The Kharga Oasis (Arabic: الخارجة al-Ḫāriǧa, pronounced [elˈxæɾɡæ]) lit. ’the outer’; Coptic: (ϯ)ⲟⲩⲁϩ ⲛ̀ϩⲏⲃ (di)wah enhib, “Oasis of Hib”, (ϯ)ⲟⲩⲁϩ ⲙ̀ⲯⲟⲓ (di)wah empsoi “Oasis of Psoi”) is the southernmost of Egypt’s five western oases. It is located in the Western Desert, about 200 km (125 miles) to the west of the Nile valley. “Kharga” or “El Kharga” is also the name of a major town located in the oasis, the capital of New Valley Governorate. The oasis, which was known as the ‘Southern Oasis’ to the Ancient Egyptians, the ‘outer’ (he Esotero) to the Greeks and Oasis Magna to the Romans, is the largest of the oases in the Libyan desert of Egypt. It is in a depression about 160 km (100 miles) long and from 20 km (12 miles) to 80 km (50 miles) wide. Its population is 67,700 (2012).
Kharga is the most modernised of Egypt’s western oases. The main town is highly functional with all modern facilities, and virtually nothing left of old architecture. Although framed by the oasis, there is no oasis feeling to it, unlike all other oases in this part of Egypt. There is extensive thorn palm, acacia, buffalo thorn and jujube growth in the oasis surrounding the modern town of Kharga. Many remnant wildlife species inhabit this region.
The Köppen-Geiger climate classification system classifies its climate as hot desert (BWh). Kharga Oasis experiences extreme summers for most of the year with no precipitation and warm winters with cool nights.
Darb El Arba’īn caravan route
A trade route called Darb El Arba’īn (“the Way of Forty”) passed through Kharga as part of a long caravan route running north–south between Middle Egypt and the Sudan. The ancient route connected the Al-Fashir area of Sudan to Asyut in Egypt, navigating through a chain of oases including Kharga, Selima Oasis and Bir Natrun.
At least 700 years old, it was likely used from as early as the Old Kingdom of Egypt for the transport and trade of gold, ivory, spices, wheat, animals and plants.
The maximum extent of Darb El Arba’īn was northward from Kobbei in Darfur (located about 25 miles north of al-Fashir) passing through the desert, through Bir Natrum and Wadi Howar, and ending at the Nile River access point of Asyut in Egypt. This is a journey of approximately 1,800 km (1,100 mi). The desert route was less expensive and safer than the more visually appealing Nile route.
All the oases have always been crossroads of caravan routes converging from the barren desert. In the case of Kharga, this is made particularly evident by the presence of a chain of fortresses that the Romans built to protect the Darb El Arba’īn route. The forts vary in size and function, some being just small outposts, some guarding large settlements complete with cultivation. Some were installed where earlier settlements already existed, while others were probably started from scratch. All of them are made of mud bricks, but some also contain small stone temples with inscriptions on the walls.
Described by Herodotus as a road “traversed…in forty days,” by his time the route had already become an important land route facilitating trade between Nubia and Egypt The length of the journey is the reason for it being called Darb El Arba`īn, the implication being “the forty-day road”.