El Qasr – Another Amazing Oasis

Dakhla Oasis - Egypt

With a spiky mosque tower and old mud-walled homes amid narrow alleys, backdropped with palms, dunes and desert cliffs, yeah, El Qasr is a real fairytale oasis amid the 21st century.

It’s also one of the oldest-inhabited areas of Egypt’s Western Desert (which is really part of the Greater Sahara).

At 21 meters high, the minaret of the Nasr el-Din Mosque is the focal point of ancient El-Qasr, and stands alongside the domed saint’s tomb.

El Qasr’s origins go back to Roman settlement, but it was during the Islamic era, around the end of the 12th century, that the town we see today began to take shape.

old town el-qasr oasis egypt
Scenes from the old mud-brick town of El Qasr in the Dakhla Oasis.

The Ayyubids are credited with founding El Qasr, but the mud-brick ruins visible date from the Ottoman Turk period (1516–1798), when it was the capital of the Dakhla Oasis.

El Qasr means “The Fortress”

Mausoleum of Sheikh Nasr el-Din.

They built the town with defense in mind, and includes many large street gates that can be quickly closed to block enemies advancing through the narrow lanes.

Females of El Qasr.

The village today has around 700 inhabitants who continue traditional artisan practices, mostly pottery and basket weaving.

old-town alleys el qasr oasis egypt
High walls offer shade from the searing sun in the old medieval town of El Qasr. TOP + BOTTOM RIGHT: stonework used in the Madrassa – Islamic – school shows Ancient Egyptian symbols, like the looped ‘Ankh’. It’s thought they built the Madrassa on the remains of a Ptolemaic temple.

However, residents who move away cannot come back to the old town, apparently, and new construction isn’t allowed as the government plans to convert ancient el Qasr into a tourist destination (oh, dear. Disneyland is coming to the desert).

Mohammad in his cafe, below his guesthouse, where I stayed a couple of nights. Along with great hospitality, he whipped up some tasty “real” Egyptian meals, including my dinner and an afternoon tea sweet snack.
On an afternoon walk to nearby sand dunes on the edge of town, I watched occasional movement in the distance: this guy riding a donkey, then a tractor, later two cows led by a boy, a donkey cart … finally, the setting sun.

Travels in Egypt – 2013

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