Qattara Depression: Siwa, Qara and Moghra Oases, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscape, Qattara Depression, Siwa, Qara and Moghra Oases,
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Qattara depression includes Moghra, Qara and Siwa Oases. Moghra Oasis is pointed out in the Tentative List of UNESCO (“Southern and Smaller Oases, the Western Desert”, date of Submission: 12/06/2003) in category: Natural, and under the criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x). Siwa 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). Med-o-Med has considered interesting to include Qara Oasis in a group delimited by the Qattara Depression.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Moghra, Siwa and Qara Oases included in the Qattara Depression are 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 indigenous people and their natural environment over space and time, so these oases represent a good example of the cultural landscape which is produced by the interactions between the indigenous 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 these oases, 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 Qattara Depression including Moghra, Qara and Siwa Oases.
- Current denomination Qattara Depression including Moghra, Qara and Siwa Oases.
- Original denomination Qattara Depression (Munḫafaḍ al-Qaṭṭārah) including Moghra, Qara and Siwa Oases.
- Popular denomination Qattara Depression including Moghra (Maghra), Qara and Siwa (Siwi) Oases.
- Address: Qattara Depression is a depression in the north west of Egypt in the Matruh Governorate and is part of the Libyan Desert. Moghra Oasis is situated on the north-eastern edge of the Qattara Depression. Siwa Oasis is located between he Qattara Depression, nearly 50 km (30 mi) east of the Libyan border, and 560 km (348 mi) from Cairo. Qara oasis lies at the SW edge of the Qattara Depression, 75 km NE of Siwa and is connected to the Matruh-Siwa road by an asphalted access route.
- Geographical coordinates: Qattara Depression: Lower left bound: 28°36'30.74"N, 26°14'31.08"E. Upper right bound: 30°31'1.74"N 29° 8'51.83"E.
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Qattara Depression is a depression in the north west of Egypt in the Matruh Governorate and is part of the Libyan Desert. The Qattara Depression contains the second lowest point in Africa at −133 metres (−436 ft) below sea level, the lowest being Lake Assal in Djibouti. The depression covers about 19,605 square kilometres (7,570 sq mi), and includes three oasis: Mohgra, Siwa and Qara oasis. Moghra Oasis is a small uninhabited oasis, situated on the north-eastern edge of the Qattara Depression, bordered by by a brackish-water lake, constituting the lowermost part of the Oasis (-38 m), occupying an area of about 4 sq. km. Siwa Oasis is located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert, nearly 50 km (30 mi) east of the Libyan border, and 560 km (348 mi) from Cairo. Qara Oasis lies at the SW edge of the Qattara Depression (-70m) , 75 km NE of Siwa and is connected to the Matruh-Siwa road by an asphalted access route. Siwa is the biggest Oasis in Qattara Depression and for that reason it has been easier to find information about this one in this Med-O-Med research.
Some information about events in Siwa Oasis have been found in this research. Every two years, Environmental Quality International (EQI) invites an internationally renowned artist or team of artists to design an installation that showcases Siwa’s rich culture, history and natural environment, and engages Siwa’s schoolchildren in its assembly and exhibition. So far, Siwa has hosted two installations, the first by Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang entitled Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky (2003), and the second by Russian-born artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov entitled The Ship of Siwa (2005).
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Matruh Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Matruh Governorate.
- Legal protection: In 2002, the Egyptian Government declared 7,800 square km in and around the Siwa Oasis a protected area, in recognition of Siwa’s cultural, biological and environmental value. The new status prohibits all activities that damage or deplete the natural environment, including indigenous flora and fauna, and has bolstered the movement to preserve Siwa’s invaluable resources. The other oases of Qattara Depression are unprotected.
- Public or private organizations working in the site: The Sustainable Development Initiative working in Siwa Oasis try to ensure the future of this environmentally friendly Siwan craft through several kershef ecolodges in Siwa, and by helping Siwans secure the resources and expertise to build in kershef themselves.
Although the Siwa Oasis is known to have been settled since at least the 10th millennium BC, the earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was established. During the Ptolemaid period of Egypt its ancient Egyptian name was “Field of Trees”. Greek settlers at Cyrene made contact with the oasis around the same time (7th century BC), and the oracle temple of Amun, who, Herodotus was told, took the image here of a ram. Herodotus knew of a “fountain of the Sun” that ran coldest in the noontide heat. During his campaign to conquer the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great reached the oasis, supposedly by following birds across the desert. The oracle, Alexander’s court historians alleged, confirmed him as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt, though Alexander’s motives in making the excursion, following his founding of Alexandria, remain to some extent inscrutable and contested.The Romans later used Siwa as a place of banishment. Evidence of Christianity at Siwa is uncertain, but in 708 the Siwans resisted an Islamic army, and probably did not convert until the 12th century. In the 12th century Al-Idrisi mentions it as being inhabited mainly by Berbers, with an Arab minority.The oasis was officially added to Egypt by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1819. Egypt began to assert firmer control after a 1928 visit to the Oasis by King Fu’ad, who berated the locals for “a certain vice” and specified punishments to to bring Siwan behavior in line with Egyptian morals. Med-O-Med did not find specific information about Moghra and Qara Oases.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Plain
- 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: The Depression has the form of a teardrop with the point of the drop facing east and the broad deep area facing the south west. The northern side of the depression is characterised by steep escarpments up to 280 meters high, marking the edge of the adjacent El Diffa plateau. To the south the depression slopes gently up to the Great Sand Sea. Within the Depression there are salt marshes, under the northwestern and northern escarpment edges, and extensive dry lakes (dry lake beds) that flood occasionally. The marshes occupy approximately 300 square kilometres (120 sq mi), although wind blown sands are encroaching in some areas. About a quarter of the region is occupied by dry lakes composed of hard crust and sticky mud, and occasionally filled with water. The depression was formed by salt weathering and wind erosion working together. First the salts crumble the depression floor and then the wind blows away the resulting sands.
In Qattara Depression, there are groves of Acacia raddiana, growing in shallow sandy depressions, and Phragmites swamps represent the only permanent vegetation. The Acacia groves vary widely in biodiversity and rely on runoff from rainfall and groundwater to survive. The Moghra Oasis in the northeast of the Depression has a 4 km² brackish lake and a Phragmites swamp. The plant cover in this oasis is a combination of reed swamps, salt marshes, and dsand formation vegetation. The saline flats are dominated by Juncus rigidus between the lake and the sand formations, associated with Phragmites australis, Tamarix nilotica, Limbarda crithmoides, Nitraria retusa, Cressa cretica, and Arthrocnemum macrostachyum. The sand formations are dominated by Zygophyllum album, Nitraria retusa, Tamarix nilotica, Alhagi graecorum, and Sporobolus spicatus. These are associated with Artemisia monosperma and some neglected date palms appearing in groves of variable sizes. As a result of its isolation in the midst of a sprawling and seemingly barren desert, Siwa Oasis is a haven for threatened species and an island of biodiversity with a variety of endemic flora and fauna. Date palm and olive groves grow wherever water is available at or near the surface. In the lower parts of Siwa, wetlands, salt marshes and a range of sand formations have emerged. To the south, the dunes of the Great Sand Sea stretch endlessly in a landscape of otherworldly beauty. Qara Oasis is characterized by four concentric zones of plant communities bounding the oasis, established on land previously cultivated, but now salinized or desertified.
Med-O-Med has found information only about Siwa Oasis Fauna’s. This oasis supports a distinct and wide-ranging collection of animal species, including at least two amphibians, 28 mammals, 32 reptiles, 52 insects, 92 soil fauna and 164 birds. Among these, several species appear to be unique to the Siwa region, and several more are endangered or threatened. Rodents, gerbils and fat sand rats are the most common species of mammal in the oasis, but it also home to two Saharan desert foxes, the Sand Fox and the Fennec Fox. The oasis contains a number of resident and migratory birds, including the lesser flamingo, sooty falcon, thick-billed lark, lesser short-toed lark, red-rumped wheatearand the desert wheatear, as well as the European quail. Due to its status as a protected area, Siwa is the last domain in Egypt where slender-horned gazelle and Fennec Fox still dwell. Also the Sooty Falcon is believed to have a stable population and has been placed on the “Least Concerned” index by the IUCN Red Book.
Land uses and economical activities:As we have described before, there are trhee permanent settlement in the Qattara Depression: Siwa, Moghra and Qara Oases. The main land use is farming in all the oases. The Qattara Depression also contains numerous oil concessions and several operating fields. Drillers include Royal Dutch Shell and the Apache Corporation. Agriculture is the main activity of modern Siwa, particularly the cultivation of dates and olives. Handicrafts like basketry are also of regional importance. The isolation of the oasis caused the development of a unique culture which was shown in its pottery, costume, styles of embroidery and, most notably, in the silver jewellery worn by women to weddings and important occasions. These pieces were decorated with symbols which related to Siwa’s history and beliefs and attitudes. Tourism has in recent decades become a vital source of income. Much attention has been given to creating hotels that use local materials and play on local styles. Similar social and economical activities are developed in Moghra an Qara Oases.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The oases (Moghra, Siwa and Qara) of this region are popular for their palms and olive trees, producing huge volumes of dates and olives. Extra virgin olive oil is one of Siwa's popular products used in Egypt and exported to Europe. Mulukhiyah, a plant from the jute family which is widely consumed as a vegetable in Egypt, is also produced at the oasis. Free from chemical fertilizers, and untouched by herbicides and pesticides, the fertile land of Siwa is fed by the Nubian aquifer through 230 natural freshwater springs. It holds orchards and gardens of orange, citron, pomegranate, guava, sweet lime, and apricot trees, vegetable, spice and herb gardens of molloukheya, sicamore, gargeer, hibiscus and mint, and beds of medicinal and fodder plants and pulses.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
Qattara Depression contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. Within the Depression there are salt marshes, under the northwestern and northern escarpment edges, and extensive dry lakes (dry lake beds) that flood occasionally. Natural heritage components of the three oases (Moghra, Siwa and Qara) are lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. In Moghra oasis there are salt marshes border the lake in some of its parts. Sand formations are dominant in the western and southern edges of the lake, either in the form of dunes close to the lake, or as deep sand sheets away from it. Siwa is one of the world’s last remaining pristine oases, home to spectacular natural landscapes, majestic rock formations, lush groves and brilliant salt lakes that have nurtured, ancient historical ruins and unique cultural traditions. Also Qara Oasis landscape must to be protected because of its wonderful environment. 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 Moghra, Siwa and Qara Oases 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:
For millennia, Siwans have constructed their homes with kershef, a traditional building material of mud, sand and sun-dried salt harvested from the oasis’s salt lakes (traditional kershef houses). In addition to blending in harmoniously with the surrounding environment, kershef acts as a natural insulator, keeping indoor air temperatures mild in both hot and cold seasons. Strategically placed windows channel the dry desert breeze, producing energy-free air conditioning for especially hot conditions. In recent decades, however, the art of kershef has been disappearing as builders increasingly use cement. While cheaper for building, this construction method is inappropriate to such a desert climate: it conducts hot and cold extremes rather than insulating against them, requiring wasteful electric-powered air conditioning to temper its effects, and it threatens to wipe out an ancient Siwan technique that has been passed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years. Athought the way of construction in Qattara Depression use to keep some common rules, it has not been found specific information about Moghra and Qara architecture.
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
As a result of the isolation of these oases, the Berber inhabitants developed a unique culture manifested in its crafts of basketry, pottery, silverwork and embroidery and in its style of dress. In Siwa Oasis the most visible and celebrated examples of this were the bridal silver and the ensemble of silver ornaments and beads that women wore in abundance to weddings and other ceremonies. The best known of these pieces are a huge silver disc called ‘adrim’ and a torc, called ‘aghraw’ from which it hung over the breast. A girl would give up the disc at a special ceremony at the Spring the day she was married.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
Domestic, industrial ensembles, energy related systems:
Due to Qattara depression’s size and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea shore it has been studied for its potential to generate hydroelectricity.
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
In this point, Med-O-Med has found information about Siwa and Qara Oases: In Qara Oasis: Originally the inhabitants lived atop a neighbouring mountain which acted as a natural fortress, but today they live in simple houses beneath. There are rests of the traditional village which are interesting. In Siwa Oasis: The ancient fortress of Siwa, built on natural rock (an inselberg), made of salt, mud-brick and palm logs and known as the Shali Ghadi (“Shali” being the name of the town, and “Ghadi” meaning remote), although now mostly abandoned and ‘melted’, remains a prominent feature, towering five stories above the modern town. Other local historic sites of interest include: the remains of the Oracle Temple, with some inscriptions dating from the 4th century BC, that lie within the ruins of Aghurmi village. The revelations of the oracle fell into disrepute under the Roman occupation of Egypt, the Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead), a Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs, “Cleopatra’s Bath”, an antique natural spring already described above, the Amun Temple, Old Shali or the tombs of Si-Amon, Misu-lsi and Niperpathot, including the disputed tomb of Alexander the Great.
- Historical routes:
The traditional culture of Siwa shows many features unusual in Egypt, some reflecting its longstanding links with the Maghreb and the fact that the inhabitants are of Berber origin. Until a tarmacadamed road was built to the Mediterranean coast in the 1980s Siwa’s only links with the outside world were by arduous camel tracks through the desert. These were used to export dates and olives, bring trade goods, or carry pilgrims on the route which linked the Maghreb to Cairo and hence to Mecca.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: The Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt's most isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, the Qara Oasis is very small compared with the others, and is located in the westernmost part of the depression and is inhabited by about 300 people. The Qattara Depression is mostly inhabited by berbers. In the 12th century Al-Idrisi mentions it as being inhabited mainly by Berbers, with an Arab minority, while a century before Al-Bakri stated that only Berbers lived there. The Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi travelled to Siwa in the 15th century and described how the language spoken there 'is similair to the language of the Zenata'. The Siwa Oasis was officially added to Egypt by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1819. The Siwans are a Berber people, so demographically and culturally they were more closely related to nearby Libya, which has a large Berber population, than to Egypt, which has a negligible Berber population. The Depression is also inhabited by the nomadic Bedouin people and their flocks.
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian and berber are spoken in Qattara Depression. In Siwa Oasis people speaks a distinct language of the Berber family known as Siwi.
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Siwa fame's lies primarily in its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Amon, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction which gave the oasis its ancient name Ammonium. Some researchers link it to a Berber tribal name asw attested further west in the early Islamic period, while others link it to the Tashelhiyt Berber word asiwan, a type of prey bird, and hence to Amon-Ra, one of whose symbols was the falcon. In all this region, very influenced by the berber culture, arab rules coming from distant Cairo was at first tenuous and marked by several revolts. Egypt began to assert firmer control after a 1928 visit to the Oasis by King Fu'ad, who berated the locals for "a certain vice" and specified punishments to to bring Siwan behavior in line with Egyptian morals. Nowadays the society of the oases ubicated in the Qattara Depressión, specifically in Siwa Oasis, is considered an extremely conservative society, even by Egyptian standards. For example both married and unmarried women alike do not leave the home unaccompanied, though stronger restrictions are placed on the movement of married women.
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 Qatara Depression. -The three oases themselves (Moghra, Siwa and Qara), including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, its lakes and water wells, and its architectonical and archaeological elements.
Authenticity:There is evidence for human activity in Siwa Oasis since at least the 10th millennium BC. The earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was established. Similar dates are expected for the other two oases of Qattara Depression.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria and Med-O-Med considerations, Moghra, Siwa and Qara Oases, includen in Qattara Depression: (iii) bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, (v) are 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) are directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance, (vii) contain 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) are 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) contain 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:-Archaeological values: archaeological remains linked to the Islamic period are founded in these Oases (temples, ancient villages, tombs, etc...). -Mythical and religious values: an oasis could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden. There are some elements as the Oracle of Amos and the differents temples in Siwa Oasis that represent the spiritual importance of the site. -Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the specific irrigation systems came from the Islamic culture. -Hystorical values: The traditional culture of Siwa shows many features unusual in Egypt, some reflecting its longstanding links with the Maghreb and the fact that the inhabitants are of Berber origin. Until a tarmacadamed road was built to the Mediterranean coast in the 1980s Siwa’s only links with the outside world were by arduous camel tracks through the desert. These were used to export dates and olives, bring trade goods, or carry pilgrims on the route which linked the Maghreb to Cairo and hence to Mecca.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Moghra, Siwa and Qara Oases are some of all 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