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Farafra - The Desert

Very little is known about Farafra before the Roman period, of which just a few remains have been found. In terms of antiquities, there is little to see but the desert offers more than one spectacular view. The area north-east of Qasr Farafra is called White Desert and is definitely worth a visit (better by 4x4). Here chalk monoliths have been slowly eroded by the wind into strange and suggestive shapes, that extend for kilometres all around, creating a magnificent view.

To the south, the ancient caravan route called Darb Farafra between Farafra and Dakhla crossed the little water station of Bir Dikkar and then the impressive Black Valley, named after the black pyrite fragments that cover the surface. This has been for a while one of the tracks used for the Rally of the Pharaohs. West of Farafra lies the spring of 'Ayn Dalla, which has always been an important strategic point in the middle of the Western Desert. The road leading there runs across a beautiful landscape dotted with chalk formations and lacustrine deposits.

The area west of Farafra is covered by the impenetrable Great Sand Sea. This region was probably the scene of one of the most famous disasters that took place in the Western Desert, the disappearance of Cambyses' Army. According to Herodotus, when the Persian king Cambyses conquered Egypt, he decided to send an expedition of 50,000 men from Thebes to Siwa to destroy the Oracle of Amun and devastate the whole oasis.



The story goes that while the army was marching somewhere in the Western Desert, a great sand storm arose and anihilated it. There are many theories about the exact route taken by the lost army, and therefore about the place where the men met their fate. It seems likely that, in order to reach Siwa from Thebes, the army would have travelled via Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra, and then attempted to cross the Great Sand Sea.

Since the glorious years of the exploration of the Western Desert, the lost army has always excited the fantasy and tested the determination of the desert travellers. Almasy, for example, crisscrossed the desert by plane more than once dsuring the '20s and '30s looking for the lost oasis of Zerzura and the lost army of Cambyses. This remains one of the great mysteries of the Western Desert waiting to be discovered.
(Corinna Rossi)



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