Sahara Territory


Egypt map.

Total area: +/- 1000000 km2.
Saharan area: +/- 950000 km2 (95%).
Lowest point: -133 meters (Qattara depression).
Highest point: 2642 meters (Jebel Katrinah, in Sinai).

Since remote times, Egypt identifies itself with the Nile. This river fecundates and irrigates the lands, ensures transportation and connects people. Where the Nile waters don't reach, the desert reigns. Cultivable lands in Egypt comprise only the Nile banks and delta, a thin strip in the Mediterranean coast and some oases in the Western Desert. These areas would occupy an approximated surface of only 50000 km2.

Egypt is connected with Middle East through the Sinai peninsula, a territory inhabited by approximately 500000 people that was belligerently disputed between Egypt and Israel. The Suez Canal crosses between Sinai and the rest of Egypt, allowing ships to pass directly between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

Left image: the view from the cuspid of Mount Catherine (Jebel Katrinah), the highest point in Egypt.

Right image: the coptic monastery of Saint Catherine lies at the bottom of Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa), the "mountain of Moses". According to jewish, christian and islamic tradition, the biblical Mount Sinai was the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

View from the top of Jebel Katrinah. The monastery of Saint Catherine.

The depression of Qattara is the lowest point in the entire Sahara. This depression occupies an area of about 19500 km2 and its surface is covered with salt pans, salt marshes, dry lakes and sand dunes. The escarped edges of El Diffa plateau form the northern border of the depression, while in the south the depression slopes gently up to the Libyan Desert.

In this lunar landscape some acacia groves manage to survive because of the underground water and ocasional rainfall. In the north-eastern end of the depression there is a swamp where phragmites live, while in the south-western end lie the oases of the Siwah protected area. The fauna in this barren land is surprisingly rich, and includes sheeps, gazelles, hares, jackals, foxes and cheetahs. Human settlements are sparse and present only in the borders of the depression, while some nomads and their flocks roam within the area.

Because of its pronounced depth, 133 meters under sea level, it was raised a project that would consist in opening a canal linking the depression with the Mediterranean Sea. This would make possible to produce huge amounts of electrical power by using hidroelectrical plants, being these amounts close to what Lake Nasser hidroelectrical plants are able to produce. With the depression turned into a lake, the climate in the area would change dramatically and be much more friendly for life. This project is not new; it started to be discused in the beginning of the XX century, but never was developed and today it seems filed or abandoned.

The depression of Qattara. The depression of Qattara.

The depression of Qattara. The depression of Qattara.

The images below show some oases in the Siwah oasis area. Siwah town is poorly visible in the center area of the upper image, between two lakes. Around 23000 people inhabit this remote area of the Libyan Desert.

The oasis of Siwah.

An oasis in Siwah area. An oasis in Siwah area.

The White Desert (Sahara el Beyda) is an area located near the small town of Farafirah. This area of the desert has a white or ivory color because of the massive presence of chalk rocks, that sometimes form capricious formations created as a result of sandstorm erosion processes.

The White Desert of Farafirah. The White Desert of Farafirah.

The White Desert of Farafirah. The White Desert of Farafirah.

The White Desert of Farafirah. The White Desert of Farafirah.

The plateau of al-Jilf al-Kabir is located in the south-western area of Egypt. This place is known for its rugged beauty, remoteness, geological interest, and the prehistoric paintings and rock carvings which depict an earlier era of abundant animal life and human habitation. The Uwaynat mountain range can be considered as being part of the plateau.

Satellite detail view of the plateau of al-Jilf al-Kabir. The landscape in the plateau of al-Jilf al-Kabir.

The Lake Nasser project, immense effort for a country like Egypt, provides huge amounts of water reserves and electrical power necessary to maintain a country with a fast growing population. The electrical power provided by its hidroelectrical plants would allow Egypt to turn into a modern industrialized country, while the area of cultivable lands would be increased and the climate would become less arid and harsh. The dam at Assuan allows to regulate the inundation of the Nile, avoiding the disastrous consequences of an excessively low or high water level that would ruin the crops.

However, a tribute had to be paid: the famous slime that the Nile brings with its waters, gets deposited in the basin of the Lake Nasser, producing a degradation in the lands that has to be compensated with the use of chemical fertilizers, while a range of archaeological sites built around the natural Nile banks have been inundated forever, being one of these the temple of Pharas in Sudan. Around 60000 nubians had to abandon their dwellings and go live elsewhere. Fishing is abundant in the lake, but at expenses of being reduced in the delta, where it is more necessary because of the much higher population living in that area.

Left image: satellite view of the Lake Nasser, lost in the middle of the desert. The lake has a surface area of about 5200 km2 and an incredible perimeter of about 19000 kilometers.

Right image: satellite view of the dams at Assuan that control the water level of the Nile since 1970.

Satellite view of Lake Nasser. Satellite view of the dams at Assuan.

Egypt Ethnography


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