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Farafra, known as Ta-iht or the Land of the Cow in pharaonic times, is a single village. The most isolated of the New Valley Oases it is renowned for its strong traditions and piety. According to folklore, the villagers once lost track of time and had to send a rider to Dakhla so they could hold the Friday prayers on the right day. The oldest part of the village, on a hillside, is next to peaceful walled palm groves; a short ride away there are hot sulphur springs at Bir Setta and swimming at El-Mufid Lake.

Mostly inhabited by Bedouins, the small mud-brick houses all have wooden doorways with medieval peg locks. As in other oases, many of Farafra's houses are painted blue (to ward off the Evil Eye) but here some are also decorated with landscapes, birds and animals, the handiwork of local artist, Badr. A combination house, museum and studio exhibiting his paintings and ceramics is situated in a garden full of sculptures made from objects found in the surrounding desert.

The only real village in the Farafra Oasis, Qasr Al Farafra is a quite and relaxing place, which represents most of what it has to offer tourists. There are few tourist accommodations in the area, but that may change in the near future. Most of the description of the Farafra Oasis applies to the town itself.

The White Desert ,20 km from Farafra on the Highway between Farafra and Bahariya, is one of the most exiting places. A surreal landscape of fungoid shapes that glint pale gold in the midday sun and turn pink and violet around dusk, resembling icebergs at dawn and snowdrifts by moonlight, the chalk outcrops loom over dusty ground littered with fossils, quartz crystals and iron pyrites shaped like sea-urchins or twigs. Herds of gazelles may be glimpsed at daybreak, when they forage for a couple of hours.

Of those with an interest in Egypt, and particularly the Western Oasis, the Farafra is probably one of the least known Oasis. It is actually one of the most difficult Oasis to reach and offered the pharaohs, caliphs and kings very little, though it seem to be on the way to everywhere.

There is actually very little known of the Farafra Oasis prior to the Roman period, and even of that period only a few remains have been found. While the oasis offers a stunning desert landscape, there is little in the way of antiquities to see. According to a statue of the 5th Dynasty, Farafra, as well as the Bahariya Oasis were probably a part of the Egyptian empire during the Old Kingdom. It was known as the Trinitheos, Ta-ihw, and the Land of the Cow (in reference to Hathor). It was often invaded whenever the Libyans decided to attack Egypt, being on their way to the Nile Valley. Though we have little idea what the reference refers to, the text known as the Eloquent Peasant refers to the "rods of Farafra" in relationship to produce, giving us at least a citation to the oasis during the First Intermediate Period.

During the New Kingdom there is somewhat more evidence that comes to us from the Farafra Oasis. A stela was discovered in the Oasis dating to the 18th Dynasty, but it provides little information. However, we find documentary records from the reign of Ramesses II in the Temple of Luxor that he received precious stones form Farafra that were used in some of his extensive building works along the Nile Valley. However, the references does not provide information on the type of stones, and no evidence of ancient mining activities have so far been unearthed in the oasis. What is known is that during the 19th Dynasty reign of Merenptah, Ramesses II's son and successor, the oasis was captured by Libyan invaders who used it as a base to attack the Nile Valley. As a side note, the Farafra Oasis is actually closer to Libya than to the Nile Valley.

During the Third Intermediate Period, though little supporting evidence is available, the Farafra may have been an important way station for both armies and trade caravans. We do know that there were several major caravan routes that operated through the Farafra during this period.

Though the quantity is small, the earliest antiquities currently found in the Farafra Oasis date from the Roman Period. During that time, it probably held some real importance for the Romans because it sat at the center of their African holdings, connecting the Nile Valley to the Libyan oasis such as Jalo and Kufra. So far, the Roman antiquity sites found in the Oasis are actually at Ain Della, now often called the "Hidden Valley", which is actually a separate depression just north of Farafra, with others found at Wadi Hinnis along the main caravan route to the Bahariya Oasis, and at Ain Besay just to the south of Qasr Farafra.

During the Roman Byzantine Period, the oasis mostly converted to Christianity and remained Christian far into the Islamic era, even though it was, the first Western Desert oasis conquered by the Arabs. Little evidence exists that it became a place of banishment like the Siwa and Kharga Oasis, but it is likely to have been, given its remote location. We do find a number of Coptic inscriptions in the oasis, as well as clearly Christian houses and cemeteries dating to the 10th century.

Actually, the Islamic religion did not enter the Farafra Oasis from the Nile Valley, but rather from North Africa. Our first reference of the oasis during the early Islamic period is the Kitab al-buldan by al-Yaqubi written during the 9th century. It says of the Farafra that the oasis was inhabited by people of "all descents". This document was written at about the time that the oasis began to be converted to the Islamic faith.

The Arab rulers of Egypt maintained a relatively large army in the desert. Unfortunately, this was a difficult period for many people in the Western Oasis, and like elsewhere, the Farafra was almost depopulated by the Mamluk rule of Egypt.

Today, Farafra has not just entered the new world, though its essence remains elusive and mysterious, the oasis is scheduled to add new chapters to world history. As a part of the visionary New Valley Project, soon Farafra will change forever. With many incentives for Egyptian families to move to the New Valley in order to elevate overcrowding in current urban centers, there are many more villages in or near the Oasis , and each is provided with a school, a hospital and a mosque. Industry is also arriving in the oasis in the form of Fiber optics!

The Farafra is also being developed for tourism, and while there are few ancient artifacts in the region, the desert is wonderfully diverse.

 

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