Qasr Dakhla, situated to the north-west of Mut, is one of the fortified Medieval Islamic towns often seen in the oases and said to be the oldest continuously inhabited and the best preserved settlement of its type in Dakhla. It rests on the Sioh Ridge, nestled beneath the pink limestone escarpment which marks the northern limit of the oasis.
The Islamic town, el-Qasr (meaning ‘the Fortress’) was probably founded around the end of the 12th century AD by the Ayyubids, over the remains of an earlier Roman Period settlement. During this time the fortified town is thought to have been the capital of the oasis, constructed in a defensive position against marauding invaders from the south and west. Like the Medieval town of Mut, its streets were divided into quarters which could be closed off at night by barred gates.
The narrow covered streets have changed little since Medieval times and a three-story mudbrick minaret rising 21m above the mosque of Nasr el-Din, erected during the Ayyubid Period, is one of the landmarks of the town. The minaret is the only part of the original mosque from the 11th or 12th century to survive, the rest of the building having been destroyed and rebuilt in the 19th century. The present mosque contains the mausoleum of Sheikh Nasr el-Din.
Wooden lintels over the entrances bear inscriptions from the Quran and attached to the mosque is the madrasa where the scriptures were taught to young boys, now renovated and still used as a school and a public meeting place.
The madrassa and the restored house of Abu Nafir are open to visitors. This tall house, typical of the Medieval Islamic period, with its heavy carved wooden door, is said to be built over remains of a Ptolemaic Period temple and its door jambs depict hieroglyphs, presumably from re-used blocks.
As a respite from the scorching heat of the sun, the cool dark twisting alleyways of the old town offer views of many ornately carved beams and lintels which decorate the entrances to houses. The oldest inscription dates to 1518 on the Beit Ibrahim. Recently discovered kilns from a pottery factory, and a corn-mill, suggests that el-Qasr had a thriving community since antiquity. The town still has around 700 inhabitants, many who follow the traditions of craftsmen from a time gone by. Today the town is renowned for its traditional earthenware pots and palm-leaf basketry. However, villagers who move out of the old town are no longer allowed to return and no new building is allowed there as the Ministry of Antiquities eventually hopes to turn their deserted houses into a tourism feature.
Archaeological study and restoration has been taking place in Qasr Dakhla for the past few years under the auspices of Dakhla Oasis Project. The Islamic Qasr Dakhla Project, directed by Professor Fred Leemhuis of Groningen University has been studying the site. In February 2006 Professor Leemhuis found proof of his theory that a Roman fortress existed beneath the present medieval town when a chance trick of the light showed up courses of Roman-sized mud bricks previously unseen. Archaeologists have documentation from Kellis of an unknown place named as Takastra in Greek and they can now surmise that Takastra may in fact be the Roman camp over which Qasr Dakhla was built.
A full report can be seen in Al-Ahram