A chance trick of the light has provided proof of the town of Al-Qasr

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A chance trick of the light has provided proof that the town of Al-Qasr in the Dakhla Oasis was once a Roman fortress. Jenny Jobbins witnessed the evidence.

The town of Al-Qasr, otherwise known as Qasr Dakhla, lies in Dakhla Oasis deep in the Western Desert 450kms due west of Luxor. Despite its remote setting it has had a colourful history: Romans exploited the oasis for agricultural produce; Libyans, including the Sanusi, made conquering raids; and it was not far from the infamous Darb Al-Arbain slave route. In the picturesque mediaeval section of the town narrow, partly covered streets wind past heavy ancient doors topped with elaborate lintels, and here and there through an open doorway can be glimpsed old grinding stones or a staircase leading to a crumbling roof.

Al-Qasr is the older of the two towns in Dakhla -- the other being Mut -- and was built on top of a tell, that mound of crumbled debris that marks the site of an ancient structure or settlement and which over time, since any collapsed buildings are composed largely of mud brick, settles into the natural landscape.

Archaeologists have long supposed that beneath the foundations of Al-Qasr are the remains of a Roman citadel. Fred Leemhuis, professor of Islamic Studies at Groningen University and field director of the Qasr Dakhla Project -- part of the Dakhla Oasis Project (DOP) -- told this author two years ago: "Undoubtedly there was a fortress there in Roman times, or even a Ptolemaic one. The Romans probably built a structure to surround the well, and I would be surprised if there was nothing Roman. But we have simply not found any evidence."...

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