Nestled 240 kilometers southwest of Assiout, Kharga was once the last stop on the infamous Forty Days Road ,the slave route between North Africa and its tropical south. Today, Kharga is the largest New Valley Oasis, and its modern capital city is home to 60,000 people, amongst which are 1,000 Nubians who moved there the creation of the
Nubia. On the outskirts of the main city center lies the Temple of Hibis constructed on the site of an 18th century dynasty settlement of the Saites, Persians and Ptolomies, and is one of the few remaining Persian monuments that is well-preserved in Egypt and depicts painted pictures of vultures and huge reliefs of Darius greeting Egyptian Gods on its outer walls.
All the oases have always been crossroads of caravan routes converging from the barren desert. In the case of Kharga, this is made particularly evident by the presence of a chain of fortresses that the Romans built to protect the Darb el-Arbain, the long caravan route running north-south between Middle Egypt and the Sudan. The forts vary for size and function, some being just small outposts, some guarding large settlements complete with cultivations. Some were installed where earlier settlements already existed, while others were probably founded anew. All of them are made of mud bricks, but some also contain small stone temples with inscribed walls. So far, many of these sites have suffered relatively little damage.
i A mere 10 kilometers away is the Necropolis of Al Bagawat which contains 263 mud brick chapels with Coptic murals, including the Chapel of Peace with images of Adam and Eve on the arc of its dome. Ancient Phraonic monuments in the region include the Al-Huwaytah Temple, which dates back to 522 BC and the Temple of Amenebi.
The thermal springs at Bulaq and Nasser Villages to the South are famous for water temperatures of up to 43 C and are reputed to be suitable for the treatment of Rheumatism and other allergies. Further South in Baris Oasis, the second largest settlement in Kharga. Are houses designed in traditional Nubian Style by Hassan Fathy and remain uninhabited. Their construction was halted in the late 1960s.
Ancient Monuments in the area include the Temple of Dush, dedicated to Isis and Serapis. Its' name is derived from Kush, the ancient Sudanese capital which was a frequent trading partner with Egypt along the Nile. Archaeologists are still in the midst of unearthing the ancient City of Kysis and its elaborate system of clay pipes
One of the most impressive fortresses of the whole area is el-Deir, a huge enclosure with twelve round towers which lies east of the old Darb el-Arbain.
The easily accessible forts of Nadura, Qasr el-Ghueita and Qasr el-Zayyan are situated close to the main road on the top of high hills which allowed a strategic control of the territory. All contain small stone temples, the first Roman, the second Persian and the third Ptolemaic. The most amazing fortress of the area is probably Dush, at the southern edge of the oasis. A huge complex contained two stone temples, a
monumental gateway built by Trajan, and evidence of an elaborated subterranean
water system. The beautiful landscape and impressive setting are not to be missed.
Two other Roman settlements must be mentioned, although quite difficult to reach. One is 'Ayn Amur, a little spring halfway between Kharga and Dakhla along the caravan route which bears the same name. Here a small stone temple with a large mudbrick enclosure were built around the spring.
The other is Umm el-Dabadib, a large settlement guarded by a small but impressive fort and once supported by an extensive cultivation, which lies along the Darb 'Ayn Amur in an area today completely isolated. Both sites may be reached by 4x4, but especially 'Ayn Amur requires quite expert drivers. It is worth repeating that all these isolated sites must be visited with the permission of the local Inspectorate.
Kharga is connected to the Nile Valley by means of two main tarred roads, one in the south from Baris to Armant (and Luxor) and one in the north (following the old Darb el-Arbain) from Kharga to Asyut. The first is being enlarged and tarred anew and does not cross any inhabited place, apart from the temporary settlement of the people who have been working there. The second leads north to Asyut and there joins the Desert Road to Cairo. Here, at about 130 km from Kharga, lies the so-called
Valley of the Melons, an area where dark, spheroidal, hard stones pop out of the desert horizon miles forming an amazing sight. It is definitely worth a stop and a short walk in this silent and curious spot before heading back to the colours and the noise of the Valley.