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The Islamic Village of Al-Qasr

Popularly referred to as the only complete Islamic Village that exists, the Qasr Dakhla is situated to the north-west of Mut, resting on the Sioh Ridge and right at the heart of the cliff that demarcates the oasis’ northern boundary.  It has a glowing reputation of being the oldest and overly equipped ancient Islamic towns, and most travelers to the oasis always stopped by.  The settlement has been inhabitant continuously, while staying preserved, more than any other settlement of its kind in Dakhla. 

With the Ayubbids the most likely founders, the el-Qasr (meaning ‘the Fortress’) arose from the remains of an earlier Roman Period settlement towards the end of the 12th century.  In line with his name, the once-thought capital of the oasis had a defensive structure and position, thus preventing plundering armies from both the west and south.

The narrowed and covered streets of Al Qasr Village, just like the ancient town of Mut, are segmented into quarters, and each can be shut at night via fenced gates. Although there have been a few changes since the medieval times, the town still retains its unique three-story mudbrick minaret, rising above the mosque of Nasr el-Din of the Ayyubid Period by about 21m.  And apart from the minaret, no other part of the first mosque (from the 11th or 12th century) made it to the current times – the other parts of the building were demolished and rebuilt in the 19th century.

There is a mausoleum of Sheik Nasr el-Din in the mosque, alongside beautiful lintels made from wood, and on which Quran writings were inscribed.  These lintels are situated right over the entrances. There was a madrasa {school} where young boys learn the Quran, but it has been upgraded into a school and a place for public meetings.

Visitors are allowed in the madrassa as well as the renovated Abu Nafir’s house.  Maintaining the same structure as that of the medieval Islamic era, the tall house has a heavy wooden door, carved out from the remains of a Ptolemaic Period temple.  The door jambs are representatives of various symbols, mostly from re-used blocks.

Visitors can take shelter under the cool and dark meandering alleyways of the town, which offer magnificent views of the exquisitely carved lintels and beams that confers most houses’ entrances the modern decorations they enjoy.

There are several inscriptions in the ancient town, with the oldest on the Beit Ibrahim, and thought to have been from the 15th century.  There may have been an existing post-antiquity community in el-Qasr, with the fresh discovery of a corn-mill and furnaces from a pottery factory.  Almost 700 people live in el-Qasr, most of which are craftsmen.

The modern-day el-Qasr is one of the best makers of earthenware pots and palm-leaf baskets.  Interestingly, inhabitants who decided to move out of the old town may not be allowed in again. The Ministry of Antiquities claims the deserted houses of such villagers, and since it is forbidden to add any new buildings, they basically have nowhere to return to. 

Under the Dakhla Oasis Project, Qasr Dakhla has witnessed a trend of archaeological study and restoration for the past years.  Some of these investigations have offered proofs of a pre-existing Roman fortress under the current ancient town, while others have suggested that the Roman camp on which Qasr Dakhla currently sits is called Takastra.