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Egypt has a fascinating past. Share your knowledge or ask your questions here.
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- Royal V.I.P
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El Quseir is a little dozy town with a long important past. From Queen Hatchepsut's army to the Sultan's pilgrims bound to Mecca, from the Roman centurions to the Renaissance Arab merchants, many civilizations have used this remote outpost on the Red Sea coast during the past four thousand years as a starting point to go exploring, expanding and trading with remote oriental lands.
Remains of their stories and lives can be found in many sites in and around town, and all along the legendary Wadi Hammamat, on the desert route which links El Quseir with the town of Qift by the Nile river.
El Quseir's importance in history is due to the fact that it is located at the end of the shortest route from the Nile to the sea, a route used in ancient times as a better alternative to the windy Red Sea to transport goods from remote lands to Egypt and the Mediterranean.
The first records to be found about the town go as far back as the year 2,300 BC, when, during the 11th Dynasty, a certain Henenu, under orders of the pharaoh, leaded from El Quseir an expedition of 3,000 men to develop the trade with Arabia. The most famous expedition of the ancient times though was the one deployed in 1,493 BC by Queen Hatchepsut to the fabled land of Punt. At Deir El Bahari, her legendary temple on the West Bank in Luxor, a detailed report on the expedition can still be read nowadays. Punt was a very rich country which has been identified by many with current Ethiopia, and to this land Hatchepsut sent her general Senenmet to purchase refined goods such as myrrh, frankincense, ebony, ivory, and exotic animals.
Later on, when the Roman Emperors ruled the land, Myos Hormos, the Roman name for El Quseir, was the main gateway to India and East Africa. During the peak years of the Roman rule, around 20 AD, an average of 120 ships per year set out from Myos Hormos to India, to bring luxury goods such as silk, spices, medicines and pearls, and export wine, fine pottery, glass and precious metals. The remains of Myos Hormos are at only 8 km. north of present El Quseir, where one can see the ancient port structures and, scattered on the terrain, a myriad of Roman amphorae.
More historical remains are to be found along the wadi that links El Quseir with Qift on the Nile. The road is intersected by a series of other wadis, the most famous one being Wadi Hammamat. This was the site of the quarries of the bekheni stone, much appreciated in ancient times. In Wadi Hammamat some 200 hieroglyphic tablets adorn the cliffs, and more inscriptions are on the south side of the wadi engraved in the ravine walls. Some are from 4,000 years ago, and depict the typical Nile reed boats. Along these roads the Romans built a series of watch towers and guesthouses at regular intervals, and some of them can still be seen nowadays.
Another flourishing period in the history of El Quseir was the Ottoman era. Sultan Selim, ruler of Egypt during the 16th century, built an impressive fortress which speaks of a lively town of strategic importance. The fortress, now restored, was built to protect once again the trade with India. First Napoleon, and then the British Empire, occupied it as key point in the ruling of the country. The fort has been recently restored, and it hosts an interesting Vistors' Center with displays of local history, archaeology and culture.
Later on the port of El Quseir was the main departing point for the pilgrims bound to Mecca, on the opposite shore of the Red Sea. The Islamic influence is found in the enchanting architecture of many buildings in town, with intricate wooden terraces and mashrabias. More interesting sites are to be found in the surroundings, such as the mines at Bir Umm Fawakir, the rock pictures at Wadi Russumat, and the vast Roman settlement at Mons Claudianus.
Only the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869 led to a decay of the town. With the crossing to the Mediterranean made easier by the channel, El Quseir lost its prominent place as link between the Occident and the Orient.
Nowadays is a lovely town devoted to tourism, with excellent diving sites just on its doorstep and a fascinating history. The winter months are ideal to go exploring these ancient historical sites, easily reachable by a taxi .