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Egypt, the western desert
points of interest:    info:   

The Western Desert covers about 700,000 square kilometers and accounts for about two-thirds of Egypt's land area. This immense desert to the west of the Nile spans the area from the Mediterranean Sea south to the Sudanese border. The desert's Gilf Kebir Plateau has an altitude of about 1,000 meters, an exception to the uninterrupted territory of basement rocks covered by layers of horizontally bedded sediments forming a massive plain or low plateau. The Great Sand Sea lies within the desert's plain and extends from the Siwa Oasis to Gilf Kebir. Escarpments (ridges) and deep depressions (basins) exist in several parts of the Western Desert, and no rivers or streams drain into or out of the area.

There are seven important depressions in the Western Desert, and all are considered oases except the largest, Qattara, the water of which is salty. The Qattara Depression is approximately 15,000 square kilometers and is largely below sea level (its lowest point is 133 meters below sea level). Badlands, salt marshes, and salt lakes cover the sparsely inhabited Qattara Depression.

The Siwah Oasis, close to the Libyan border and west of Qattara, is isolated from the rest of Egypt but has sustained life since ancient times. The Siwa's cliff-hung Temple of Amun was renowned for its oracles for more than 1,000 years. Herodotus and Alexander the Great were among the many illustrious people who visited the temple in the pre-Christian era.

The White Desert is located 45 km (30 miles) north of Farafra. The desert has a white, cream color and has massive chalk rock formations that have been created as a result of occasional sandstorms in the area. The Farafra desert is a typical place visited by some schools in Egypt, as a location for camping trips.

The Gilf Kebir (Great Barrier) is a plateau in the remote southwest corner of Egypt. This 7770-square-kilometre limestone and sandstone plateau rises 300m from the desert floor.

The Gilf Kebir contains the Kebira Crater, a 950-meter (3,100-foot) impact crater, dating to 50 million years ago crater, and part of a field that spreads over 4,500 square kilometers (1,750 square miles)  more than 75 times larger than Earth's next largest known crater field.

The Uweinat mountain range at the very south of the plateau is shared between Egypt, Libya and Sudan.

The Great Sand Sea is an unbroken mass of dunes which smothers the barren frontiers of Libya and Egypt and is home to not one living soul. Parallel dune ridges run north-south for hundreds of miles, and anyone journeying here has to be exceptionally well prepared, as there's not a single well or water source in 150,000 square miles.

Until the 1930s, this hyper-arid region had barely been explored, but during WWII, clandestine German and British desert patrols, including Count Almasy, aka The English Patient, probed this remote area, spying on each other's movements. Today, the area still remains largely unknown and is so rarely visited that 60-year-old tire tracks are still visible on certain surfaces.

The Great Sand Sea spans 650 km between Siwa in the north and the Gilf Kebir plateau in the south. It's average width of 300 km spans from the Libyan border to the west and the Farafra Depression to the east. The sand accumulation varies in shape, color and geologic origin from one place to the other.

On the southern shore of the Sand Sea--on the Egyptian side close to the Libyan border lies a unique geological oddity: the world's only known field of silica glass, tiny pebbles of pale green glass, their upper surface polished by the incessant winds. The exact origin of the glass is still unknown. A plausible theory suggests that the sand, which is almost pure silica, was fused by the intense heat of a meteor impact.

What to read
Laszlo E. Almasy, The Unknown Sahara
The eastern Sahara's Libyan Desert (covering Egypt, Libya, Sudan), was one of the last corners of the desert to be explored and still remains wild and barely visited. In the late 1920 and early 30s - the Hungarian Almasy (a contemporary of Bagnold and Clayton and fictionalised as the 'English Patient') criss-crossed this region in then newfangled motorcars which enabled systematic exploration of this hyper-arid quarter. The book tells the stories of his many feats in the region: the first drive to Kufra from the west, the clarification of the Zarzura legend, the discovery of countless rock art sites including the famous Cave of the Swimmers, were some of his achievements.

Wael Abed, The Other Egypt, Cairo 1998
The first available general english language book on the Wesern Desert, a good mixture of facts and narrative of trips taken by the author. Definitely worth reading.

Terre Millenarie:
Immagini e impressioni Beirut, antichi splendori e recenti ferite Libano Siria e Giordania; da Aleppo ad Aqaba Aleppo L'antica cittą armena di Ani San Simeone Cittą Morte della Siria Serjilla Palmyra (Tadmur), la cittą delle mille colonne Damasco Bosra Jerash, l'antica Gerasa Gerusalemme dentro e fuori le mura Marrakesh, da Churchill a Yves Saint Laurent Petra Wadi Rum Il fascino discreto del Cairo Cina Cina-Pakistan: la via della seta The Ancient Silk Route Iran Etiopia Ethiopia, along the historic route Dancalia e Tigrai Egitto, deserto occidentale Egypt, the western desert Sudan Cina del Nord
Tutte le nostre mappe:
InOgniDove, viaggi in cittą e luoghi del mondo
SempreInMoto, tour e imprese in motocicletta
SempreInBici, in bicicletta fuori porta (Lombardia)

Bahariya Oasis
Zed Amun Ef Ankh lived and prospered during Ahmose II's rule, and he built a fine tomb which lies on the eastern ridge of the modern city of Bawiti.

Bahariya Oasis
Regrettably, the tomb of Zed Amun Ef Ankh was robbed during antiquity, and again even as late as the 20th century, when some mummies, beads and amulets were taken. Luckily, the tomb still portrays some grand decorations and is useful to our understanding of early life in this Oasis.

Bahariya Oasis
Zed-Amun-efankh's tomb is very interesting, for some of its architectural elements are somewhat unusual for this area. For one thing, while other tombs had separate burial chambers with square, column (pillar) supports, his is a single room with four rounded columns.

Satellite view of the White Desert
The White Desert is located between Bahariya and Farafra oasis. [...]

White Desert
These rock mushrooms are formations ten to fifteen feet tall, whose limestone bases had been worn away by the mixture of wind and sand that had blown at high speeds for thousands of years.

White Desert
The snow-white desert is actually made of chalk that has been exposed for years to what geologists call differential weathering, the erosion of soft particles that results in eerie protrusions of hard rock, the very beautiful forms that now fill the White Desert.

Fossils and minerals

Limestone ridges surfacing amid the giant dunes of the Great Sand Sea.

Sugar Loaf
Sugar-loaf hill, spectacular rock formation, almost halfway between Dakhla and Abu Ballas.

Mud Lake
The dark spot shows a depression that contained a wide lake.

Mud Lions
Great leonine deposits left behind by the receding water aeons ago. Time and erosion has shaped them into lumpy figures, all facing the same way. A sweeping dune forms the backdrop to curious and unexpected scene in this remote landscape.

Sfingi naturali
I Leoni di Fango sono delle curiose formazioni d'argilla (yardangs) risultato dell'erosione costante del Khamasin, vento unidirezionale.  [photo: Maurizio Levi]

Gilf Kebir Map
The Gilf Kebir is split into two halves by the 'Gap', thus named by Clayton, who only noticed the lower gap in the western cliffs in 1931. Subsequently Penderel discovered from the air that the Gap continued in a broad valley, the southernmost tongue of the Great Sand [...]

near Gilf Kebir

II World War vehicles
Vehicle of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) preserved by the desert.

Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)
Historical photos about the LRDG and the vehicles used during the II World War can be found in Long Range Desert Group  [photo: LRDG]

Residuato bellico
Camion abbandonato dal Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale e preservato dal clima secco del mare di sabbia.  [photo: Maurizio Levi]

Satellite map of Wadi Wassa and Shaw's Cave

Shaw's cave entrance

Shaw's cave
Neolithic Cattle paintings at the cave discovered by K. Shaw in 1935.

Shaw's cave
Neolithic Cattle paintings at the cave discovered by K. Shaw in 1935.

Mestekawi and Swimmers' caves
Satellite map indicating the position of the Mestekawi's cave and the Swimmers' cave

Mestekawi-Foggini's cave
Discovered in 2002, the rock-art site of Mestekawi Cave, in northwest Gilf Kebir, is yet to be studied. Due to its remoteness, the site, like several other prehistoric remains, has been visited by only few hundreds of people. Most of those were tourists with general interest in rock-art. however, systematic examination requires sincere efforts, well-fitted logistics and precious time.

Mestekawi-Foggini's cave
A crowded wall of rock art visible above the wind-blown sand filling the cave. More may remain to be uncovered.

The entrance of the Swimmers Cave
The history of discovering such a priceless art started with Count Almįsy, the Hungarian aristocrat renowned as one of the early explorers of the Gilf Kebir. In 1933, Almįsy was the first modern-day man to set eyes on drawings of cattle, human figures and that of swimmers in Gilf Kebir. No wonder the cave was named The Swimmers Cave...

Swimmers Cave
Cave paintings from an era where water and animals were abundant in the region of the current Sahara.

Grotta dei nuotatori
La Grotta dei Nuotatori fu scoperta dal conte ungherese Lazlo Almasy nel 1933 nel wadi da lui battezzato Sura, cioč delle immagini.

El Aqaba
A driveable pass first tackled by Almįsy and party in 1933.

On top of the Gilf Kebir

On top of the Gilf Kebir

Wadi Hamra map
the Red Valley

Wadi Hambra
Wadi Hamra, the easternmost valley, opens to the Gap about 60 kilometres to the north of Aqaba. Near its head it supports a healthy cluster of acacias, making it the greenest of the wadis. It received it's name on account of the red sand filling it's bed near the vegetation zone.

Wadi Hambra
The Red Valley. This valley displays Acacias and a few plants. It is a pearl in the Gilf el Kebir and its undisturbed nature is impressive.

Great Sand Sea
The Great Sand Sea is one of the largest unbroken mass of sand dune areas of the world, and home to not one living soul. It was first discovered by the German explorer Gerhard Rohlfs in 1875. It is a desert spanning 650 km between Siwa Oasis in the north and the Gilf Kebir Plateau in the south. Parallel dune ridges run north-south for hundreds of kilometers. There is not a single water point in the whole area.

Satellite map of dune ridges in GSS
Parallel dune ridges that run north-south for hundreds of kilometers, created by the al-Khamasin wind.

Satellite map of the Silica Glass area
In the west side of the Great Sand Sea lies the enigmatic silica glass - ultra pure glass, 98% silica - discovered by P. Clayton in 1932 and believed by some scientists to be the result of a meteoritic impact. Another theory has it that these pieces are remains of a dried up lake. The silica field is located in the Great Sand Sea between two dune ridges 200 m high.

Tutankhamon and the silica glass
The Ancient Egyptians carved a scarab from silica glass, it's deposited in Tutankhamon's tomb.

Silica Glass
This is the world's only known field of silica glass. Some chunks weigh 5 kg, half-buried like icebergs in the reddish sand. Some lying windblown on the desert floor, scoured by millennia of sand storms, into lustrous prisms of glass.

Silica Glass
They are the purest glass ever found. Over a thousand tons of it are strewn across hundreds of kilometers of bleak desert. Some of the chunks weigh 5 kilograms, but most exist in in smaller, angular pieces. Prehistoric Man had discovered this Libyan Desert Glass and carved knives and other sharp-edged tools from it.

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea
Tented camp in the Great Sand Sea

Il Grande Mare di Sabbia
Il Gran Mare di Sabbia, una delle piu' grandi distese di sabbia e di dune di tutto il Sahara. Questa regione fu attraversata per la prima volta da spedizioni di cartografi negli anni '30, fino ad allora le carte geografiche riportavano area inesplorata.  [photo: Maurizio Levi]

Il Grande Mare di Sabbia
Attraversamento in fuoristrada del Gran Mare di Sabbia.  [photo: Maurizio Levi]

Il Grande Mare di Sabbia
Campo nel deserto.  [photo: Maurizio Levi]

Russian Well
Bir Russie is located 150 km from Siwa and can only be accessed by driving through the high dunes of the Great Sand Sea.

Remains of a plane
Could be the Italian Aicraft Caproni Cantieri Aeronautici Bergamaschi Ca. 309 Ghibli, a low-wing monoplane with a piston engine (Alfa Romeo 115-II) fitted to each wing. The front of the fuselage was a welded steel frame covered with sheet metal alloy. Probably the plane has not crashed in the place [...]

Remains of a plane
A wreck from the II World War.


Fossil of a sea urchin

Abu Ballas
Ever since the discovery of Abu Ballas (Pottery Hill) in the Western Desert of Egypt by Lieut. More and J. Ball in 1917 scientists have wondered by whom, how and when some 400 big earthenware jars were transported to the site of the hill which is situated in the middle of nowhere - about 180 km south-west of Dakhla Oasis.  [photo: Tina Ponzellini]

Abu Ballas
A startling discovery was the age of some of the pottery at Abu Ballas: thermo-luminescence dating yielded a date of 1500 bc! This early date puts the whole context of the cache in a different light. What was previously considered to be the water depot of the Tibu raiders (who may well have reused some of the post for this purpose), all of a sudden it seems to be evidence for an extensive trade network traversing the desert in Pharaonic times.  [photo: Tina Ponzellini]

Hot water artesian well (near Siwa)
the warm water coming out of the ground has formed a natural Jacuzzi, the water is at a constant 40° C.
A dip in the well is possible and great for mosquito and insect bites due to the sulfur in the water.

Map of Shiata oasis

Shiata oasis

Shiata oasis

Map of Siwa oasis
About 80 km (50 miles) in length and 20 km (12 mi) wide, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt's isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, mostly ethnic Berbers who speak a distinct language known as Siwi. Agriculture is the main activity, mostly dates and olives, supplemented by basketry.

Map of the Shali fortification
The fortification of Shali is located in the center of modern Siwa and is basically the old town. Some of the buildings of the old town are even still in use, but due to their construction of salt, mud, rock and plaster they fall more into ruin each year. In fact, up until some extreme rain in 1926, much of the old town was still in use. The area dates from the 13th century.

The ancient fortress of Siwa, built of natural rock salt, mud-brick and palm logs and known as the Shali Ghali ('Shali' for city, and 'Ghali', dear), although now mostly abandoned, remains a prominent feature, towering five storeys above the modern town.

Gebel al Mawta
The Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead) Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs.

Al Arag

Al Arag
A small-uninhabited oasis, 30 m below the sea level, completely invisible by the desert level. Arag means 'stop here' don't continue or you will be lost.

Four lakes: map
An alignment of four salt lakes between the Great Sand Sea dunes and the Qattara depression: Sitra, Nuweimisa, Al Bahrein (two lakes).

El Bahrein
El Bahrein, once known as a main stop on the Darb El Arbein (the 40 days road) that the ancient camel merchants used to take.

Jebel Arkenu and Uweinat: map
basaltic mountains in the Libyan sand sea.

Hassanein Bey
The route of Ahmed Hassanein Bey through the Sahara as it appears on today's Satellite images. Note how he avoided the Great Sand Sea south to Siwa.
Click here to find the original article written by Ahmed Bey Assanein for the National Geographic in1924.

Sand Seas
From Egypt and Libya there are many connected Sand Seas, the Great Sand Sea that crosses borders, with its area of 72,000 sq km and its highest dunes of 100 m, is the largest in the world. The Sand Seas are characterized by long lines of dunes formed by the winds. The alignment known as Abu Mhara Dune is long 140 km. This map gives a rough idea of the various Sand Seas.
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All pictures are copyrighted by Lucio Andreetto unless otherwise noted (LRDG, Maurizio Levi, Tina Ponzellini)