bahariya oasis history
Bahariya oasis history With dinosaurs and golden mummies, the sun-baked, ancient Bahariya Oasis has, for better or worse, been catapulted into the modern world.
The villages are expanding. The crafts are undergoing a marked change that shows the infiltration of ideas and materials from other oases.
bahariya oasis history
Cellular phones are almost as common as pencils or pens, items which themselves were rare not so long ago.
Bedouin drivers wearing the obligatory headgear zoom down the main street in 4x4s, while women without noserings and ankle bracelets cover their heads with Nile Valley scarves and enjoy excursions in Bawiti in bahariya oasis history gside their husbands.
School children, boys and girls alike, scurry about the playgrounds of new hotels giggling and squealing as they glide down sliding boards or balance on seesaws. It’s a new day!
History Like all the oases,
Bahariya has had many names through the centuries: Northem Oasis,al-Waha al-Saghira (the Little Oasis), Zeszes, Oasis Parva, and the Oasis of al-Bahnasa.
Arab geographer Masudi, quoting an old Coptic source, called the area five days’ joumey west of Giza al-Uqab, the City of the Eagle.
The same source mentioned a similar city west of Akhmim, which we can assume is Kharga.
Bahariya has plenty of ancient sites to document its occupation in antiquity.
The first comprehensive study of its antiquities was carried out by Ahmed Fakhry, the twentieth-century Egyptologist who did extensive work in the Westem Desert over seventy years ago.
Fakhry published a number of books on these excavations and most of the factual material known today was first presented in his works.
The recent discovery of the nearby Valley of the Golden Mummies was a major media event, but information about it is hard to iind as no concessions have been granted and no field reports have been issued.
Although global hoopla surrounds the mummies, there is little to see except good guards (something sites like Ain Umm Dabadib in Kharga need desperately) because the site remains closed to the public.
There is evidence from the Acheulean through the middle Paleolithic and Neolithic that the Bahariya Depression, like all the major depressions, was inhabited during prehistory.
How do we know? The proof is scattered on the ground in most of the barren areas of the oasis.
Walk into any hotel lobby in the oasis and an old implement or two is on display.
Although the major evidence remains unexplored by scientists and hidden in the cliffs and hills of Bahariya, early peoples did live and hunt amid the mountains of this oasis.
Pharaonic Era Alter the Nile cruise was settled, Old Kingdom pharaohs ruling from present-day Giza placed governors deep in the desert at Dakhla Oasis.
bahariya oasis history
The pharaohs also sent expeditions to various parts of the desert in search of colored sand for tomb artwork.
The magical reds and golds of Bahariya stones had to be part of the palette of the ancient artists.
The pharaohs may not have had the oasis under their control, but its existence, so close to Memphis, had to be known.
We know that at some point in antiquity bahariya oasis history paid its taxes in alum (a source of some of the needed colors), which was exported by the ancient Egyptians.
Middle Kingdom (c. 2040-1782 bc) and New Kingdom (c. 1570-1070 Bc)
In the Middle Kingdom, Bahariya, then called Zeszes, was definitely under the control of the pharaohs. Caravans between Bahariya and the Nile cruise were common. Donkeys (the camel was not introduced to Egypt until the Roman period) laden with goods, especially bahariya oasis history wine, made their way regularly to the Nile Valley and its awaiting populace.
Just as today, agriculture was of major importance in Bahariya during the Middle Kingdom.
If there was agriculture, there must have been large estates, houses for the landowners and laborers, military garrisons to keep marauders at bay, and all the services required to keep such establishments functioning, including blacksmiths, basket-makers, grog shops, and even prostitutes.
In the Seventeenth Dynasty of the Second Intermediate Period (1640-1540 BC),Bahariya,
then called Djesdjes, ‘collaborated’ with the Hyksos rulers (some scholars now believe that the Hyksos were the Israelites and their expulsion was, in fact, the biblical Exodus).
Evidence exists in the form of pottery fragments that link the oasis to artisans along the Delta, which was under Hyksos control.
That fact sealed Bahariya’s fate when the last pharaoh of the Second Intermediate Period, Kamose (Wadjkheperre), came to power.
His reign was occupied with warfare against the Hyksos, whom he succeeded in expelling from Egypt. Kamose’s second stela indicates that he recruited Medjay tribesmen to ‘hack up’ Bahariya Oasis during this period.
Under Thutmoses III,
the great warrior pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom, Bahariya was under the control of Thinis (Abydos), to which it paid tribute and from which it received government services.
According to Fakhry, Thutmoses controlled all the oases and brought about many changes. It was a time of great improvements, with agriculture increasing, new wells being dug, and an increase in the population.
Tomb scenes in the Nile Valley depict tribute being paid to the governor by people from the Northem Oasis.
The most interesting scene relating to Bahariya is in the tomb of Rekhmire, Thut-
moses lII’s vizier. Here the people of the oasis, shock-headed and wearing striped kilts, are shown presenting gifts of mats, hides, and wine.
By the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties, the mineral wealth of Bahariya was receiving attention in the Nile cruise. At some point, Hathor became the Lady of Bahariya and her consort Khonsu its Lord.
Third Intermediate Period (c. 1069-525 Bc) and Late Period (525-404 Bc)Under the later
dynasties, Bahariya emerged as a major center in ancient Egypt and there are plenty of ruins to prove this.
It began when the Libyan kings swept eastward, capturing Farafra and then Bahariya.
Once secured, the oasis was used to conquer the rest of the desert as well as the Nile Valley.
These Saite kings forged a strong nome system, which merged the oases with the rest of Egypt.
Shoshenq I, the Libyan founder of the Twenty-second Dynasty (c. 950 BC), took a keen interest in Bahariya when he came to the throne. His successor, Shoshenq IV, continued to
develop the area and ordered that government officials live there.
By the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, Bahariya had grown into an important agricultural and trade center with its own governors, natives of the oasis, who reported to the Libyan rulers on the throne of Egypt.
By the Twenty-seventh Dynasty, the Persians were in control of Egypt.
Cambyses I had sent his army to Siwa. The aqueduct systems that are scattered throughout the oases were under construction.
Greco-Roman Period (332-30 BC and 30 Bc-AD 323)
With the discovery of the Valley of the Golden Mummies near the Temple of Alexander, a strong Greek presence in Bahariya has been confirmed.
It seems the Greeks repeated the efforts of the Saite kings, bringing bahariya oasis history under control and then using it as a base irom which to invade and control the remaining oases.
Ptolemaic soldiers were garrisoned here, having traveled over desert routes, many of which were surely in existence since prehistory.
Although prosperous, Roman times were not secure. Rule was harsh. The deserts were unsafe. Bedouin and marauders roamed and terrorized villages. Inhabitants built their
homes on high ground to watch for approaching caravans. Qasr is such a village (Bawiti is not as old).
We are sure that Roman soldiers moved between Bahariya and Oxyrhynchus in the Nile Valley. Typical of Roman rule in Egypt, overproduction turned once cultivated land into desert, diminishing land production and decimating the population.
Despite these problems, Roman rule resulted in a number of improvements.
The Romans kept the amazingly large Persian aqueduct system working, for without water, agriculture would fail.
Large estates, farms, and villages were established by Romans, especially at Bir al-Showish, Ain al-Khabatas, and Qasr Masouda, all in the al-Hayz area. In 213, the Roman military unit called the Apriana Alae was stationed at the ‘Small Oasis’ and placed in charge of collecting grain.
That there was heavy occupation in the northem part of the oasis to the east of Bawiti is certain, and the ruins of a major Roman city, today called Qaseir Muharib, await the excavator, as do many Roman tombs, some cut into the sides of mountains.
Christian Period (323-642) By the Christian era, Bahariya had a new name, the Oasis of al-Bahnasa. Enough Christians lived in Bahariya for it to have its own bishop.
According to Coptic tradition,
Bahariya is where the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew took place.
One of the original twelve apostles of Christ, Bartholomew was given the task of converting the inhabitants of the oases of the Libyan Desert.
According to Abu Salih, a prominent historian of medieval Christianity, Bartholomew was martyred at Bahariya on the Hrst day of the Coptic month
of Tut (September 7) at a place called Qarbil (unidentified today). His body is believed to be buried in Sohag. Around 620, the Maxyes (a Libyan tribe) devastated Bahariya and killed many of its Christian monks.
Christians remained in Bahariya until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, far
longer than in any other oasis.
In the oral tradition related by Ahmed Fakhry, people still remembered the last Christian family to convert to Islam.
Frank Bliss, who continued research on this theme, named four such families: the Dawawida family of Bawiti, the Abu Sadu family of Qasr, the Suqi family of Zabw, and the Badran family of Mandisha.
When British clergyman Dugald Campbell visited Bahariya in 1931, thumping his
Bibles, he found a Coptic monastery standing in Bawiti.
He called it Dar al-Abras,
the Lepers’ Refuge, and described it as having paintings, old writings, and engraved crosses on the walls.
He said the Christians called Bahariya Mari Girgis (St. George).
In rock tombs, Campbell fotmd “old baked-earth coffins of the kind made in Carthage during the Punic period.” Each had the figure of a Libyan man on the lid. He took several to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum.
Islamic Era (641-1798)
Islam spread to Bahariya as early as the seventh century, coming from Libya and the Nile Valley. The Muslim conqueror of Egypt, Amr ibn al-As, sent a small army under the com mand of Nqba Ibn Nafea to Bahariya to subdue the ‘Oasis of Qasr.’ An interesting theory is put forward by one of the Egyptologists in Bahariya.
He maintained that pagan cults, similar to those that worshiped Isis in the Nile Valley, were still strong in the oasis during Christian times and that early conversions to Islam occurred among the pagans as opposed to among the Christians.
The only known monuments from the Islamic period in Bahariya Oasis are sheikhs’ tombs. Everything in the Westem Desert was in decline: the population, the fertile ground,
and the wells, which were not being properly maintained.
which did not exist in the oasis in Roman times, began to encroach on the cultivated land.
Taxes levied against Bahariya were now in the form of dates and olive oil. Gone was the request for wine.
_fé The Fatimids crossed the northern portion of the Western Desert to conquer Egypt in 969, and since they had affiliations in what is now Libya,
it is assumed that they knew and often used the desert trails. Yet there are few records that can verify activity around bahariya oasis history.
Salah al-Din imposed a two-dinar tax on the oases in 1189, and although we do not know which oasis, the authorities collected 25,000 dinars.
That means, somewhere in the desert,
probably Bahariya or Kharga-Dakhla, 12,500 feddans were under cultivation.
Later, during the Mamluk era, the easiest access point to the oasis was south of Cairo along Darb al-Bahnasa, and the oasis (up to this century) was considered a part of the Minya Govemorate.
During the Ottoman period, a tax collector was stationed at bahariya oasis history.
There is one site in the oasis that could have shed light on events during these mysteri- ous centuries.
Al-Marun, north of Bir Mattar, has glass and pottery shards that appear to date from the Islamic era.
Unfortunately, it has been flooded to form a new lake.
Muhammad Ali claimed Bahariya, including al-Hayz and Farafra, in as early as 1813, earlier than any other oasis, and like the conquerors before him,
he used it as a steppingstone to the Westem Desert interior.
The oaseans were ordered to pay an annual tribute of 2,000 Spanish dollars (Maria Theresa coins; see Kharga crafts for details).
John G. Wilkin-son believed this tribute was raised to 20,000 and given to the conquering general, Hassan Bey Shamashurghi, for his efforts in bringing the oases under control.
Unlike Kharga,where few soldiers were needed to maintain the peace, Bahariya was not easily subjectedto Egyptian rule and was manned by four to five hundred armed men.
A hefty fine was levied for every native killed by another.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a migration of fellahin from the Nile cruise into Bahariya. Once Muhammad Ali consolidated his rule over the oases,
the explorers began to arrive. Giovanni Battista Belzoni was probably the lirst European to visit Bahariya.
He called the oasis Wah al-Bahnasa or Wah al-Mendeesheh.
He joumeyed there from the Fayoum, which he left on May 19, 1819, around the time Muhammad Ali was beginning his conquest of the other oases. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad Ali sent Frederic Cailliaud to Bahariya.
John Hyde visited the oasis in February 1820. In 1823-24, Jean Raimond Pacho and Fréderic Miiller came to Bahariya, followed by Wilkinson in 1824. The Rohlfs expedition,
supported by Khedive Ismail, arrived in 1874. By that point in the Khedival era, the oases were almost forgotten. Cailliaud described thirty functioning aqueducts in Bahariya in 1819,
but by the time the British took command of Egypt in the waning decades of the
nineteenth century, only three aqueducts were working. Once again, the Nile had tumedinward and the oases were lett to their own devices.
Toward the dawn of the twentieth century the British, desperately needing to know what lay on the
western borders of Egypt,
began a systematic exploration and mapping of the desert.
Captain H. G. Lyons arrived in Bahariya in 1894. He retumed to Cairo and urged the stablishment of the survey department. The first men to come to bahariya oasis history under that department were John Ball and Hugh Beadnell, who began the geological examination of Bahariya in 1897.
Ball, along with topographer G. Vuta, began at Minya, while Beadnell, with another topographer, L. Gorringe, began from Maghagha.
The map they produced was at a scale of l:50,000, and it is still the most sought-after map of the oasis.
The British had a pOW€l’fl1l rival in the Sanusi, whose presence in Bahariya was strong The Sanusi established two zawyas,
one in Qasr and a second in Mandisha, where the young men in the oasis learned reading, writing, and the Quran. Students would write their lessons on wooden tablets and,
once the work was finished, erase the writing with mud.
By 1916, when the Sanusi were fighting for their lives in the Western Desert, they sent an army to Bahariya that stayed in the oasis for ten months. The British, aided by Sudanese.
bahariya oasis history
soldiers, surrounded Bahariya in the hopes of containing the Sanusi and the final confrontation took place in the pass above Hara, where the majority of the Sanusi army was encamped.
Oral tradition in the oasis maintains that the British bombed a herd of cattle thinking it was the Sanusi army.
bahariya oasis history
During these years, Captain Claud Williams, one of the pioneers in modern desert travel, kept his lonely vigil atop the mountain that bears his name (see the Mountains section for details).
After the Sanusi were forced out of Bahariya and the rest of the Western Desert, the British established martial law and a new set of rules govemed the people of the oasis.
Although inhabitants who remember the era maintain that British rule was fair and just, clashes sometimes occurred.
In one incident wealthier landowners from bahariya oasis history had donated land to the Sanusi to be used to serve the poor and meet the needs of a mosque.
The British confiscated the land and held it for auction, a procedure resented by the local inhabitants.
At the auction, the wealthy landowners purchased their land once again and, as under the Sanusi, donated it to the mosque.
In modem times,
Bahariya belonged first to the Matruh Govemorate, then to the Giza Govemorate and in 2008 transferred back to the Minya Governorate once again.
The genealogical history of the oasis was recorded by several sheikhs who once dominated life in the villages. These records give accounts of births, deaths, and memorable events, including strange encounters with jimi and other supernatural creatures.
Three such books were kept in Bahariya: one in Bawiti, one in Mandisha, and one in the district of al-Hayz. There was a ritual comrected with recording events in these books.
When something of importance took place in a family, a male was sent to a sheikh to say, “Mah al-kitab” (Open the book).
The sheikh would bum incense as he listened to the story and recorded the event.
All Bahariya is now supplied with electricity.
Every village in the oasis has a school, including preparatory schools (for ages 6-12) at Mandisha, Qasr, Bawiti, and Zabw.
The other villages have primary schools (for ages l2f14), including four at al-Hayz. The villages of Bawiti (boys only) and Qasr (girls only) have a secondary school (for ages l5»l 7).
There are two commercial schools,
one at Bawiti and one at Mandisha, and two industrial schools, one at Bawiti and the second at Managim. There was once a teachers’ school but it is now closed.
also Islamic schools at Qasr, Bawiti, Mandisha, and Zabw.
There is one hospital in Bawiti.