Kharga Oasis, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscapes, Kharga Oasis, Desert Landscapes, Endemic species, Darb el-Arbain caravan route, The Temple of Qaser Al Zayyan, The Temple Of Ghweita, The Cemetery of Bagawat, Temple of Hibis.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Kargha Oasis is included in the Tentative List of UNESCO (date of Submission: 12/06/2003) in category: Natural, and under the criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x). According to Med-o-Med, this site has also enough cultural values to be considered as a cultural landscape. This oasis was also defined as a “Desert Landscape” in the World Heritage Regional Thematic Expert Meeting on “Desert Landscapes and Oasis Systems in the Arab Region”, in Kharga Oasis, Egypt (2001).
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Kargha Oasis is characterized by desert feature and its environment has both cultural and natural elements which formed a remarkable Cultural Landscape. The 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which is known as the World Heritage Convention, was designated the concept of Cultural Landscape in its Article 1 as cultural properties which represent “the combined works of nature and of man”. Moreover, the 2008’s Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention clearly explained the definition and categories of inscription of the Cultural Landscape on the World Heritage List. In parallel, it urged the State Parties to the World Heritage Convention to do all they can to ensure the protection, presentation and management of their cultural landscape and its outstanding universal value as one component of World Heritage. Basis on the above definition, Cultural Landscape reflects the interactions between people and their natural environment over space and time, so this oasis represents a good example of the cultural landscape which is produced by the interactions between the indigenous Khargian people and their natural environment from Pharaonic time till today. According to the second category (ii.b) of the Cultural Landscape Categories in the 2008’s Operational Guidelines, There are many elements and units have been formed the cultural landscape of Kargha Oasis, which could be identified as follows: -Natural heritage components: lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. -Cultural heritage components: local festivals, traditional houses, traditional handcrafts, historical trade route, artifacts and archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises).
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination kargha Oasis.
- Current denomination kargha Oasis.
- Original denomination kargha Oasis.
- Popular denomination kargha Oasis, Al-Kharijah.
- Address: Kharga Oasis is the largest of Egypt’s Oases. It is located in the New Valley Governorate (and it is the capital), in the Western Desert which known as the Libyan Desert, in around 200 km western of the Nile River.
- Geographical coordinates: 25°26′56″N 30°32′24″E Elevation 32 m (105 ft)
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Kharga Oasis occupies a depression in the southern part of the Western Desert of Egypt, extending for some 180 x 15-30 km in a north-south direction, at about 200 km west of the Nile. The lowest point in the Oasis is more or less at sea level, while the highest is at 400 masl.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: New Valley Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: New Valley Governorate.
- Legal protection: Unprotected. Dr. Ahmed Nazif Prime Minister assigned (2010) eleven ministries including agriculture and land reclamation, tourism, trade and industry, housing and finance the mission of sorting out laws on dealing with the desert lands owned by the State and to propose a unified law on the use of desert land, in implementation of President Mubarak assignments for making the best use of those lands. The assignments included the incorporation of similar laws and define the contradicting ones to avoid in the unified law.
The Oasis of El-Kharga was a prosperous place during ancient times and was linked with the Nile Valley by many routes. The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned that the great Persian King, Campuses, sent a huge army (about 50,000 men) from Thebes in order to destroy the Oracle Temple of Amon-Zeus at Siwah. The huge army reached the El-Kharga Oasis, was provided with food and water, and then they continued their march towards Siwah, but the campaign vanished and no one can tell what really happened, even today! Some historians suggest that the Persian army was lost in the desert and were sunk in the Great Sea Of Sand, which extends along the borders between Egypt and Libya.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Wetland
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: Precipitation over the Western Desert is minimal and many consecutive years may be completely rainless. Mean annual rainfall at Cairo is only 25 mm. Precipitation in the hills of the Eastern Desert and Sinai is very variable. In these places a stream may flow as a torrent for a day or so after a storm, during which over 100 mm of rain may fall, but it may thereafter remain dry for several years. There are two seasons. Winter lasts from November to March, and summer from April to October. Winters are cool and mild, but summers are hot and dry. Then, in the deserts, daytime temperatures may reach 48°C but may fall to 10°C at night. NE winds predominate in winter, but it is the occasional westerly winds that bring rain. In summer, winds are from the SW, off the Sahara. January is the coolest month throughout the country and August is generally the hottest month.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: Kargha and Dakhla Oases occupy part of a great natural excavation in the southern section of the western Desert of Egypt. This excavation includes also de slightly elevated plain (140 m above sea level) between them. The depression is open towards the south ande southeast. Altitude rises agradually to the southwest reaching 400 m in the direction of Gebel Uweinat. The long axis of Kharga Oasis (200 km W of Nilo) is in a N-S direction. Is is bounded on the North and East by steep lofty escarpment. In N-W its width reaches 80 km.The lowest point of the osasis floor is more or less at sea level. The W edge of the Kargha depression consit of level land with mobile scatterd sand dunes. In the North-Western part there is a high scarp. To the South the depression is open.
The natural vegetation, as well as the naturalized species and the cultivated plants in Kharga and Dakhla Oasis, seem to be more or less uniform, and to deal with each of them separately would involve an overlap which may approach a mere repetition. However, the peculiarities of each Oasis will be dealt with apart. Seven vegetation types are recognized in Kharga, described here mainly after Zahran and Willis (1992). The scientific names of plants throughout this listing are updated after Boulos (1995, 1999, 2000, and 2002): 1 – (a) Aquatic Vascular Plants Urticularia gibba and Potamogeton pectinatus in freshwater (wells, reservoirs), Ruppia maritima and Zannichellia palustris, in brackish waters of shallow ponds, often associated with P. pectinatus, Najus graminea and N. minor, in shallow irrigation canals, Lemna gibba and L. aequinoctialis, free floating in most water bodies. 1 – (b) Aquatic Green Algae Nitella spp. and Chara spp., submerged green algae, often forming thick masses at the bottom of the water body and are attached to the mud by rhizoids, mainly in drains and stagnant waters. 2 – Reed Swamp Vegetation This vegetation type is most pronounced around ditches, rice fields, wells, and in drains and pools. The most characteristic species of this type of vegetation are: Typha domingensis and Phragmites australis, usually associated with Cyperus rotundus, C. laevigatus and Pycreus mundtii. Other associates which may occur on the fringes include: Panicum repens, Desmostachya bipinnata, Conyza bonariensis, Alhagi graecorum, Ambrosia maritima and Prosopis farcta. 3 – Halophytic Vegetation Two halophytic vegetation types may be recognized in the salt marshes: a. Wet salt marshes: Here the dominant species are Cyperus laevigatus, Juncus acutus, Suaeda aegyptiaca and S. monoica. b. Dry salt maeshes: The dominant species are Cressa cretica, Aeluropus lagopoides, Imperata cylindrica and Tamarix nilotica. 4 – Psammophytic Vegetation This vegetation type occupies flat expanses of wind-drifted sand (the sand plains) and sand dunes, at different stages of development. The vegetation of the plains is usually richer in plant cover. The dominant species is Alhagi graecorum, associated with Stipagrostis scoparia, Calotropis procera, Aerva javanica, Tamarix nilotica, Hyoscyamus muticus, Suaeda vermiculata, Reaumuria hirtella, and Zygophyllum album. On the older stabilized sand dunes, Tamarix nilotica and Alhagi graecorum grow in anundance and may cover the summits and slopes of the dunes. In Baris town, at the southernmost tip of the Depression, Balanites aegyptiaca (heglig, or the desert dates), and Hyphaene thebaica (dom palm) trees are seen in thickets among the dunes. 5 – Waste Land In the vicinity of cultivated ground, vast areas are usually abandoned and neglected. The major elements of this habitat type are: Zygophyllum coccineum, Tamarix nilotica, and Alhagi graecorum, which reflect the rather saline soil. Among the associated species are Hyoscyamus muticus, Sporobolus spicatus, Fagonia arabica, Cyperus laevigatus, Aeluropus lagopoides, and Polypogon monspeliensis. 6 – Xerophytic Vegetation This type occupies the desert ecosystem, mainly around the Oases, and is particularly part of the Western Desert flora, with an extensive list of vascular desert plants, which is outside the scope of this brief description. Endemic Species Compared to other areas in Egyptian deserts, there may be few endemic species restricted to Kharga and Dakhla Oases. They are: Ducrosia ismailis Asch. and Pimpinella schweinfurthii Asch., both in the Family Umbelliferae, in Kharga. Melilotus serratifolius Täckholm & Boulos (Leguminosae), is endemic to Dakhla Oasis. Rare Species Rhazya stricta Decne. (Apocynaceae), is known in Egypt only from Kharga Oasis. Its occurrence in Kharga represents the westernmost locality in its geographical range of distribution, which extends eastwards to Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and southwards into Sudan. The above three endemic species, as well as the rare Rhazya, are known only from one or very few collections, and are therefore to be classified as threatened species. Rare Animals The endemic oligochaete Nannodrilus staudei, discovered in the Nile region and described by Michaelsen in 1887, was discovered in 1969 by S. Ghabbour from Ain Khosh, in the south of the Kharga Oasis.
Rare Animals as the endemic oligochaete Nannodrilus staudei, discovered in the Nile region and described by Michaelsen in 1887, was discovered in 1969 by S. Ghabbour from Ain Khosh, in the south of the Kharga Oasis.
Land uses and economical activities:Kharga’s main cultivated crops are cereals, dates, and vegetables. The main source of income is from agriculture, industry, and tourism. Kharga’s main cultivated crops are cereals, dates, and vegetables. Main handcrafts are pottery, carpet, basket and mat-making from the leaves and fibres of the palm trees. There is also another attraction - riding camels, which is considered by many tourists and visitors, an adventure in itself.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The date palm is the main cash crop of Dakhla and Kharga oases, besides olive and other fruit trees. The date palm does not provide only dates, but also fibres, leaves, trunks, used locally or exported, for making basket, ropes, mats, sandals, furniture, building material, agricultural tools, and numerous other items. It is a culture based on and supported by the date palm. Some vegetables are also cultivated for local consumption. In addition to this, the cultivated land in these oases is cropped in hay (mainly alfalfa), cereals (mainly sorghum, wheat, rice and barley) and horticulture (mainly lives, grapes, citrus, pomegranate and apricot). Doum trees (Hyphaene thebarica) are also common. Their nuts as well as the fruitos handal (Citrulus colocynthis) are exported with Acacia fruits which are used for tanning. Acacia also yields a valuable wood durable for coating the wells. The most common weeds of winter cultivation in Dakhla and Kargha Oases include Cynodon dactylon, Melipotus indica, and Sonchus oleraceus.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
The oasis contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. Natural heritage components of Kargha oasis are lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. In this sense, natural values have to be carefully assessed, to ensure the conservation of desert ecosystems, bio-diversity through farming systems, ex situ preservation and sites of discoveries. Also the Outstanding Cultural Landscape of Kharga Oasis is considered a unique Desert Landscape associated with the traditional way of life of indigenous community.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
The Oasis was settled since the Pharaonic times by an indigenous community. Some of the Cultural heritage components of Kargha oasis are their traditional houses, which had built from local materials of the Oasis (clay from bottom of lakes and wood and leaves of the palm trees).
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Main handcrafts are pottery, carpet, basket and mat-making from the leaves and fibres of the palm trees. The museum of Al Kharga hosts a lot of the items that were found all over the archeological sites of the governorate. This includes a statue of Horus, some Pharonic reliefs, and a collection of Coptic pottery.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
There are archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises) in Kharga Oasis as: Ain el-Beleida (Roman) Ain el-Labakha (Roman) Ain Manawir (Persian, Roman) Ain Shams el-Din (Coptic church) Ain el-Tarakwa (Roman) Ain Tauleib (Roman) Deir Mustafa Kashef (Coptic monastery) Deir el-Munira (Roman) Gabbanat el-Bagawat – Coptic cemetery Gebel el-Teir (Rock inscriptions starting from prehistoric times) El-Nadura (Roman) Qasr el-Dabashiya (Roman) Qasr Dush (Greco-Roman) Qasr el-Ghuweita (Late Period) Qasr el-Gibb (Roman) Qasr el-Zayyan (Greco-Roman) Sumeira (Roman) Temple of Hibis (Persian – c. 500s BC.) Umm el-Dabadib (Roman) Umm Mawagir (Middle Kingdom, 2nd Intermediate Period) Some of them are described bellow: The Temple of Hibis: The temple of Hibis is located approximately one kilometer to the north of the city of Al Kharga. This temple is considered of significant importance as it represents different stages of the Egyptian history. The Pharonic, Persian, Ptolemaic, and Roman eras are well reflected in this ancient beautiful temple. The temple of Hibis was originally constructed during the reign of the 26th dynasty, which was the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC. The period of this dynasty is also called the Saite Period after the city of Sais, where its pharaohs had their capital. The temple was built for the worship of the holy triad (Amun- Mut- Khonsu). The construction work started under the rule of Iris and then Ahmos II. However, most of the construction works were completed during the Persian or the Hyksos occupation of Egypt specifically during the reign of Darius I (522 BC). The temple Of Hibis was enlarged during the period of Nectanebo I (380 -362 BC) and Nectanebo II (360 -343 BC). Ptolemy II (285 -246 BC) has also added the two outmost portals. The temple starts from the East with the sacred lake and the ports. Then there is the Roman gate that dates back to the Roman emperor, Galba, who built this gate in 69 AD. Afterwards, there is the rams’ passageway that leads to the major gate of the temple. Afterwards, there is the Sanctum of the temple with its remarkable unique inscriptions. The Cemetery of Bagawat: The Cemetery of Bagawat is located three kilometers to the North of the city of Al Kharga behind the Temple of Hibis. This cemetery got its name from its style of architecture as most of the tombs there were constructed in the form of domes, or “Qubwat” in Arabic which transformed afterwards into Bagawat. This cemetery hosts one of the most important and most ancient Christian churches in the whole world. The cemetery dates back to period ranging from the second to the seventh century AD when the Christians escaping from Northern Egypt resorted to the Kharga Oasis. It contains 236 tombs constructed as small domed chapels with a central church in the middle which is considered one of the most ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt. The cemetery occupies a surface area of 10,000 squares and the most important tombs of the cemetery is the tomb of Exodus which represents the Israelis going out of Egypt and the Pharos forcing them out of the country. There is also the tomb of “peace’ that contains reliefs of Jacob, the Virgin Mary, Saint Paul, and Saint Takla. Other tombs display many colorful Coptic inscriptions and writings that demonstrate the Coptic life during this period. The Temple Of Ghweita: The Temple of Ghweita or Qaser Ghweita, or the “fortress of deep springs” is located 25 kilometers to South of the city of Kharga. This temple together with the Temple of Hibis is the only temples built in Egypt during the Persian or Hyksos occupation. The construction work of this temple started in the reign of Darius I over the top of a hill that was originally the ruins of a Pharonic settlement that goes back to the Middle Kingdom. The temple was built for the worship of the holy triad (Amun- Mut- Khonsu), the same as the temple of Hibis. It was also enlarged during the Ptolemaic era between the 3rd and 1st century BC. The Temple now includes a hall with 8 huge columns, a hypostyle hall, and a sanctuary. The Temple of Qaser Al Zayyan: The Temple Of Qaser Al Zayyan is located 5 kilometers to the South of Temple of Ghweita. Thanks to the Egyptian government, there is an asphalt road that links the two temples together now. This temple was constructed during the Ptolemaic reign and enlarged during the period of the Roman emperor Pius in the 2nd century AD. The temple of Qaser Al Zayyan was dedicated to the cult of Amun Ra of Hibis. It contains a sanctuary made out of white limestone blocks and many mud brick side chambers all around it.
- Historical routes:
Darb el-Arbain caravan route: The Darb el-Arbain trade route, passing through Kharga in the south and Asyut in the north, was a long caravan route running north-south between Middle Egypt and the Sudan. It was used from as early as the Old Kingdom of Egypt for the transport and trade of gold, ivory, spices, wheat, animals and plants. The maximum extent of the Darb el-Arbain was northward from Kobbei, 25 miles north of al-Fashir, passing through the desert, through Bir Natrum and Wadi Howar, and ending in Egypt. 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 forts vary for size and function, some being just small outposts, some guarding large settlements complete with cultivation. 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. Described by Herodotus as a road “traversed … in forty days,” the Darb el-Arbain became by his time an important land route facilitating trade between Nubia and Egypt. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the Forty Days Road. As part of a caravan proceeding to Dafur, the English explorer W.G. Browne paused for several days at Kharga, leaving with the rest of the group 7 June 1793. At the time a Gindi was stationed at Kharga, “belonging to Ibrahim-bey-el-kebir, to whom those villages appertain, and to [this official] is entrusted the management of what relates to the caravan during the time of its stay there.” In 1930 the archaeologist, Gertrude Caton–Thompson, uncovered the palaeolithic history of Kharga.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: Indigenous Khargian people.
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:Arid lands in general are not very well represented on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, and others. These areas are vulnerable to climatic change owing to their low species diversity and, especially near oasis with water sources, are often points of conflict for water access. Nowadays, the Outstanding Cultural Landscape of Kharga Oasis which is considered a unique Desert Landscape associated with the traditional way of life of indigenous community, is threatened by number of factors related with human activity such as: increasing tourist numbers, lack of awareness of local community about cultural significance of the Oasis, lack of maintenance and monitoring by national government, new reclamation projects for the Oasis’ lands... The mobile dunes are also risk for some villages. The dunes move across the floor of the oasis and their movements overwhelms cultivated lands, wells, roads, buildings, etc. Some villages are seriously affected, being enclosed from the N, E and W by bodies of dunes. In cultivated lands frequently unfavourable conditions are related to rising of the water-table, salinization and water logging develop. Under these conditions, in Dakhla and Kargha Oases, sepcies that endure saline soil and saturated substrata may invade, as Aeluropus lagopoides, Cressa cretica or Cyperus rotundus. The overarching and main objective of this research is to help in protection and management of the cultural and natural components of Kharga Oasis’ Landscape to safe and sustain its outstanding universal values.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Deserts are privileged sites to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
The oasis itself, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, its lakes and water wells, and its architectonical and archaeological elements.
Authenticity:The antiquity of this site is reflected in its ancient remains, already described. For example, the Temple of Hibis is a Saite-era temple founded by Psamtik II, which was erected largely ca. 500 BC, or the ancient Christian cemetery at Al-Bagawat (one of the earliest and best preserved Christian cemeteries in the ancient world) also functioned at Kharga Oasis from the 3rd to the 7th century AD.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria and Med-O-Med considerations, Kargha Oasis: (iii) bears a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, (v) is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change, (vi) is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (vii) contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance,
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Living heritage: the traditional way of farming, the specific irrigation systems, and the architectonical style of the site came from the Islamic culture. -Archaeological values: most of the monuments and archaeological remains in Kargha Oasis are greco-roman or persian, but there are other as The Temple of Qaser Al Zayyan that show the style of islamic architecture. -Mythical and religious values: an oasis could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden. -Hystorical values: The Darb el-Arbain trade route was a long caravan route running north-south between Middle Egypt and the Sudan. It was used from as early as the Old Kingdom of Egypt for the transport and trade of gold, ivory, spices, wheat, animals and plants.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Kargha Oasis is one of all of the oases of Egypt Desert which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
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Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.