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THE EASTERN DESERT OF EGYPT

GALLERY

The Eastern Desert of Egypt lies between the river Nile and the Red Sea coast. The most prominent feature of the Eastern Desert is its nearly uninterrupted chain of mountains running the length of the Red Sea coast. These mountains are intersected by intricate networks of wadis (dry flood beds). The western part of the Eastern Desert is formed by a fairly flat elevated plateau ending with low hills near the Nile valley. The width of the desert (east to west) varies between 120km in the north to more than 300km at the level of Bernice in the south. Both the Red Sea coast and the river Nile run roughly SE to NW. The sea shore is made up of fossilized coral terraces and sandy beaches. The bays along the coast, also called Marsa's, formed at the mouth of the larger wadis and are caused by rain floods over thousands of centuries.

The main wadis in the mountains run more or less perpendicular to the coast and the Nile valley. They have been formed over millions of years by rain floods during which very large amounts of water were channeled to the Red Sea on one side and the Nile river on the other. At the moment rains are quite irregular in their occurrence. It might rain only once for a couple of hours in one year, then wait for another 2 or 3 years to rain again and when it rains, the water may or may not run through the same wadis. The only other source of water is wells that are usually more or less brackish as the well is located closer to or further from the sea. The wells can very in depth between 5 to more than 20m.

The sparse vegetation present is plants, shrubs and trees that grow naturally in the wadis. In the months after rain, the wadis are all covered with different hues of green and yellow, excellent food for the herds of goats, sheep and camels. Among the shrubs, some, like Hargl, and Elfeen, are used by the Bedouin for medicinal purposes.

The bedouin living in this part of the Eastern Desert are the Ababda and Bishari in the south and the Maaza in the north.

Gazelles, a variety of birds of prey and colorful lizards are fairly common. Other animals that inhabit the desert, but more rare to encounter, are the ibex, hyrax, jerboa, fox, desert hare, varaan (a large lizard) and viper. Their tracks in sandy parts of the wadis often reveal their presence and actions during the previous night or even foregoing hours.

The area is very rich in minerals and the extent of mining exploitation in ancient times is not yet fully known. We do know that gold, emerald, talc and iron have been extracted since Pharaonic times. .

The ruins date back to the Ptolemeic and Roman eras, with some evidence of Arabic settlement here and there. The sites are either old mines, quarries and villages, or parts of tracks, wells and fortresses which are inter linked. Their main purpose was for the easy passage of goods from the ports along the Red Sea coast who received goods from India, China and the Far East. The goods were bound for Turkey and Europe and would cross the desert by donkey or camel caravans to the Nile and eventually to the Mediterranean Sea.

 


 
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