Qasr Muharib

About 12km east of modern Bawiti, the monuments at Qasr Muharib are among the largest extant Roman structures in Bahariya Oasis. This was a village and lookout post, built on a ridge overlooking the plain from where the ancient caravan routes going north or east from el-Qasr could be guarded.

The ruins of the village cascade down the northern slope of a hill. Though he never excavated the site, when Ahmed Fakhry visited Qasr Muharib in the 1930s he found several well-preserved Roman houses, some still two stories high, and three of them much larger than the others. The community here must have been substantial, as the area surrounding the village was extensively cultivated and there are aqueducts which would have provided water for the agricultural activities of the population.

Qasr (or Qusur) Muharib means the ‘Fortress of the Fighter’ and there are still remains of a mudbrick fortress here which presumably dates to the Roman Period and probably housed a garrison of troops. There is also a stone temple with a single chamber. The site had been identified by early explorers as a Coptic village, but Fakhry found no evidence of early Christianity here. However, about 700m from Qasr Muharib, a suburb of the village was found to contain a large brick-built structure with several chambers which local inhabitants call el-Kanisah, ‘The Church’.

Fakhry noted a number of other ancient villages, springs and cemeteries in the areas to the east of Bawiti. In one of these Roman villages, el-Miysrah, the lower courses of a stone chapel (dismantled in 1939 and used in the construction of an enclosure for a nearby spring), contained Greek graffiti and while excavating the surrounding houses Fakhry discovered a vase containing a quantity of gold and silver jewellery and a coin depicting the Emperor Valens from the 4th century AD. Perhaps these sites will be excavated at some time in the future to enable archaeologists to build up a complete picture of life in Bahariya Oasis during the Roman Period. At present they are merely crumbling sand-covered ruins in a lonely desert landscape – and appear much as the magnificent reconstructed temples of the Nile Valley must have looked to the first western travellers a few centuries ago.

~ by Su on March 14, 2009.