History Of Dakhla Oasis
Zeszes was the name by which the area now called as El Dakhla used to be known. The word Zeszes can be translated in English as “Place of the Two Swords” due to its being split into two separate regions. Also, another name that was given to the area was el-Wah which can be interpreted as the ‘Inner Oasis’.
El Dakhla covers an area measuring 2000 sq. km. It’s bordered by El-Kharga to the North and the Great Sand Sea to the west. A 150 km trip along the Darb el-Ghubari desert track takes you through impressive sand dunes to the eastern corner of the Dakhla Oasis. Travelling over 230km via Farafra on the North also brings you to the Dakhla Oasis.
Archaeological findings have revealed fossils that show that there were people living in Dakhla for as long as 150,000 years ago.
Due to the increasing desertification, the populations drifted inwards closer to places where water could be found. Not much is known about these people, but there were some relics like tools, skeletons, flint and other items as well as circles which were the location of huts; some of the earliest in Africa. These were obvious signs that people lived here right from the Neolithic area (around 5000BC)
From the collection of evidence, it is obvious that the people who lived in this desert were pastoral in their pattern of living. For example, a huge lake (locally called ‘Playa’) occupied the area presently known as Kharga and Dakhla and the inscriptions on the rocks also show that animals like Zebras, giraffes, elephants and others were also present there.
With the drying up of the area, there was a population drift towards the Nile valley which was more conducive to human life and agriculture.
There has been continued archaeological work by various teams of professionals trying to dig more into the history of Dakhla and establish more about what the area was like in the past. A special team of archaeologists led by Prof. Tony Mills from the University of Toronto, consisting of Archaeologists from all over the world have focused solely on Dakhla, with the aim of finding out as much as possible about the area and establishing a clearer picture of life within the desert in prehistoric times.
In more recent history, Dakhla appears to have been a significant place during the Old and Middle kingdoms as there was a large settlement located there with the presence of administrative buildings, a place and a cemetery in close proximity at Qila el-Daba.
Another cemetery dating back to the First Intermediate Period was uncovered at Amheida, an area that was later the site where a big city was built by the Romans.
The capital was moved towards the western axis to Mut during the new kingdom and it is still Dakhla’s main city till date.
While there isn’t much remaining from Mut’s glory days, you will still find intricate labyrinths and flamboyantly designed wooden doors which bring the past alive. There is also, still standing, Mut el-Kharab (translated as ‘Mut the Ruined’), a temple built during the reign of the Pharaohs in the South western axis of the city’s current location.
Taking a stroll up north from the city, you’ll find Qasr Dakhla, an Islamic village established in medieval times and renowned for being one of the oldest villages to be consistently lived in in all of the Oasis. There are also things to be seen in the more ancient sections of the village where reconstruction work is being done to reflect the original appearance of the village.
Carvings on walls within tombs in the Nile valley show that the oases contained orchards, farms, vineyards, and wells during the reigns of the Pharaohs. Due to its fertility and high level of productivity, Dakhla’s inhabitants were taxed in items like grains, wine, minerals, and fruit.
While relics of the Ptolemaic occupation still remain in Dakhla, proof of being inhabited in the Greek era is virtually non-existent and there’s not much to go by. On the other hand, there is abundant proof of Roman occupation. A good example is the Temple of Amun, located in Deir el-Hagar which has currently been renovated. There are also two temples which doubled at fortresses in Kharga.
Recent excavation efforts are unearthing various Roman sites which were occupied by Dakhla’s Christans towards the end of the Bynzantine period, having been kept obscured for hundreds of years.
All of these findings are providing essential insight and revealing a lot about the intervening period after the Romans occupied and before the Christians took over Dakhla. Ismant el-Kharab and Kellis, both ancient towns were important organizational headquarters during the Christian occupation and this fact is highlighted by the presence of many early churches in the region.
Dakhla also appeared to have been invaded by the arabs even before the oases were reached. Qasr Dakhla still contains homes built as far back as the 12th century during the Ayyubid Period. The fortified villages that were common during the medieval period sprang up during this time in order to provide safety against southern and western invasions. The turks would eventually take over and make Qalamun the capital.
Updated On March 25, 2020