• EraChristian and Islamic Periods
  • Project DirectorDr. Mohamed Kenawi
  • LocationMiddle Egypt and Western Desert
  • AffiliationUniversity of Leicester
  • Project SponsorAntiquities Endowment Fund
  • Project DatesAugust - December 2021

Written by: Dr. Mohamed Kenawi

The ongoing documentary efforts carried out by the Regions in Flux project focus on two different regions in Egypt (Middle Egypt and the Western Desert Oases). The project’s objective is to provide information on lesser-known heritage sites to both the academic and non-academic public. The data on the visited heritage places has been gathered through different means: from visits to researching archival files and observing satellite imagery. The data was compiled to produce brief descriptions on each site. Based on the sample of visited sites, the project will offer a series of cultural routes that can be helpful to researchers, travellers, and students when planning their future trips.

The proposed routes intend to connect and promote main heritage places and advise about some of the unique cultural locations of each of Egypt’s regions. The intention is to make obscure heritage sites more widely known. We reckon that the chances of lesser-known heritage places being visited and appreciated will increase if they are pinpointed on the map and promoted. We hope that Egyptian and foreign enthusiasts, students, tourists, and travellers will use the collected data to learn about lesser famous heritage sites from different regions in Egypt. Access to this data will give the opportunity to extend knowledge beyond traditionally well-known sites.

Qaret al-Saghir – Gara

An example of the sites is Gara, located approximately 110 km northeast of Siwa Oasis. The main feature of the oasis is a large fortified Medieval fort called Qasr al-Gamil. The Qasr is situated on a high rocky hill which is facing the old gardens of the oasis. The Qasr has a semi-circular shape and is still in a good condition. It was inhabited until 1983. Some middle-aged people easily recognise their houses in the Qasr and remember the circumstances in which they had to abandon them.

Qasr al-Gamil, Gara. Photo: Dr. Mohamed Kenawi

The fort walls are constituted by houses, all built with the same material (called Karshif) used to build Qasr Shali Ghadi in Siwa Oasis. The fort is organised around a marketplace and several houses that once had two to three floors. There is a deep water well at the centre of the fort; it was mainly used when the inhabitants were not able to leave the fort. This might be one of the reasons why the inhabitants went almost unnoticed during the last century. There are the ruins of a small mosque and a minaret. There are different streets connecting different districts of the village within the fort.

The basic nature of the fort and the presence of such structures in Gara and Siwa indicate the continuous occupation of the oasis during the last centuries; this contrasts with the other sister oases, which were abandoned and thus have no such structures. Some simple Roman tombs were excavated on a different location of the rocky hill. They were reused for other purposes in later periods.

A simple cemetery is present on the western side of the hill. There are no constructed tombs, nor tombstones with the names of the deceased. One single room has been identified as a Shikh tomb of Sidi Yaga. Its square room is very plain; there is a representation of Muslim sarcophaguses covered with a green flag in the middle of the room.

Sidi Yaga, internal, Gara. Photo: Dr. Mohamed Kenawi

The modern, basic houses constructed by the government after 1983 are located on a flat plain north of the Qasr. The inhabitants of Gara practice no other activities in the Oasis apart from cultivating their own needs of food, in limited cultivable fields, and tending to their livelihood and basic needs.

Gara’s marginal location in the Western Desert did not preclude it from witnessing and being part of some of the country’s pivotal historical events. The Regions in Flux team is preparing a detailed study on the site and the reasons being its strategic position.

Gara, Qasr al-Gamil, looking towards the oasis from a window of the fortified Qasr.

The fundamental work of the Project’s team, in addition to the genuine support of the American Research Center in Egypt, enabled the research and results to be completed and available for the public within short time. Special thanks are due to Mohamed Hafez and Andy Reyes.

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CategoryAntiquities Endowment FundTopicsArchaeologyThemeArchaeological SitesHistoric PeriodCoptic, IslamicLocationMiddle Egypt