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Bahariya Oasis

El-Wahat el-Bahariya or el-Bahariya (: al-Wāḥāt al-Baḥrīya, “the Seaside Oases”; Coptic: ϯⲟⲩⲁϩ ` Diwah Ēmbemdje, “Oasis of Bemdje”) is a depression and oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. It is approximately 370 km away from Cairo. The roughly oval valley extends from northeast to southwest, has a length of 94 km, a maximum width of 42 km and covers an area of about 2000 km².

The valley is surrounded by mountains and has numerous springs. Located in Giza Governorate, the main economic sectors are agriculture, iron ore mining, and tourism. The main agricultural products are guavas, mangos, dates, and olives.

  • Settlement

Bahariya consists of many villages, of which El Bawiti is the largest and the administrative center. Qasr is el-Bawiti’s neighboring/twin village. To the east, about ten kilometers away are the villages of Mandishah and el-Zabu. A smaller village called el-‘Aguz lies between El Bawiti and Mandishah. Harrah, the eastern most village, is a few kilometers east of Mandishah and el-Zabu. El Hayz, also called El-Hayez, is the southern most village, but it may not always be considered as part of Bahariya because it is so far from the rest of the villages, about fifty kilometers south of El Bawiti. There is an oasis at El-Hayez[1] where mummies have been found on which genetic studies have been conducted.[2]

  • People and culture

The people of the oasis, or the Waḥātī people (meaning “of the oasis” in Arabic), are the descendants of the ancient people who inhabited the oasis, Bedouin tribes from Libya and the north coast, and other people from the Nile Valley who came to settle in the oasis.

The majority of Waḥātī people in Bahariya are Muslims. There are some mosques in Bahariya. The nature of social settings in the oasis is highly influenced by Islam.

Also, traditional music is very important to the Waḥātī people. Flutes, drums, and the simsimeyya (a harp-like instrument) are played at social gatherings, particularly at weddings. Traditional songs sung in rural style are passed down from generation to generation, and new songs are invented as well. Music from Cairo, the greater Middle East, and other parts of the world are now easily accessible to the people of the oasis.

  • Names

in Ancient Egypt the depression was known under two names. The form Djesdjes is first mentioned on a scarab dating back to the Middle Kingdom. In the New Kingdom, however, this name is rarely found, but does appear for example in the Temple of Luxor or in the account of King Kamose, who occupied the oasis during the war against the Hyksos. From the 25th Dynasty it was almost the only name used. The other name Wḥ3.t mḥty.t (“the Seaside Oasis”) was almost exclusively used in the New Kingdom, it appears for instance on the local grave of Amenhotep, and is found again in the list of oasis in the Temple at Edfu.

From 45 CE the depression is known in Latin as Oasis parva (Small Oasis). The Greek historian Strabo (63 BCE – 23 CE) calls it the ‘Second Oasis’; the historian Olympiodorus of Thebes (5th century CE: Byzantine Era) calls it ‘the Third Oasis. In Coptic times it was known as the Oasis of Bemdje (the ancient Oxyrhynchos, nowadays known as al-Bahnasa) and in Islamic times it was called the Oasis of Bahnasa.

The modern name is, al-Wāḥāt al-Baḥriyya meaning “the Seaside Oasis”. The southern part of the depression around El Heiz apparently never had a separate name.

  • History

The depression was populated since the neolithic, even if there is no archaeological evidence to all times. In el-Haiz, a prehistoric settlement site of hunter-gatherers was found with remains of grindstones, arrowheads, scrapers, chisels, and ostrich eggshells. In Qārat el-Abyaḍ, a Czech team led by Miroslav Bárta discovered a settlement of the Old Kingdom.[4] Rock inscriptions in el-Harrah and other records date to the Middle Kingdom and upwards.[5][6] The tomb of Amenhotep called Huy was erected in Qarat Hilwah at the end of the 18th dynasty.[7] In the 26th dynasty, the depression was culturally and economically flourishing. This can be learned from the chapels in ‘Ain el-Muftilla, the tombs in Qārat Qasr Salim and Qarat esh-Sheikh Subi,[8] and the site of Qasr ‘Allam.[9]

A newly flourishing time occurs at the Greek-Roman time. There is the ruin of a temple to Alexander the Great located in Qasr el-Miqisba (‘Ain et-Tibniya).[10] It is believed by some Egyptologists that the Greek conqueror passed through Bahariya while returning from the oracle of Ammon at Siwa Oasis. Excavations of the Greco-Roman necropolis found in 1995[11] and known as the Valley of the Golden Mummies began in 1999. Approximately thirty-four tombs have been excavated from this area.[12] In Roman times, a big military fort was erected at Qarat el-Toub.[13]

In the spring of 2010, a Roman-era mummy was unearthed in a Bahariya Oasis cemetery in el-Harrah. The 3-foot-tall female mummy was found covered with plaster decorated to resemble Roman dress and jewelry. In addition to the female mummy, archaeologists found clay and glass vessels, coins, anthropoid masks and 14 Greco-Roman tombs. Director of Cairo and Giza Antiquities Mahmoud Affifi, the archaeologist who led the dig, said the tomb has a unique design with stairways and corridors, and could date to 300 BC. This find came as a result of excavation work for the construction of a youth center.

Carcharodontosaurus and Bahariasaurus (meaning “Bahariya lizard”) dinosaurs have been found in the Bahariya Formation, which date to about 95 million years ago. It was a huge theropod, it was described by Ernst Stromer in 1934 though the type specimen was destroyed during World War II in 1944. In 2000, an American scientific team conducted by Joshua Smith found the remains of this type of dinosaur, the Paralititan stromeri.

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