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Visit Qasr Al Labakha

The fortress and settlement of Qasr el-Labekha lies in an isolated part of the desert around 12 km west of the main Asyut to El-Kharga road and approximately 50 km north of the city itself. The site contains two temples, an imposing fort and a group of decorated tombs.

The fortress of el-Labekha was constructed in a wadi at the base of the northern escarpment and served as a garrison, strategically placed to guard the intersection of two important ancient caravan routes from the north and the west.

Similar in style but smaller than its neighbouring fortress at el-Deir, Qasr el-Labekha must have been an imposing sight, with mudbrick walls 12m high and four massive round towers on its corners.

The entrance on the eastern side gives access to the interior, which today is a chaos of crumbled walls and sand-filled remains of vaulted chambers.

Several buildings once surrounded the fortress and to the south is the silted remains of a large well, an ancient spring, still surrounded by palm, acacia and tamarisk trees, which would have provided water for the fort and settlement.

The size of the well probably suggests that a large community lived here, which was served by a series of aqueducts, or qanats, built to take the water out to the cultivated fields.

The fortress itself has never been excavated, but the area below the western and southern walls has recently been the subject of a study by the Supreme Council of Antiquities together with the French Alpha Necropolis team, who have uncovered several small statues as well as large quantities of Roman pottery.

Qasr el-Labekha is also part of the current North Kharga Oasis Survey conducted by a French team of archaeologists.

An impressive brick-built temple, situated to the north of the fortress, was constructed on a natural outcrop which dominates the wadi. The temple, 12m square, contains three rooms and possibly dates from the 3rd century AD.

The eastern wall is now collapsing, but there are entrances on the other three walls leading into the interior. On one of the plastered lintels, there are remains of a depiction of a vulture goddess (Mut?) and some graffiti is inscribed on the sides of the arch.

A second more ruined temple, to the north-west of the fort, was only rediscovered during 1991-92 by Adel Hussein of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. This temple was completed during the reign of Antoninus Pius and still contains some of its original painting.

The architecture of this temple is unusual and consists of a speos-like structure, partially built into the rock with extensive remains of a brick-built section to the front. There is recent evidence that the temple may have been dedicated to Hercules (who also had a temple in his name at Bahariya) and later to a deified man named Piyris during the 3rd century AD.

The structure appears to have been re-used as a Christian shrine. A limestone statue of a hawk, unearthed in the temple by the French Mission, is now in Kharga Museum.

A number of cemeteries have been located in the Qasr el-Labekha environs. The most impressive necropolis is in the area to the north of the fortress, dug into the western cliffs where some of the most elaborate tombs in the oasis have been found.

Many of the tombs were simple one-room chambers cut into the rock, but there are also several multi-chambered and decorated tombs and many still contained mummified burials when investigated by Alpha Necropolis and the Supreme Council of Antiquities during 1994 to 1997.

Although virtually all of the burials had been disturbed by thieves (some very recently) the team evaluated some 500 mummies and found that the majority had enjoyed a good state of health and good quality embalming.

Some of the bodies of higher-status individuals were covered with gilded face masks similar in style to the Faiyum portraits and many, especially the burials of women and children, contained jewels of bronze, glass and semi-precious stones. Mummy boards were decorated with traditional paintings of Osiris.

In many cases, the richer tombs were plastered and painted with religious symbols and burial equipment included large quantities of glass vessels. The less imposing tombs are located to the south and the west of the settlement.

El-Dier

Ed-Deir was a fortress that protected the shortest caravan route between Kharga and the Nile. It stands on the eastern extreme of the Kharga Oasis, at the foot of Umm el-Ghanayin Mountain.

It is made up of a fortress with 12 rounded towers, connected by a gallery. Only some of the rooms have survived, and are clearly marked by the long career of the fortress. Graffiti starting centuries ago, also include decorations of early 20th century aeroplanes.