Dakhla Oasis : Oasis Of Egypt 

 

Dakhla Oasis is one the most famous of the seven oases that is located in the Western Desert part of Egypt and it is known colloquially in the region as the inner oasis.  This oasis is located in the New Governorate that is around 350km from the river Nile and between the Kharga and the Farafra. The region measures approximately 80km from east to west and 25km from north to south. The history of this oasis began during the period of the Pleistocene when the nomadic tribes settled there. At that point of time the weather of the Sahara was wet and humans could have easy access to marshes and lakes.

Around 6000 years ago the wet Sahara desert started to become dry and transformed into a deeply arid desert. This region, at that particular time recorded a rainfall of only 50mm rain annually. There are a group of historians who laid down the fact that certain nomadic hunter tribes began to settle in this region about 12000 years ago. There were rare areas of wetness and the dry climate that was faced at that time did not indicate that there was no water in the region that is today called the Western Desert. The south of the Libyan Desert also has the most significant supply of subterranean water in the world and the first inhabitants of the Dakhla Oasis also had access to the surface water sources that was available at that particular period.

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In the present times Kharga is the administrative hub of the New Valley in Egypt and the Dakhla Oasis is known to be its breadbasket. The latter is a very lush region that has a lot of orchards. This is not a new thing at all as for about 10,000 years the climate in this region was the same as the African Savanna. The region has a large number of buffalos, zebras, rhinos, ostriches etc.  There was a large lake in this region and the human communities were settled on the southern shores. With the passage of time the wet era passed and most of the people migrated south and to the east. These people helped to populate the Nile valley in the early days when the sand started to cover their lands slowly.

This oasis is at times also known as al-Wah that means the Inner Oasis and the Oasis Magna and Zeszes is known as the place of the two swords. The Dakhla oasis is one that has reveals these past secrets and is regarded as the ancient sand that hid its ancient and past settlements. The above oasis was marginally populated throughout its history and there were over a hundred old cemeteries that were unearthed by the 1978 Dakhla Oasis project that has been in operation since that year. The cemeteries also cover a great span of time from the prehistoric Roman period and the oasis was also populated as early as the Upper Paleolithic period.

During the period of the old kingdom of Egypt Dakhla was one of the most important oasis and it also had a direct link through the Darb al-Tawil to the Valley of Nile. The Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale also believes that they may have discovered this capital of the Old Kingdom at Ain Asil. The remains of the palace of the governors of oasis under the 6th Dynasty pharaoh Pepi II also have been unearthed and the oldest inscribed object that has been discovered in this specific location has been dated back to the Old Kingdom reign of Teti but studies of the ongoing archaeological operations are also revealing more information about the Old kingdom activity. There is also evidence of the First Intermediate Period as well as a reference to an old painting that was dated to the Middle Kingdom at this oasis. Later during the era of the New kingdom the capital had shifted to a village named Mut that was located further west. In the later times during the 22nd Dynasty a stele of Shoshenq I explains that he had sent one of his representative to the oasis in order to control and manage the disputes over the water rights in the area. There was also a register called the cadastral register of the wells and orchards that was also made. During the 5th year of this popular king’s reign he had also sent his relative to restore law and order in the Oasis land that was in a state of war and turmoil. Most of the oasis were difficult to control and there are records that suggest that the taxes were collected in the form of wine, fruit, woven products and minerals from Dakhla and Kharga.

 

During the Christian era there was a lot of activity in the Oasis and in the year 249 AD the Roman Emperor Decius planned a harsh two year attack against the Christians with the object of exterminating them. It was during this period that the Christians may have escaped from the popular cities like Alexandria in the delta region that also had high concentrations of the non-Egyptian Christians removed to far away places from these Roman authorities. The sites that were abandoned by the Romans were than again reoccupied by the Christians and there were also ruins of the Coptic churches and other communities that date back to the late seventh century. There is some evidence that like the other desert Oasis the Dakhla Oasis was a place for banishment and there were a number of early important Christian leaders that were at one point of time banished to this place.

 

It was during the 4th century AD that Kellis also was the economic and the political centre of the Christian Dakhla and in was in the field expedition that was conducted in 1996 that uncovered a Coptic Christian Church that was located in Kellis. It was anticipated that at that time the population of the place was about several thousand people and there was a rich trade between the oasis and the Nile valley at this particular period. It was because of this trade that a lot of people flowed into and out of the region.

 

 There are some archaeologists that are of the opinion that the ruins of the above oasis may also unveil some more information about the transition between the Roman and the Byzantine periods. It is actually noticed from the times of papyrus that were recocered from the private dwellings at kellis that during the period of the Christians there was a diversity of many religious convictions in the oasis and that also included paganism, Christianity, popular magic and Manichaeism or Gnosticism.

 

There are also accounts that Islam also came to the oasis much earlier than the other aosis and there are also evidences of buildings in the Qasr Dakhla that are dated back to the Ayyubid Period. The Archaic Islamic Period that came into existence after the 7th century also witnessed many changes in the Western Oasis and this was due to many desert raiders who did not obey the law. These people would raid and plunder the villages and they used to take women, camels and children too. They had a weapon called the kurbaj which was like an iron boomerang. The raids were made on an annual basis and this led to the destruction of villages and the surrounding orchards. It was during this period that the above oasis was threatened by the invaders from both the south and the west that had united the towns of Qalamun, Budkhulu, Qasr and Dakhla. These towns could be easily defended as they were built on hills and cliffs. They also had quarters and secure gates as well. The gates could be locked in the night to prevent invaders from attacking and this prevented the threat of raiders.

 

 It was during the Mamluk era that the raids became more severe and the government established a military colony called Surbaghi in Qalamun to protect the population. In order to protect the population against these threats Qalamun became the administrative centre of this oasis and this was also a source of Turkish influence. The garrison was made to stop the raids and they also did pretty well. This destroyed the wells along the caravan route that led out to the west of a seven days travel distance. During the reign of Muhammad Ali who is also known as the founder of modern Egypt the first Europeans also arrived in Oasis. There were also various visitors, the prominent among them being Rohlfs and it was in the year 1873 that he went on to cross the Great Sand Sea to reach Kufra. He was able to extract taxes from the oasis and by the end of his reign he only had four to five soldiers to collect.

 

The Dakhla is one such oasis that has fared better than many of the other oasis that had come up during the British occupation. During this era there was less trouble that arose by the Mahdist uprising in the Sudan and while it suffered a few dervish raids and the threats to the oasis that had alleviated with the rebuilding of the Mut fortifications. The Sanusi is also a very powerful and religious force that is located in the Western Desert that has also a zawya that is a school in the oasis. There were also similar establishments in the other parts of the desert also and when the British drove themselves out of the oasis, Dakhla became open to automobiles but the trip took about nine hours. The trip took three to four days to travel from Cairo.

 

There were about a few Ptolemaic structures that had been discovered in the Oasis and there is no eveidence of any Greek population in the Dakhla oasis. During the earlier times the oasis had been populated by the Romans and there have been discoveries of Roman farms, cemeteries and villages throughout the oasis as well. There are major sites that have been unearthed at Smint, Amheida and Qasr. The Dakhla oasis was also lush green and there was an agricultural area that was discovered on the fringes of the Empire that was built by the Romans. This oasis was not as important as the kharga oasis which was the prime oasis that protected the Roman trade routes. 

 

After 1800, the first European Traveller to the Dakhla oasis was Sir Archibald Edmondstone in the year 11819. He was succeeded by the other travelers and it was not until 1908 that the first egytologist Herbert Winlock that also visited Dakhla oasis and he also made an account of all the notable monuments in a very organized and systematic manner. In the year 1950 there were more detailed studies in the oasis.  The Dakhla aosis is one that has many communities with a string of sub oasis. The main settlements of the region are Mut, Al-Qasr, Qalamoun and they also together with other smaller villages and there are also communities that have identities that are also separate from each other. The Qualamoun also has people that trace their actual origins to the Ottomons.

 

One of the current excavations that have undertaken at the place called Amheida and this has been done under the supervision of Roger S Bagnall. This was conducted under the auspices of the Columbia University and they are currently under the New York University. The Dakhla oasis project is a long term project that was started in the year 1978 when the Royal Ontario Museum and the Canadian Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities that was awarded a joint concession for the role of the Oasis. In the year 1979 the centre for Archaeology and the Ancient History at the Monash University that began cooperating with the project.

 

The Dakhla Oasis is a major tourist spot in the area and this is the reason why millions of people around the world come to this place every year.