THINGS TO DO
WHERE TO GO
AVERAGE MONTHLY WEATHER IN MARSA ALAM, EGYPTWhat's the best time to travel to Marsa Alam in Egypt?
MARSA ALAM HISTORYUntil recently Marsa Alam was a sleepy fishing village, but the barren hinterland has a surprisingly interesting history. There is plenty of evidence in the rock inscriptions and paintings that Stone Age man made in the surrounding mountains many thousands of years ago. The smooth rock was perfect for such work. This prehistoric art includes depictions of hunting scenes showing numerous animals including giraffes, ostriches and hunting dogs.
Wadi Hammamat and the Silk road to AsiaGraffiti from a later period can also be found in the towering smooth walls of Wadi Hammamat ( Valley of Baths ) which is closer to El Quseir, but still a not too distant excursion from Marsa Alam. These include graffiti dating from Pharaonic times, including drawings of reed boats which have been dated to 4000 BC. Evidence suggests that the valley was the major trading route between ancient Thebes (Luxor) and the Red Sea and that crucially it provided a trading link via El Quseir, the Red Sea and the Silk Road between Thebes and Asia. Historians believe that ancient Egypt's trade routes extended not just to Arabia, but as far as the Han Dynasty of China. Biblical text also suggests that the Jews may have used the valley on their exodus from Egypt although there's no other evidence to support this. However, we do know that the Romans later constructed watch towers and wells at regular intervals along the route.
Marsa Alam's Ancient gold and emerald minesThere was another equally important reason why the Marsa Alam area was vital to the economy of ancient Egypt. The surrounding coastal area was rich in deposits of copper, lead, gold, emeralds and semi-precious stones. It is thought to have contained the first emerald mines anywhere in the world and was the sole source of emeralds for the Roman Empire. You can still visit what are popularly known as Cleopatra's Mines in the Wadi El Gamal National Park south of Marsa Alam. Most historians think these mines were already in use during the Ptolemaic period ( 330-30BC ), some even arguing that the history of the mines may go back as far as the second millemium BC. While there's no hard evidence linking Queen Cleopatra to the mines, there is every reason to believe they may have been in operation in her time. Cleopatra adored jewellery and she loved the green gem stone above all others and once gave an emerald with her portrait engraved on it to at least one favoured ambassador. Additionally, a large rock cut temple at Sikait is typical of the Ptolemaic period and Strabo writes of Egyptians mining emeralds only a few years after her death. However the only datable artefact to be found in these mining villages is a Roman coin from the reign of Emperor Nero in the first century AD. By this time there were at least nine mining villages across an area of seventy square kilometres with the biggest two at Nugrus and Sikait. The Romans called the area Smaragdus Mons or The Emerald Mountains. It was almost certainly the only emerald mining area in the Roman Empire and the mines remained in use until the fourteenth century but declined thereafter with the importation of emeralds from India. The mountainous Red Sea coastline was also an important source of granite for the Empire, and slaves were used to hack the stone out of the mountains. Even the Roman guards considered such locations as a punishment posting. One such Roman granite/quarry complex, Mons Claudianus, can be found a two hour drive to the north of Marsa Alam off the Safaga-Qena road; about 40km west of Safaga. It is thought that it was during the reign of Ptolemy II (281-246BC) that the first road was built linking Marsa Alam on the Red Sea with Edfu. This route ran through what is now the “Wadi el Gemal” (Valley of the Camels) national park. The main purpose of the road was to take emeralds and other precious stones and metals from the mines near the Red Sea to the Nile for onward shipment. Historians estimate that the Egyptian Eastern Desert produced some thirty types of stone, gem stone and metal and that prior to 1000BC more than seventy gold mines contributed to a significant part of ancient Egypt's legendary wealth. Some of the gold mines continued to operate under the British administration during the early twentieth century before eventually closing down due to the high cost of extraction. However recently they were reopened by foreign investors using the latest mining technology. These mines together with some marble and granite quarries provide employment for some of the population, although others are now being drawn in to the tourist trade.
The Ottomans, Britain and France fight for El-Quseir.In 1571 the Ottoman Sultan Selim I constructed a formidable fort on high ground overlooking the port of El Quseir to protect both the harbour and the Ottoman Empire's flow of trade up the Red Sea. Both the fort and the town are a short excursion from hotels in the area. In 1799 the French army under Napoleon seized the town and fort, widening the ramparts and fortifying them with cannon. Shortly afterwards these enhanced defences withstood an assault by the British battleships HMS Daedalus and HMS Fox. In June 1801, however, the fort was finally abandoned by the French army when an invasion force of some 6000 British and Indian soldiers under General Baird landed at El Quseir. This force then crossed the Eastern Desert in a ten day march at the height of summer to capture Qena on the Nile. A feat which helped to hasten the final surrender of French forces in September. Today, at the fort's main gate you can buy a ticket for a forty minute tour which includes a look at several small exhibits of the area's history, Bedouin life and traditions.
Daedalus IslandIt's a small island with a light house about 55 sea miles offshore. Because of the long distance from the shore this dive site is mainly dived from live aboard boats. The north and west part are best. Encounters with big pelagic and hammerhead sharks are on the menu.
Samadai (Dolphin reef)Nicknamed Dolphin House in reference to the pod of 60 or so spinner dolphins that frequent the site. One of the few places in the world where it's possible to dive with dolphins. They are wild free and not tamed or fed. A group of more than 100 dolphins is resident on this reef. Shaab Samadai is a horseshoe shaped reef off of the southern Marsa Alam coast. In addition to the playful spinner dolphins that reside here, the shallow, turquoise lagoon is also populated by schools of reef fish including leopard groupers, lionfish and masked butterfly fish. Shaab Samadai has 3 distinct scuba diving areas; the outer reef, the underwater caves and the pinnacles located to the south of the reef, with depths varying from 5m to 25m.
Shaab Marsa Alam4km east of Marsa Alam. These 3 dive sites are on a 2km long coral reef which grows on a sandy bottom up to the surface. Nice coral and lots of reef fishes including white tip lagoon sharks. Small caves and canyons. Max depth: 27m
Abu Dabbab40 kilometers north of Marsa Alam. This reef contains a huge number of dive sites and is especially suitable for beginners and night dives. Small shark and stone fish are often to be seen there. Max depth: 20m
Fury ShaolA network of hard coral formations make up the complex reef system of Fury Shoal. Inhabited by a variety of pelagic fish, dolphins and several species of shark, Fury Shoal is a diverse coral garden and a spectacular dive site. Aside from the endless colourful sea life, the lagoon also contains the wrecks of a tugboat and a sailing ship for your exploration.
The Gebel Elba National ParkThis park encompasses a variety of ecosystems: mangroves, islands, coral reefs, sand dunes, desert plains and a cluster of mountains and together these unique habitats support a remarkable diversity of flora and fauna found nowhere else in Egypt. The emerald is the oldest known gemstone. Uniquely green in colour and widely used in jewellery, emeralds were prized and cherished as symbols of eternity and power uring antiquity. It is believed that Egypt's Pharaohs began mining emeralds in the mountainous area in the Eastern Desert southwest of Mersa Alam. Later identified as the Cleopatra mines or Mons Smaragdus (Emerald Mountains), the area became the most famous mining complex throughout the ancient world. The mines at Wadi Gimal, Wadi Sikeit, Wadi,Nuqrus and Gebel Zabara were energetically exploited during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. They were also worked during later centuries until left deserted after the Spaniards discovered emeralds in Columbia in 1545. Today, the ruins of the Zabara and Sikeit mining settlements are still evident, as are the remains of temple structures and some old caved-in mine sites.
Wadi el Gemal National ParkIn the Deep South some 40km after Marsa Alam. The park is a protected area which covers nearly 100km of coastal blissfulness (tropical palm groves, mangrove bays, paradisiacal white-sand beaches), and a 60km-deep wadi, or dried riverbed, well into the Eastern Desert. The area is protected due to its peculiar biodiversity and the wealth of greenery. It comprises, besides the aforementioned coastal area, the vast wadi itself, and a mountain range of impressive colours and geological importance. The indigenous inhabitants of Wadi el Gemal, belong to the Ababda tribes. They constitute one of four branches of the Beja tribes, known historically as the Blemmyes who were in constant war with the Romans, until they were finally subsidized by the conquerors. The Ababda are nomadic pastoralists, who graze their herds on the vegetation found in the wadi. They are very superstitious and are indifferent toward material things, have a deep respect for nature, are self-sufficient, hospitable and have great tribal solidarity.
Port GhalibA new tourist development near Marsa Alam International Airport, Port Ghalib is to feature a golf course and a wide range of bars, Restaurants, shops, hotels and an international marina.