Farafra oasis and The White Desert, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscapes, Oasis, Farafra, Desert Landscapes, White Desert, Black Desert.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Farafra or Al Farafra oasis is not included in the Tentative List of UNESCO, but the Western Desert it is already included in that list and Farafra is an oasis located in The White Desert, in The Western Desert of Egypt. Also Al Farafra oasis was 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). According to Med-o-Med, this site has enough cultural and natural values to be considered as a cultural landscape.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Farafra 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 Farafra Oasis, in Farafra depression, represents a good example of a cultural landscape. 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 Farafra Depression, which could be identified as follows: -Natural heritage components: in this point it must be considered the importance of Farafra Oasis itself, with its lakes, freshwater springs, palm fields… Also the White Desert, in Farafra Depression, is a beauty site with its particular rocks and sand formations, in white colour. -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 Farafra Depression, Al Farafra Oasis.
- Current denomination Farafra Depression, Al Farafra Oasis.
- Original denomination Al Farafra, Farafra.
- Popular denomination Al Farafra, Farafra.
- Address: Farafra depression is located in The White Desert, in the Western Desert of Egypt, approximately mid-way between Dakhla and Bahariya. Farafra oasis is situated inside the depression.
- Geographical coordinates: 27°03′30″N 27°58′12″E
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Farafra Oasis is located in the western desert of Egypt inside the borders of the governorate of Al Wadi Al Gadid, the largest governorate in Egypt in terms of space. The Farafra is 170 kilometers away from the Bahariya Oasis and 627 kilometers away from Cairo, 370 kilometers to the South West of Marsa Matroh and the Mediterranean Sea
- Access and transport facilities: Until recently, all the routes going from to the Farafra Oasis, or from Al Bahariya or Dakhla, were not paved and travelers used to suffer a lot to reach this unique oasis. However, nowadays there is a good network of roads that connects Farafra with other oasis of the Western Desert and with the Nile Valley as well.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Al Wadi Al Gadid Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Al Wadi Al Gadid Governorate.
- Legal protection: The White Desert, in Farafra Depression, became a protected area since 2002.
Historians believed that the oasis of Farafra went through three phases in prehistoric times when the oasis was exposed to a set of heavy rains. This was a proof that Farafra hosted inhabitants since the prehistoric era when these rains attracted many Egyptians to go and live in the Farafra oasis. Some other historians believe that Farafra was the connection point between the Libyan Desert and the Egyptian desert. With many trading routs between the Western Desert and the Nile Valley, Farafra was one of the most important transit points for the caravans. The Farafra Oasis had a role as well in the Pharos time as this small oasis was mentioned in many ancient Egyptian texts especially in the reign of the 10th dynasty in the 21st BC. Farafra was called “Ana Akhet”, or the land of the cow as a symbol of fertility in reference to the ancient god Hathour and it was best described as the city of conquest or invasion because of its remoteness. In the new kingdom, there were some evident that Ramsis II used to import stones from the Farafra Oasis to be used in constructing his many temples in Luxor precisely. However, no mining locations have ever been discovered in Farafra.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Badlands
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: 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.
Land uses and economical activities:There is an important agriculture project in Farafra covering more than 10 thousand Hectares near a well called Bir Qarawein. Farming and tourism are the main land uses and inputs incomes. Most of the Farafra's population are originate from the Nile Valley and they came to Farafra to work as farmers. There is also an important agriculture project in Farafra covering more than 10 thousand Hectares near a well called Bir Qarawein.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:Farafra's main cultivated crops are cereals, dates, and vegetables. They contribute to compose the particular landscape of the oasis.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
The oasis contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. A main geographic attraction of Farafra is its White Desert, located 45 km (28 mi) north of the town of Farafra, it occupies a surface area of around three thousand kilometers. The desert has a white, cream color and has massive chalk rock formations that have been created as a result of occasional sandstorm in the area. It became a protected area since 2002. On the road that goes between Farafra and Bahariya, one can see the first bizarre rock formation in the white desert. Some rocks look like animals, mushrooms, and some rocks have totally strange shapes. No one would ever believe that this white desert was covered with a sea in ancient times and the white chalk that formed all these rocks was deposited from this sea. If one takes a closer look on the rocks of the white desert, he can notice that there are seashells in the halls of the rocks. To the northeast of the white desert, there is an area called Aqabat, or “obstacles” in English. Of course this name had a reason and this area is full of obstructions that face anyone who wants to pass through. In the middle of this area, lies the mountain of Twin peaks which is an important landmark for travelers. In the west section of the white desert, which is much less visited than the East section because of the poor conditions of the roads leading to it, there is the ancient site of Wadi Al Ubayid, or the white valley. The black desert and the crystal mountain: The black desert mainly consists of mountains formed primarily out of numerous volcano small black stones and rocks. However, these rocks lay on an orange brown background. As many people would say” The black desert is not as black in comparison to the white color of the white desert” Most of the tourists who go to the white and black deserts usually would like to visit the famous crystal mountain. In a contradiction to its name, the rocks in this mountain are not crystal, they are rather Barite which is a substance that is less hard than crystals. The crystal mountain has an interesting story. The Egyptian government broke parts of this mountain to construct the road between the Bahareya Oasis and the Farafra oasis. This made the crystal rocks appear and it turned this area into a famous touristic site. Also located near Farafra are the hot springs at Bir Sitta and the El-Mufid lake.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
Parts of the town have complete quarters of traditional architecture, simple, smooth, unadorned, all in mud colour. Local pride has also secured endeavours to secure local culture.
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:
-The ruins of a Roman Temple of Farafra. -In the Coptic time, Egyptian Copts used to escape the aggressiveness and assaults of the Romans and go to the Farafra and the other oasis as well. The Copts left some ruins in Farafra that proof they had a sort of civilization there.
- Historical routes:
After the Arab conquest of Egypt, the trade of dates and olives between the Farafra oasis and the Nile Valley flourished tremendously. Camel caravans used to carry the goods and products of the Farafra to the district of Dirot on the Nile valley. The caravans used to go back to the Farafra full of cloth, tea, and all the products of the Nile Valley.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: During the Roman era, the oasis, including Al Dakhla, Al Kharga, Al Bahareya, and Al Farafra were the lands of grains as many grains were cultivated in the lands of the oasis.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: Just before the end of the 19th century, a Senusi worship site, a Muslim political-religious system that was established in Libya and the Sudan region and it was founded in Mecca in 1837, was built in the Farafra. This made many Senusis emigrated from the Libyan desert to the Farafra. The Senusis remained in the Farafra until the beginning of the 20th century. Even today, many original inhabitants who belong to the Farafra Oasis have the name Senusi and have some Senusi origins. Today Farafra has a population of more than 20 thousand people. Farafra has an estimated 5,000 inhabitants (2002) mainly living in the town of Farafra and is mostly inhabited by the local Bedouins.
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: It is believed that The White Desert in Farafra depression is clear evidence (following the egyptian beliefs) on this ability of the God to form his universe. Maybe this is why the "finger of god" is located in the white desert. The finger of god or "Al Qubar", the Chisel, is a 20 meters high rock formations that can be seen from far away even from the paved road and the locals like to call it the finger of god as it looks like a huge finger rising from the sand.
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.
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 White Desert in Farafra Depression. -The Black Desert in Farafra Depression. -The Farafra Oasis, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, its lakes and water wells, and its architectonical and archaeological elements.
6. VALUESThe main tangible values of Farafra depression are the beauty of its landscape and its geographical conditions, with the White and Black Desert, and also the quality of the oasis itself and its living heritage.
Authenticity:The Farafra Oasis was mentioned in many ancient Egyptian texts especially in the reign of the 10th dynasty in the 21st BC. Nowadays the capital and the most important town in the Farafra Oasis is the city of Qaser Farafra. This is the most ancient part in the Farafra Oasis and in the 19th century, Qaser Farafra was the only inhibited city in the Western Desert with a population of only 200 people.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria and Med-O-Med considerations, Farafra Depression and Farafra 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, (viii) is an outstanding example representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, (ix) is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, (x) contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the specific irrigation systems came from the Islamic culture. -Hystorical values: After the Arab conquest of Egypt, Camel caravans were used to carry the goods and products of the Farafra to the district of Dirot on the Nile valley. -Mythical values and religious: oasis could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden. The White Desert is considered as a reflect of God existence.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Farafra oasis is one of all of the oases of Egypt Desert which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
-Giddy, L. Egyptian Oases: Bahariya, Dakhla, Farafra and Kharga during Pharaonic Times, Warminster, Aris & Philips, 1987. -Jackson, R. At Empire’s Edge: Exploring Rome’s Egyptian Frontier, New Haven et Londres, Yale University Press, 2002. -Thurston, H. Island of the Blessed : the Secrets of Egypt’s Everlasting Oasis, Toronto, Doubleday, 2003. -Vivian, C. The Western Desert of Egypt: an explorer’s handbook, AUC Press, le Caire, 2000. -Wagner, G. Les oasis d’Égypte à l’époque grecque, romaine et byzantine, d’après les documents grecs, Le Caire, Recherches de papyrologie et d’épigraphie grecques, 1987.
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías