this chapel that the best representation of the zodiac was taken.

Southern exterior wall relief show Cleopatra 7th and her son Caesarian, son of Julius Caesar, making offering to Hathor and all the deities of Dendera. On the same wall near the cornice are some stone lion heads, to serve as water spouts. Adjoining the temple building to the west is the sacred lake.

This lake was used for the priests’ ablutions. Next to the lake is a small shaft, discovered in 1917, which contained valuable treasures of Cleopatra’s era, which are now displayed in the Egyptian Museum. If you look around the temple you will notice the remnants of the mud brick wall which surrounded the whole temple, and remains of Coptic houses and churches, including large number of Coptic crosses chiseled on the stones. To the north lies the Mamisi, the birth house of Horus, surrounded by one row of columns, with different capitals embellished with relief images of god Bes a hideous dwarf, with a big stomach and long whiskers.

He is the chief god of childhood who drove evil spirits away from the babies. This little temple was erected by the roman Emperor Trajan in 90 AD dedicated to the divine god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris.

The pyramids of Meidum

pharonic sites

Unfortunately this is one of the forgotten sites. You will rarely find it included in the regular tourist itineraries, as most of the visitors nowadays follow a very traditional itinerary, which mainly includes the traditional sites such as Giza pyramids and the step pyramid in Sakkara ! The pyramid of Mydoum has a special magic, in my opinion the visit to this collapsed pyramid of Mydoum is very worthwhile.  It is one of those sites that had and still keeps, lots of secrets medium

Mydoum is located 65KM to the south of Sakkara.  You simply drive along the road that takes you to Sakkara, past the site of Sakkara and drive straight for about an hour, or until you can see the pyramid. There is another way to reach Mydoum, it is longer but faster. You can drive on the Fayoum oasis road and then join the Asyout desert road, after about 77KM you can see the pyramid of Mydoum on your left side.  There you have to pay an entrance ticket, it costs 16LE( 3$) and to use your camera you have to get a camera ticket that will cost you 5 LE (1$).

I have noticed in the last few years that some travel agencies have been trying to organize trips to the pyramid of Mydoum together with the pyramid of Dahshour  in a one-day trip.  I just hope they keep doing this.

In the last few years I have led special groups to that pyramid.  Every time I go there I get overwhelmed with the place and the feeling that there still dozens of secrets in this site uncovered, I feel it never had the chance to have a proper investigation.  I can simply call it a virgin site.

The pyramid of Mydoum was built by the last king of the third dynasty king “HUNI”  in the style of a step pyramid, it was originally 8 steps on top of each other.  For a long time Egyptologists believed that the pyramid was built by King Senfru, the builder of the two pyramids in Dahshour, the belief came as we found some graffiti in the funerary temple located at the eastern side of the pyramid which had been discovered at the end of the 19th century.  This graffiti on the eastern wall of the temple, was left by some ancient Egyptian travelers from the time of the 19th dynasty (1300 BC) recording their admiration of the great structure that King Senfru had built in Mydoum.  As a matter of fact it seems that the last king of the third dynasty “Huni” left his pyramid unfinished and it seems that his successor King Senfru finished the building for him, so that latter generations thought it was the work of Senfru.

It is hard today to believe that one king did actually have 3tombs built for him, the two pyramids in Dahshour, and a third one in Mydoum.  Today it is strongly believed it had been the work of Huni in the first place and then completed  by his son after his death.

The pyramid is called today the collapsed pyramid as it looks from afar like a huge tower. The pyramid was 93 m high and built on square base that measures about 114 m long. The entrance of the pyramid is located almost 30 meters above the ground level in the northern side of the pyramid.  It leads to a descending corridor that goes for 54m, it is unique among all the descending corridors in that you don’t have to bend down to enter it, unless you are really a tall person…  Here you have to have a torch to light your way, as most of the lamps are broken (I have told the inspectors there several times to change them, but no one cared).  At the end of the corridor you will find a small chamber roughly cut in the bed rock exactly underneath the apex line of the pyramid.  And at the end of this room you will find a wooden ladder that leads up to the burial chamber. On your way up you will notice some huge beams of cedar wood that are 4600 years old.

The burial chamber is very small if compared with other burial chambers found inside other pyramids.  It has a corbelled roof that is not well done and the rest of the room is empty.

In the midst of the 19th century a small wooden coffin was found here and later on it was taken to the Egyptian Museum. In 2001 a French team of Egyptologists found a small corridor at the end of the wooden ladder that takes you up to the burial chamber, it is about 3 meters long.  This discovery has not been released to the public yet.

In front of the northern side of the pyramid about 300 meters to the north there is a set up of tombs built in the time of the fourth dynasty and found in 1855.  These tombs yielded great treasure to the Egyptian Museum. There you will find the tomb of Ra-Hotep and his wife Nofert. Here we found two beautiful limestone statues of them still in perfect condition and they are among the most famous master pieces in the Cairo Museum today. RA- HOTEP was the son of King Senfru and the commander of the Egyptian army in the 4th dynasty a chief priest of center of the worship of god RA the sun god.

Nearby the tomb of RA- HOTEP, another one was found, the great tombs of Nefer-Matt.  There we found some great paintings considered the best and the oldest ever found in a tomb, exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in the same room as you will see the statues of Ra hotep and his wife.

The most famous is what we call the scene of the geese of Mydoum. It is a beautiful scene of the 6 Egyptian geese together made on a mud brick wall that was covered with a coat of stucco and painted. It is one the greatest master pieces of the Egyptian museum.

To the east of the pyramid, there is another set of tombs dating back to the 4th dynasty.  One of them is a tomb for an unknown person that was found with no inscription at all.  I love this tomb; to go inside is a real adventure!  The entrance that you use to get inside was actually made by the tomb robbers.  I usually take my groups there but first I always make sure that they are fit to do it, as it is tiring but worth the visit.  The entrance of the tombs leads through a descending corridor that is about 10 m long then you will find a small shaft inside of which there is a modern wooden ladder that takes you down to another tunnel, at the end of which you will find a hole in the wall, like the needle hole, you can’t get through so easily, you will have to crawl on your stomach.  Yes, you will have to do the same way ancient tombs robbers once did it. Then you will find a larger passage way and huge blocks of limestone, midway across this tunnel you will find the entrance to the burial chamber, it is so impressive, so elegant, all of limestone.  At the end of the chamber there is a huge granite sarcophagus with the lid slightly set opened. It was plundered by tomb robbers thousands of years ago. The mummy was never found, most probably it was taken by the robbers.  There underneath the lid, you will notice a small ancient hammer stuck underneath the heavy led, forgotten by the ancient tomb robbers. It is great to see and touch, to put your hand on the handle of something that is thousands of years old.  It is the highlight of the visit.  And yes when you are finished, to get out of the tomb, you have to use the same way as you did to get in!!!

In front of the eastern side of the pyramid you will find a small funerary temple that is still intact. When you enter the temple, notice that in front of the door at the western wall you can see the black graffiti that was left by the travelers from the 19th dynasty who came there and recorded their visit.  The temple has no paintings or inscriptions. In front of the temple you can see the causeway that traditionally led to the mummification temple located at the end of the causeway.   Unfortunately the mummification temple has been destroyed and nothing left of it..

Source of info by permission from www.ask-aladdin.com

The Pyramids of Dahshour

The Pyramids of Dahshour always evoke in me a great part of the history of ancient Egypt. Although that area is not a major tourist site like the plateau of Giza, it seems to me like a wonderful book which tells us great glorious events of the Ancient Egyptian History.

Dahshour is among the most important cemeteries of the vast necropolis of the great capital Memphis.

It is located about 30 km to the south  of pyramids  of Giza, located to the southern wing of Saqqara. The area contains some pyramids of the IV and the XII dynasties. here there is the pyramid of Amenemhat III called the black pyramid and the pyramid Amenemhat II.

In fact, the great king Snefru ( 2680-2656 B.C) the founder of the IV dynasty was the first  to choose the area to build his royal tomb since it was near to the capital Memphis.

He started with the southern Pyramid,  or what we call today the bent pyramid , at first they did a mistake with this one , the ancient did not realise such mistake but when the height of this building reached about 48 m. according to an angle of 54 degrees approx. they changed the original plan to make it more save and finish it over  by modifying the angle to be just 43 degrees, and that was the reason of the actual strange shape of the Pyramid. So that today it is called the Bent Pyramid, or the “Rhomboid Pyramid”. Analyzing the reason of that change we supposed that the angle of 54 degrees was going to result in a very huge and high pyramid which would be unsafe, especially when some cracks appeared which were filled with Gypsum later.

Any way, the Southern Pyramid of Dahshour was built of local limestone cased with Turah fine limestone. It is about 101 in height while each side of its base is 188,6 in length. The original entrance of the pyramid is on the northern face as usual, but Professor Ahmed Fhakhry during his works in the area in 1951, he discovered another entrance on its western side.

One of the most remarkable features about that pyramid is the existence of Cedar beams which probably had been imported from Lebanon. At the east of the Pyramid is a small Mortuary Temple consisting of a small shrine. Besides, there is a small subsidiary pyramid lies to the south of the pyramid. It was cleared in 1947 by the Egyptologist Abd El- Salam Hussein.

About 2 km away to the north of the Southern Pyramid another Pyramid was built for king Snefru. This time the architect avoided all the other previous mistakes shown in the Bent Pyramid by following the same angle from bottom to top, and the angle was 43 degrees. Actually it was the first success in history of mankind to build a complete pyramid, and that was the example of all the pyramids which appeared during the IV, V, and VI dynasties. This Pyramid is known as ” the Northern Pyramid” according to its location, also it is called the Red Pyramid since the builders used a very especial kind of rosette blocks of limestone to built the inner burial chamber. It is 99 M in height while each side of the base is 220 m. in length.

The open air-museum of Memphis

pharonic sites

The open air-museum of Memphis:

Memphis was the oldest capital of ancient Egypt, the first one that was founded after the unification of upper and Lower Egypt

The city was founded in the first dynasty (3100 BC). It is located 20 KM to the south of Cairo, the founder of the city is king Narmar, Memphis served to be the capital of ancient Egypt during the time of  the old kingdom. The name of Memphis is driven from the ancient Egyptian name given to the city, it was called Min-Nefer, and the Greeks called it Memphis, today is the location of a local village called Mit Rahina

The local god of Memphis was called god Petah, god of creation and workmen, he was worshiped with his wife goddess Sekhmet and their sun god Nefer-tom.

Nothing much remind from ancient Memphis, except some monuments from the new kingdom period and later period.

There you will see an open air museum exhibiting a limestone colossus of king Ramsis II (1305-1237 BC ) and I giant alabaster sphinx  weighting more than 80 tons of weight, that once stood out side the massive temple of god Petah.

As well remains of granite statues of Ramsis II and granites coffins and commemorative tablets from later periods.

The Colossi of Memnon

pharonic sites

Enroot when you visit the west bank of Luxor, the first monument that will encounter you before the ticket office, will be two gigantic statues known as the colossi of Memnon.

The two huge figures of Amenhotep III were set up in front of his Mortuary temple which most probably was destroyed for unknown reasons. These two colossi are made of sandstone which during ancient times was brought from Gabal El Silselah. Each colossus including the pedestal and the crown is about 16 M in height.

The Greeks named them after the Trojan hero Memnon who was killed by Achilles.

Parts of the northern statue fell and it was cracked because during an earthquake that took place in the year 27 BC.

They became famous in the Roman period because they were said to have sung!

Memnon

Some theories attribute this phenomenon to the expansion of the stone when it was warmed by the sun during the day and then the natural contraction in the evening. Other theory suggested that the reason is due to the wind reverberating through the cracks.

Unfortunately the restoration which took place during the time of the Roman Emperor Septemius Severus (A.D193-212) made that sound to stop forever! Yes it no longer sings!

This site became a popular resort in the Roman Period and many famous Roman travelers and other travelers throughout the centuries wrote verses and poems about those massive statues and left epigrams upon the stone.

Each statue represents king Amenhotep III seating on his throne, wearing the Nemes or the royal headdress while the divine cobra is protecting his forehead. On the sides of the colossi there is a representation of the Nile god Hapi bending togather the lotus and the papyrus plants, symbolizing the Union of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Temple of Philae

pharonic sites

Philae is a rocky island in the middle of the course of the Nile at the south of Aswan. It was called in Hieroglyphic “Apo” which means Ivory. most probably it was an important scepter of trade especially  for the ivory.

Ancient Egyptian built a beautiful and magnificent temple on this island for goddess Isis , the temple had submerged in the water after building the first Aswan dam in 1906.

it was not until the seventies that the  Egyptologists together with the UNESCO selected a suitable place to save the temples of the island form the water, they had to wait till the completion of the high dam in 1971 which in turn stabilized the level of the water around the island .

There was an island called Egilica and it was reshaped to the same landscape of  Philae as closely as possible.

Then the a coffer dam was built around the temple where the water was shifted and the temple was then dismantled and  was transferred stone by stone  from the submerged island of Philae to Egilica island.

It was a very complicated and massive project taking over than 9 years to be accomplished

Finally the temple was reopened in its new location in 1980.

A great temple which occupies about the quarter of the island area. It is the main temple of the island with its huge an complete pylons and beautiful scenes.

The works of its construction began during the reign of Ptolemy II, then some others Ptolemaic kings contributed by adding some additions to the main temple like Ptolemy IV, Ptolemy V, PtolomeusVI, Ptolemy II and Ptolemy XI.

The temple is built of the same style of the temples of the New kingdom in addition to some other elements which appeared in the Greco-Roman period such as the Mammisi ( the House of the divine birth of Horus), and the Nilometer .

Mainly the temple of Isis consists of The 1st Pylon which is a great traditional pylon with two towers, and an open forecourt which leads to the 2nd pylon and on the left hand this court is the Mamisi or the house of the divine birth of Horus which has  scenes depicting of this birth of god Horus by his mother ISIS .

The 2nd Pylon leads to a Hypostyle Hall with 10 columns, then 3 vestibules leading to a sanctuary.

The most ancient remains of the temples of Philae date back to the reign of king Taharqa ( the 25th dynasty) who built a chapel for goddess Isis in the island. But the famous temple of Isis is the most important one.

In addition to the main temple of Isis there are other monuments such as :

The Kiosk of Trajan Chapel of Osiris, The Temple of Horus, The temple of Hathor, The Gate way of Tiberius, the Gateway of Diocletian ,and the temple of August.

The temples of the island were neglected and some of them destroyed after the official of the Roman Emperor to Christianity and during the reign of the Emperor Justinian (527-565 A.D) the main temple was converted to a basilica or church.

Temple of karnak

pharonic sites

This great Temple of Amon Ra was known during the Middle Kingdom period as Ipt-Swt, which means the Selected Spot. It was also called Pr-Imn, which means the House of Amon. The name Al-Karnak in Arabic was derived from Karnak, which means fortified village, probably because the Arabs found many Temples and buildings in the area when they entered it for first time.

On your way towards the entrance you will find a ram-headed avenue of Sphinxes, which was built to protect the Temple. There are 20 rams on each side, extending from the small harbor to the 1st Pylon, which was built during the time of King Nektanebo I (30th Dynasty). As you cross this pylon, it takes you into an Open court, whose dimensions are100m long by 80m wide, built during the 22nd Dynasty, and containing rows of bud papyrus columns.

In the middle of the 1st Open court, there is a huge column, which is 21m high and has a bud papyrus capital. This part is known as the kiosk of Taharqa who ruled during the 25th Dynasty. This is the only column left from a colonnade that once had 10 columns.

On the left side of this Court there are 3 chapels, which were built by King Seti II for the “Triad of Thebes”. On the right side is the Temple of Ramses III. This Temple consists of a small pylon, an open court and Hypostyle hall, leading to the sanctuary.

Horemheb built the 2nd Pylon during the 18th Dynasty, though it is now badly damaged. Ramses I, the founder of the 19th Dynasty, later completed it. Passing the 2nd Pylon, we enter the Great Hypostyle Hall, which measures 103m in length and 52m in width. It contains 134 papyrus columns; each column is about 22m in height and 3.5m in diameter. Amenhotep III built it and Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II decorated it, while King Seti I erected the other 122 columns in 14 rows.

The ceiling in the centre is higher than the laterals, and it allows light into this spot, which was the processional avenue of the Triad during the festival of the Opet. The scenes of the Hypostyle Hall represent King Seti I, in front of different deities, making offerings, while the southern wall is decorated with scenes of Ramses II, making offerings to the different deities or worshipping the Triad of Thebes.

The Hypostyle Hall leads to The 3rd Pylon, which was built by Amenhotep III. It is remarkable that stones from previous periods were found incrusted in that Pylon, for example, the marble alabaster of Amenhotep I!

Crossing the 3rd Pylon, you come to an open, rectangular court, which is known as the Court of Tuthmosis I. In this court, Tuthmosis I erected 2 obelisks, as most probably this area was the main entrance of the Temple during his reign. Unfortunately, only one obelisk has survived: 19m high and around 310 tons in weight.

From the Court of Tuthmosis, we reach the 4th Pylon, which Tuthmosis I also built; beyond this is a rectangular colonnade, which he built as well. When Hatshepsut ascended to the throne she built 2 obelisks in that colonnade, the left one is still in its original position: 29.5m in height, 322 tons in weight and made of red granite!

After the death of Queen Hatshepsut, King Tuthmoses III built a high, long wall around these 2 obelisks to hide them.

The 5th Pylon, yet again built by Tuthmosis I, is damaged and on both sides of the entrance,Tuthmosis III built two small rooms.

We are now at the 6th Pylon, which was built by Tuthmosis III. Beyond this pylon Tuthmosis III built his famous hall, which is known as the Ancestral Room. The original Sanctuary was built by Tuthmosis III, but Philip Arrhidaeus, the half brother of Alexander the Great, later rebuilt it.

The sanctuary was built of granite, and it was dedicated to the sacred boat of Amon Ra. Behind the sanctuary you will see a court, dating back to the time of the Middle Kingdom. It is a wide-open courtyard that is badly damaged now. Most probably this spot was the site of an old Temple, dating back to the time of the Middle Kingdom: the origin of the Karnak Temple.

At the end of the Middle Kingdom Courtyard, there is another Hall known as the Akh-Mnw, or the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III. The hall in the north of the area is called The Botanical Room. This is because the walls were decorated with scenes of plants, animals and birds, which were brought from Syria, to Egypt, by the King.

Now we shall go back through the temple until we reach the Court of Tuthmosis 1 again (between the 4th and 3rd Pylons).

Turning left, we enter a courtyard, which is in front of the 7th Pylon. In 1902, the French Egyptologist Georges Legrain (1865–1917) discovered a very precious collection of statues hidden in the ground of this court, which is now known as the Court of the Cachet. The 7th Pylon, which is badly damaged, was built by Tuthmosis III.

Crossing the 7th Pylon to the court beyond, you will see 2 statues of Ramses II and Tuthmosis III.

The 8th Pylon was built by Hatshepsut, decorated by Tuthmosis III, and restored by Seti I. The scenes on the façade of the Pylon represent Hatshepsut with different deities, and a religious scene featuring Tuthmosis III.

On the left side of the Court, between the 9th and 10th Pylons, are the remains of the Heb-Sed Shrine, which was built by Amenhotep II and decorated by Seti I.

The 9th Pylon, which was built by Horemheb, is badly damaged. A large number of bricks were found inside, which were being used as filling. They belonged to the Aton Temple, which was built by Amenhotep VI (Akhenaten) in the 18th Dynasty and destroyed by later Kings who wanted to eliminate all traces of the “heretic” King.

Finally we reach the 10th Pylon, damaged as well, and again built by King Horemheb. In front of this Pylon there are the remains of an avenue of Sphinxes, built by Horemheb, and extending to the gate of Ptolemy II in front of Mut Temple.

Before leaving the Temple of Amon Ra at Karnak you should visit the Sacred Lake, which goes back to the time of Tuthmosis III. It measures 80m in length and 40m in width. Near the Sacred Lake there is a scarab, which is considered the biggest scarab left from Ancient Egypt, dating from the reign of Amenhotep III. The Ancient Egyptians called the scarab, Khebry, and it was the symbol of the Sun God. The word itself means to create; it was thought to bring to the sun in the early morning.