The Lost Oasis of Zerzura

There are myths and legends about a lost ancient oasis hidden in the Sahara Desert. Its name is Zerzura and the Gilf Kebir, a plateau in the New Valley Governorate of the remote southwest corner of Egypt, and southeast Libya was supposed to contain the legendary oasis Zerzura, but its location remains a mystery.

In writings dating back to the 13th century, the author of Kitab al Kanuz (The Book of Hidden Treasures) spoke of a city which was "white as a dove" and called it "The Oasis of Little Birds". In that book, Zerzura is said to be a city in the Sahara full of treasure with a sleeping king and queen. The city is guarded by black giants who keep anyone from going in and coming out.

The first European references to Zerzura are by the English Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson in his book "Topography of Thebes and a General View of Egypt" published in 1835. His account was based on a report by an Arab who said he found the oasis while searching for a lost camel. As with everything associated with legendary Zerzura, the location of the lost oasis was vague and uncertain. First, Wilkinson says that,

"...Zerzoora is only two or three days due West from Dakhla, beyond which is another wadee; then a second abounding in cattle; then Gebabo and Tazerbo; and beyond these is Wadee Rabeena..."

And then;

"About five or six days West of the road from el Hez to Farafra is another Oasis, called Wadee Zerzoora, abounding in palms, with springs, and some ruins of uncertain date." Wilkinson's account was given credence when the other named oases associated with Zerzura in the account were found by later explorers. Zerzura itself proved elusive, but in an amalgamation of the two quotes, later explorers would look for the three fertile valleys located some five days (by camel) West of Dakhla.

According to Wilkinson, Zerzura was thought to be 5 or 6 days west from Farafra but no-one could find it. All the respected explorers of the time had their own theory about the location of Zerzura.

Explorers found many unknown oases mentioned in Wilkinson’s book, but they didn’t find the legendary Zerzura itself.

More recently, European explorers made forays into the desert in search of Zerzura but never succeeded in finding it. Notable twentieth-century explorers Ralph Bagnold of Britain, and the Hungarian László (Ladislaus) Almásy, who one of the best pilots in the Hungarian airforce heard the legend of fabulous lost oasis of Zerzura. He became determined to find it. First he led an expedition to search for Zerzura from 1929-1930 using Ford Model A trucks. Later, in 1932 the Almásy- Patrick Clayton expedition reconnaissance flights discovered two valleys in the Gilf Kebir. Almásy discovered the third of the "Zerzura" wadis - rain oases in the remote desert, but despite a systematic search by Almasy, no ruins of any lost city were ever found.


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