Wadi El Natroun, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscape, Wadi El Natroun, Lake Fasida, Lake Umm Risha, Lake Al-Gaar, Lake El-Zugm, The Monastery of Deir abu makar ( st. Makarous), The Monastery of Deir Anba bishoy ( St bishoi), The Monastery of Deir el Surian, The Monastery of Deir EL Baramous, threatened species, Salt Marsh Depressions, the Gravel Desert.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Wadi El Natroun is in the Tentative List of UNESCO, with the name ““Southern and Smaller Oases, the Western Desert” and date of Submission: 12/06/2003, Criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x), Category: Natural, and Ref.: 1808. Also, “The monasteries of the Arab Desert and Wadi Natrun” is in the Tentative List of UNESCO, with Date of Submission: 28/07/2003, Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v), Category: Cultural.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
Associative cultural landscape1
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Wadi El- Natroun is located 100 km to the north west of Cairo, it is a natural depression in the western desert that consists of salt lakes and salt flats laying in the desert. Wadi el Natroun was very important to the ancient Egyptian since it was where they extracted the Natrun salt. Indeed and become more important during the early era of Christianity in Egypt. Today it is the centre of many monasteries dating back to the fourth century AD. It has many natural and cultural components to be considered as a Cultural Landscape: -Natural components: There are about 20 lakes are found in the central part of the Depression. Some of the principal lakes are: Lake Fasida, Lake Umm Risha, Lake Al-Gaar, Lake El-Zugm. There are two main ecosystems in Wadi Natroun: (1) Salt Marsh Depressions and (2) the Gravel Desert. These comprise: (a) reed swamp vegetation and (b) salt marsh vegetation, which is in turn divided into dry salt marsh vegetation and wet salt marsh vegetation, and (c) halfa vegetation. As to animals, 173 vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) have been recorded. Birds alone are 117 species. There are two bird species here that are included in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, the Marbled Teal and the Great Snipe. Also five mammals are listed on the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, one of which being the endemic Flower’s shrew, Crocidura floweri. Efforts should be directed to protect the habitats of reptiles, particularly the Grass Loving Lizard, Philochorus intermedius, endemic and recorded only from Wadi Natroun. Wadi Natroun is notorious for being the endemic spot in which the liver fluke, Fasciola, which attacks sheep and occasionally humans, exists. The Wadi Natroun is a focus of endemism of this fluke, from where it spreads to the Delta when flocks of sheep are brought sometimes here for grazing. -Cultural components: Since the time of St. Antonios of Egypt, and for the last 17 centuries, the Wadi Natroun was a haven for monasticism. It was called in ancient Coptic texts the Wilderness of Shit (the soul). Several Monasteries were built and rebuilt over that time, but now only four exist. The monks spent their time in basket weaving, using the reeds, and salt extraction. Now they reclaim land surrounding the Monasteries and use high technology for farming, and for publication of theology books and manuscripts. The Monasteries are rich in works of religious art and in ancient manuscripts. They are called: The Monastery of Deir abu makar ( st. Makarous), The Monastery of Deir Anba bishoy ( St bishoi), The Monastery of Deir el Surian, The Monastery of Deir EL Baramous.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Wadi El-Natroun.
- Current denomination Wadi El-Natroun.
- Original denomination Wadi El-Natroun.
- Popular denomination Wadi El-Natroun.
- Address: Wadi Natrun (Wadi al-Natrun, Wadi el-Natrun, Wadi el-Natroun) is a northwesterly oriented desert depression about 60 kilometers long located in the Western Desert near the delta about 90 kilometers northwest of Cairo.
- Geographical coordinates: 30°17' N / 30°02' E - 23°10' N / 31°25' E
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Wadi El-Natroun Depression is a narrow depression located in El-Beheira Governorate, in the Western Desert, west of the Nile Delta, approximately 110 km northwest of Cairo and 90 km south of Alexandria, in a NW-SE direction. It is an oasis rather than a “wadi”. The name wadi was gained for its longitudinal shape. It is about 23 m below sea level.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: New Valley Governorate, Matrouh Governorate and Beheira Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: New Valley Governorate, Matrouh Governorate and Beheira Governorate.
The alkali lakes of the Natron Valley provided the Ancient Egyptians with the sodium bicarbonate used in mummification. The region was and remains one of the most sacred regions in Christianity. Between the 4th and 7th century A.D., the region saw hundreds of thousands of people from the world over join the hundreds of monasteries of the Nitrian Desert, centered on Nitria, Kellia and Scetis (Wadi El Natrun). The desolate region became a sanctuary for the desert fathers and for cenobitic monastic communities. The solitude of the Nitrian Desert attracted these people because they saw in the privations of the desert a means of learning stoic self-discipline (asceticism). Thus, these individuals believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God’s call in a more deliberate and individual way. Saint Macarius of Egypt first came to Scetis (Wadi El Natrun) around 330 AD where he established a solitary monastic site. His reputation attracted a loose band of anchorites, hermits and monks who settled nearby in individual cells. Many of them came from nearby Nitria and Kellia where they had previous experience in solitary desert living, thus it was not so much a place of innovation but a consolidation of some like-minded monks. By the end of the fourth century, four distinct communities had developed: Baramus, Macarius, Bishoi and John Kolobos. At first these communities were groupings of cells centered around a communal church and facilities, but over time developed into enclosed walls and watchtowers. As in Nitria and Kellia, Scellis was subject to raids from desert nomads, and they experienced internal fractures related to doctrinal disputes in Egypt. The monasteries flourished during the Muslim conquest of Egypt (639-42), but in the eighth and ninth centuries it came into conflict with Muslim rulers over taxation and administration concerns. While Nitria and Kellia were eventually abandoned in the 7th and 9th centuries respectively, Scetis continued throughout the Medieval period. Some of the individual monasteries were eventually abandoned or destroyed, but four have remained in use to the present day.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Plain
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: No details.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: Tectonic forces played an important role in the formation of the Wadi El-Natroun Depression. Several fissures and faults resulted from these forces as easy passages for underground water which carries soluble components of the rocks underneath, leaving residual deposits on the surface, mainly of sodium carbonate (natron, hence the name Natroun). This natron was at the basis of the soap industry in Europe till the middle of the 19th century, when the method used by the Frenchman LeBlanc, who discovered how to produce it synthetically, became widespread. The morphology and geochemistry of saline lakes in the Wadi El Natrun depression were studied. All lakes had pH values of 8.5–9.5 and a salinity from 283 to 540 g/L. The main ionic components were sulphate, chloride, carbonate and sodium. Traces of magnesium were also present. The water of the lakes is of the Cl− to SO 4 2− −Cl− type. Increased Cl− in Wadi El Natrun brines can increase metal solubility due to the formation of soluble chloro-complexes of trace elements. The metal concentrations decrease in the order: Pb>Cu>Cd>Ni>Zn >Fe>Mn. The characteristics of Wadi El Natrun saline lakes are compared with those from other saline lakes.
There are two main ecosystems in Wadi Natroun: (1) Salt Marsh Depressions and (2) the Gravel Desert. These comprise: (a) reed swamp vegetation and (b) salt marsh vegetation, which is in turn divided into dry salt marsh vegetation and wet salt marsh vegetation, and (c) halfa vegetation. This differentiation is due to soil salinity and level of ground water. Depending on the relief, the following habitat conditions are recognized: · Localities with the lowest relief have a continuous underground water supply, and predominating swamp conditions. These localities represent the typical reed habitat. · Where the water table is shallow, the soil is darkish brown and very rich in organic matter. High evaporation and lack of rainfall lead to increased salinity. Under such conditions the wet salt marsh habitat is formed. Where the sandy soil is relatively dry but still saline and organic matter content is low, the habitat of dry salt marsh is formed. · Halfa (Imperata cylindrica)grassland, the types of vegetation in this habitat are sand terraces or sand dunes. · The gravel desert habitat, surrounding the Wadi Natroun Depression, is a part of the gravelly Western Desert landscape dissected by drainage runnels varying in size. Plants in this sand-gravel desert depend mainly on the amount of the scanty rainfall. A noticeable feature of this habitat is the mosaic pattern of the vegetation, suggesting that the plants are affected by several interacting factors, other than rainfall alone. Only 46 plant species were recorded in the Depression. Of these, 42 are perennials and only 4 annuals. They represent about 2.3% of the total flora of Egypt. The most striking observation is that the highest richness is reached in the dry salt marshes and the gravel desert, both habitats being characterized by strong heterogeneity of microsites. The gravel desert habitat, surrounding the Wadi Natroun Depression, is a part of the gravelly Western Desert landscape dissected by drainage runnels varying in size. Plants in this sand-gravel desert depend mainly on the amount of the scanty rainfall. A noticeable feature of this habitat is the mosaic pattern of the vegetation, suggesting that the plants are affected by several interacting factors, other than rainfall alone. Only 46 plant species were recorded in the Depression. Of these, 42 are perennials and only 4 annuals. They represent about 2.3% of the total flora of Egypt. The most striking observation is that the highest richness is reached in the dry salt marshes and the gravel desert, both habitats being characterized by strong heterogeneity of microsites..
As to animals, 173 vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) have been recorded. Birds alone are 117 species. Most of them are passerine or winter visiting water birds, since the Depression is a link in the chain of water spots along their migration routes. Cyperus laevigatus dominates the wet salt marshes on the eastern shores of the lakes, creating one of the most characteristic and attractive habitats for water birds. It is important for Common Cranes. The most common birds are Shelduck, Great Snipe, Curlew, Little Stint, and Kittlitz’s Plover, which may reach 1200 individuals in winter time. Such significant bird populations in Wadi Natroun are of considerable economic importance as they represent an attraction for eco-tourism. Birds play also an important role in food chains in this area. The bird fauna in Wadi Natroun is under stress due to hunting parties sport and trapping for trade, although most of these birds are under legal protection. The Marbled Teal, was a breeding bird in Wadi Natroun untill 1912. There are two bird species here that are included in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, the Marbled Teal and the Great Snipe. The Graceful Warbler, Wadi Natroun form, is endemic here. Wadi El-Natroun has been designated one of Egypt’s 34 Important Bird Areas Mammal species are 31, reptiles 24, and only one amphibian. Hunting parties are common in the inland desert, for hares and foxes. Five of these mammals are listed on the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, one of which being the endemic Flower’s shrew, Crocidura floweri. Efforts should be directed to protect the habitats of reptiles, particularly the Grass Loving Lizard, Philochorus intermedius, endemic and recorded only from Wadi Natroun. Wadi Natroun is notorious for being the endemic spot in which the liver fluke, Fasciola, which attacks sheep and occasionally humans, exists. The Wadi Natroun is a focus of endemism of this fluke, from where it spreads to the Delta when flocks of sheep are brought sometimes here for grazing.
Land uses and economical activities:No details.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The papyrus of the Ancient Egyptians, Cyperus papyrus, was rediscovered in 1968 there, and the Wadi Natroun is still the only place in Egypt where papyrus exists in a natural state. Individuals of this small population were tried to revive the papyrus paper industry in Egypt about 40 years ago, but they proved inadequate, and other taller individuals were brought from Lake Chad and southern Sudan and replanted on the Nile banks in Cairo. These new plantations are the basis of the now flourishing papyrus paper trade in Egypt.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
The Monasteries of the Arab Desert: Arid and mountainous, the Arab Desert stretches its great lonely spaces from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea. The monasteries of St. Anthony and of St. Paul are about 10 km south of Zafarana, a place on the western shore of the Red Sea (about 230 km south-east of Cairo). The first monastery is on the flank of Gabal al-Alaa al-Qibliya, there where the cave of St. Anthony is located and where he lived until his death in 356 AD. The second monastery is slightly further to the west on the same mountain where St. Paul lived for 60 years according to the legend (at the beginning of the IVth century AD). B/ The Monasteries of Wadi Natrun The Wadi Natrun is a 25 km long depression in the western desert half-way between Cairo and Alexandria where there are about a dozen saline lakes, two of which, the Bouhaïret el-Gounfadiya and the Bouhaïret el-Hamra, provide natron, the sodium carbonate used by the Pharaohs for mummification. Only four out of the fifty Coptic monasteries which existed in the past have survived to the present day. One is the St. Macarius monastery (Deir Abu Makaria) 94 km south-last of Cairo and the three others, the monastery of the Romans (Deir el Baramos), the monastery of the Syrians (Deir es-Souriyan) and the St. Pshoï monastery (Deir Amba Bichoi) are 10 km away from the first monastery. A/ The Monasteries of the Arab Desert 1-The St. Anthony monastery (Deir Mar Antonios) This is the oldest monastery in Egypt. St. Anthony, with St. Pacomius (287-347 AD) were one of the first leaders of the Church, and founders of Christian monasticism. Towards the end of the IIIrd century Anthony (251-356 AD) abandoned his property and retired into the Arab Desert to live there as a hermit. He chose the Gebel el Qalaa el-Qibliya to come closer to God and lived in a cave where his disciples founded a monastery. The first reference to a monastic organisation only appears at the beginning of the VIIth century. Then, very quickly, a village with its church, its chapels, its bread oven, its mills, cells and its gardens grew up around the cave. This layout has survived up to the present day sheltered within an over 10 m high perimeter. It has been restructured several times but there are still authentic vestiges left illustrating the successive artistic and cultural inputs of the past centuries. Description A big square tower with a storey has several chapels, one of which is dedicated to St. Michael and another one to St. Anthony. The church, built on top on the Saint’s tomb, has a square narthex and a square chancel. It has frescoes from the XIIIth century representing Saints on horseback, archangels and in the small adjoining chapels, the first patriarchs of Alexandria. Access was with the help of a pulley as in a fortress. Two wheat flour mills recall the importance of agricultural work in monastic communities. 2-The Monastery of St. Paul (Deir Mar Boulos) Born in Thebaid around 225 AD, Paul became a hermit to escape from the persecutions of Christians under the emperor Decius which started in 249 AD. He crossed the desert and settled in a cave on the flank of Gabal el Qalaa el Qibliya, an inhospitable mountain scorched by the sun. He left numerous disciples behind at his death who, to perpetuate his memory, set up a community on the site of his tomb which became the nucleus of the present monastery. Description Smaller than that of St. Anthony, the St. Paul monastery had undergone less changes and today seems to be hemmed in with all its buildings within a medieval precinct. A square tower, a refuge for the monks in case of an attack, has chapels as at St. Anthony’s, and also cells, storerooms and water supplied through an underground canal from the monastery’s well. St. Paul’s church is decorated with numerous paintings from the XVIIIth century, including those of saints on horseback, namely St. George, St. Theodore and Michael the Archangel striking at the demons. On the church roof is a chapel. The church of St. Mercurius is located slightly above the St. Paul’s church. B/ The Monasteries of Natrun 3-The Saint Macarius Monastery (Deir Abu Maga) Looking like an imposing fortress which had been constantly redeveloped throughout the centuries, this monastery was founded in the IVth century. Macarius, after visiting the monastery of St. Anthony in the Arab Desert when he lived for a few years in the company of the Holy Hermit, decided to withdraw to Wadi Natrun to live a life of contemplation in his turn. He died in 390 AD leaving behind disciples who continued living as hermits, in almost total isolation. Very quickly many isolated hermits settled in the region, then fifty monasteries were established. Four of these monasteries survived hitherto. The most important and the biggest in Wadi Natrun and probably in the whole of Egypt is that of Deir Abu Maqar (St. Macarius). Built in the IVth century sacked in the Vth century, it developed remarkably in the VIth century, due to the fact in particular that it was used as a refuge by the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria who had been banished by the Melkite Church and by the Byzantines. In 866 the church was rebuilt and the ramparts consolidated and thanks to such works the monastery was able to survive to the present day. An imposing tower with three floors which was used as a refuge by the monks in case of an attack, has four chapels, cells, store rooms, a mill and a well. The relics of St. Macarius, St. John the Baptist and the prophet Elisha are fervently venerated there and behind its austere appearance the monastery has retained traces of some of the greatest monuments of the Coptic church. Description· The Church of St. Macarius is the most important and the oldest in the monastery. In its main sanctuary is a mural painting of the tetramorph (the symbolic representation of the four evangelists) from the VIIth century. The cupola of the chapel of the diacomicon rejoins the square plan through the Persian arch pendentives from the Xth or the XIth century. This old architectural part was retained when it was restored about fifty years ago.· The Church of the Forty Nine Martyrs recalls the massacre of the monastery’s monks by desert plunderers in 444. Since the Council of Chalcedon, the chapel of “myron” has been used for the preparation of the holy oil (myron) to be used by the whole Coptic Church. Above the main altar, the cupola rejoins the square plan thanks to pendentives reclining on trefoil arches (Arabo-Moslem tradition)· The church of St. Apaskhiron has been greatly restored but has still retained a curious cupola with pendentives such as can be seen in buildings of the VIIth century. 4-The Monastery of St. Pschoi (Deir Anba Bishoy) Founded by St. Pschoï, a disciple of St. Macarius, it has five churches within a walled enclosure. The main church is that of St. Pschoï which probably dates back to the IXth century and which is used only in the summer whilst the church of the Virgin to the south-east, close to the Iskhurum church, is used in the winter and a drawbridge makes it possible to reach the storeys of the tower where the church of the archangel Michael is to be found and which contains icons from the XVIIIth century. 5-The Monastery of the Syrians (Deir al-Suryan) Founded in the VIth century, it was occupied by Syrian monks until the XVIth century. The church of the Virgin, built in about 980, which is the main church of the monastery, has a mural painting representing the Ascension, from the Xth century. From the same century is the ivory screen of the iconostasis representing religious scenes, portraits and geometric designs. Other impressive frescoes decorate the semi-cupolas of the chancel. The Church of the Holy Virgin Mary contains relics. It is close to the churches of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, of St. Hennis and St. Marutha (XVth century). Hundereds of old manuscripts are kept in the library of the monastery. 6-The Monastery of the Romans (Deir al-Baramus) The Theodore (Anba Tardus) church is no longer in use. It is next to the chapel of St. George and the St. John the Baptist church was added in the XIXth century. The three-storey tower has some vestiges from the VIIth century whilst the St. Michael church has admirable frescoes from the XIIth century.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case. See point 5.1.5.
B) Related to ancient remains
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Some of the most renowned saints of the region include the various Desert Fathers, as well as Saint Amun, Saint Arsenius, Saint John the Dwarf, Saint Macarius of Egypt, Saint Macarius of Alexandria, Saint Moses the Black, Saint Pishoy, Sts. Maximo and Domatios, Saint Poimen The Great and Saint Samuel the Confessor.
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:There are direct and indirect causes for species impoverishment in the Depression, related mainly to the ways in which Man has used natural resources through time. Continued uncontrolled wood-cutting, overgrazing, establishment of fish farms, rainfed farming for annual crops, and land reclamation for irrigated agriculture, have dominated the Depression for many centuries, but have become very intense in the last decades. The net result has been the reduction of vegetation cover and the impoverishment of the flora. There are two bird species here that are included in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, the Marbled Teal and the Great Snipe. Also five mammals are listed on the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, one of which being the endemic Flower’s shrew, Crocidura floweri. Efforts should be directed to protect the habitats of reptiles, particularly the Grass Loving Lizard, Philochorus intermedius, endemic and recorded only from Wadi Natroun.
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:
-Wadi EL Natroun Depression. -The monasteries already mentioned in this file.
Universality:Wadi El- Natroun is located 100 km to the north west of Cairo, it is a natural depression in the western desert that consists of salt lakes and salt flats laying in the desert. Wadi el Natroun was very important to the ancient Egyptian since it was where they extracted the Natrun salt Though there appears to be few ancient sites in the Wadi Natrun from the Pharaonic period of Egyptian history, it was nevertheless an important area if for no other reason than its abundance of Natrun, a naturally occurring combination of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, which was used in mummification, and soda (sodium oxide), used for glass manufacturing. Natrun was also important in ancient Egyptian medicine, rituals and crafts. The natrun occurs in solution in the lakes, forms a crust around the edges of the lakes and in deposits on their bottom. The area continues to be a source of Natrun today. Indeed and become more important during the early era of Christianity in Egypt. Today it is the centre of many monasteries dating back to the fourth century AD. Wadi Natroun is also an area known for bird watching. It contains a series of nine small lakes (total area over 200km), scattered along its general axis. Typha swamps occur at localities along the shores of the lakes where there is a plentiful freshwater supply. Juncus and Cyperus dominate the wet salt marshes on the waterlogged eastern shores. The latter species carpets most of the marsh areas in a dense cover that does not exceed a few centimeters height because of severe grazing pressure. This, however, creates one of the most characteristic and attractive habitats for water birds.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Wadi El Natroun Cultural Landscape is included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
http://www.unesco.es http://en.egypt.travel/attraction/index/wadi-natrun http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/wadinatrun.htm http://www.cranfield.ac.uk/cds/cfi/wadinatrun.html http://www.biochem.mpg.de/en/eg/oesterhelt/web_page_list/Org_Napha/index.html -Amany G. Taher. Inland saline lakes of Wadi El Natrun depression, Egypt. -International Journal of Salt Lake Research. Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 149-169, 1999. -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.