El Quseir

Nov 18th, 2014

el_quseir3-kanonnen_bij_het_oude_kasteelAl-Quseir (Arabic, القصير, sometimes romanized as Al Qusair, Al Qusayr, El Quseir, Quseir, Quesir, Qusseir, Qosseir, or Kosseir), is an approximately 5000 year old Egyptian city lying along the Red Sea. Its ancient name was Leucus Limenn

Al Quseir has an unique position due to its proximity to the Nile River and known in Ptolemaic times as the White Harbor. It has a long history as one of the major ports of the Red Sea. This location made it one of the most

important ports in Egypt. Quseir was where Queen Hatshepsut set off from on an expedition to the mystical African land of Punt, as depicted in the reliefs in Deir el-Bahari temple at Luxor. Legend has it that the oldtownexpedition returned with two live panthers and 31 incense trees.

And regarding the price for this trip will cost 15 euros per person ( minimum 2 persons )

The16th century fortress of Sultan Selim, still standing in the center of town, shows Al-Quseir’s former strategic importance. On top of that, it was also a major point for pilgrims leaving for Mecca, as well as a significant trade route for spices from India to Britain. The ancient city of Berenice, named by Ptolemy II, became a trading port in 275 BC. The port is renowned for the exportation of phosphates.

Nowadays it is a quiet resort with sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs. The coast is lined with mangrove swamps and unspoiled bays and coves. Al Quseir is transformed into a luxuries tourist destination due to its sandy beaches and coral reefs which make it an idle place for diving and snorkeling.alquseirview

Al Quseir is and environmentally aware area to ensure that the coral reefs are preserved. Al Quseir is not just a seaside resort it has some historical buildings with French and British styles that are kept intact. The town’s narrow streets are lined with colorful bazaars which have a decidedly Bedouin accent. An ancient caravan trail, to Qift in the Nile Valley, leads from Al-Quseir through the mountains, passing several Pharaonic and Roman sites.

THE CASTLE

The fort of El Quseir lies on high ground in what is now the centre of town.  Coming from Marsa Alam jump out of your taxi near the  petrol station and then it’s a five minute walk up the hill.  Coming the other way from Safaga you can’t miss it as you follow the one way main road in to town.

Your attention is immediately arrested by the muzzels of two potruding cannon.  Brought by the French to protect the town and harbour, they now overlook visitors as they shop in the bazaars beneath.    Only one of them is actually of French manufacture, the other is probably of Dutch origin. El Quseir

The castle was originally built by Sultan Selim I in 1517 (those guide books which state 1571 forget that Selim I was long dead by then ) to protect what was Egypt’s most important port on the Red Sea.  El Qusier means “the short” in Arabic and probably the town earned this name because it was the port allowing inland pilgrims to make the shortest journey possible from the Nile valley to Mecca.

El Quseir’s  strategic importance derived from it being located close to an ancient route from the Red Sea to the Luxor area via the Wadi el Hammamat – a twisting valley which cuts a snake like path through the mountains of Egypt’s Eastern Desert.

Haj pilgrims would leave their camels and horses at the castle before embarking by ship for Mecca.  The port also served as a vital entrepot for Egypt’s trade with Arabia and Asia and was a major transhipment point for the spice trade on the route to Europe.

It was in the late sixteenth century, at the same time the castle was built, that the town centre of El Quseir moved from its’ original site, which was near the modern Movenpick hotel, to its’ current location around the fort and harbour.elquseir020

In 1799 the French, who had sent a military expedition to Egypt under the command of General Napoleon,  seized the fort, built a tall viewing platform ( now rebuilt),  widened the ramparts and added a number of cannon, some of which can still be seen.  They also left a garrison of some one hundred soldiers.

In August of the same year the fort’s enhanced defences withstood a three day assault by two British 32 gun frigates, HMS Daedalus and HMS Fox.  However, before retreating, these two battleships caused major breaches to the walls, especially in the area close to the main entrance.

The British twice attempted landings in order to destroy the drinking wells of the city but were forced to withdraw in the face of heavy cannon and musket fire and lost one cannon in the surf which may subsequently have been added to the fort’s own battery of guns.

In June 1801  the fort was finally abandoned by the French army when  an army 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.elquseir028

In 1816 the fort was used as a base for Muhammad Ali Pasha’s wars against Arabia but after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, its’ strategic significance was considerably diminished.  However, it remained in use as a base for the Egyptian coast guard until 1975.

Today, at the main gate you can buy a 15LE ticket* ( open daily from 0900 to 1700 ) which gains you access to the entire fort which includes several small exhibits of the area’s history, shipbuilding, phosphate mining and  Bedouin life and traditions.

But there is a lot more to El Quseir than the castle.

MARKETS AND SHOPS

The town offers a large number of traditional tourist friendly bazaars along Sharia Al Gomhuriya which lies below the castle selling the usual array of papyrus, alabaster statues, t shirts and leather goods etc. However there as also some fascinating local markets, especially on a Friday, to which the Ababda bedouin and local farmers bring their produce.

ANCIENT EL QUSEIR – THE ROMAN RUINS.

Around 8km north of the city centre lie the remains of the ancient Roman port of Myos Hormos (“Mussel Harbour” and now sometimes referred to by its’ Arabic title El Quseir El Qadima ). 10734167_769557113109596_1696892015982573110_n

During the first century AD a fleet of around 120 ships (according to the Greek geographer Strabo) exported pottery, slaves (mostly from Europe) including “singing boys”, wine and precious minerals to India and East Africa and returned with imports of stone, silk and spices for the Roman empire.

The imports would have then been transported by a six day camel journey to Koptos (now called Qift) and then floated up the Nile river to Alexandria and subsequently onward by ship to Europe.

Unfortunately today the ancient harbour has long silted up and all that remains of the former port are a few of the ancient foundations although a lot of imported ancient artifacts of Indian and Chinese origin have been found in the area and offshore there are the sparse remains of a Roman shipwreck lying  some 65 metres deep in the water.

Myos Hormos was also the same place (then called Leukos Limen or White Harbour) from where in 1493BC Queen Hatshepsut ( 1508 – 1458 BC ) sent an expedition of five ships and some 200 sailors to the land of Punt (Eritrea/Somalia area) 1600km (or 1000 miles ) away.  They returned,  up to a year later, with many precious goods including ivory, ebony and frankincense.  The story of the voyage is depicted on the walls of her temple at Luxor.

It may also have been the port from where Phoenecian sailors set sail in 600 BC and returned via the Mediterranean (according to the ancient historian Herodotus) completing what may have been the first circumnavigation of Africa.

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