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Qift, ancient Coptos, was the beginning of a the route that led to Quseir on the coast of the Red Sea
( ) is a dry river bed in Egyptmarker's Eastern Desert, about halfway between Qusier and Qenamarker. It was a major mining region and trade route east from the Nile Valley in ancient times, and three thousand years of rock carvings and graffiti make it a major scientific and tourist site today.

Trade route

Hammamat became the major route from Thebes to the Red Seamarker port of Elim, and then to the Silk Road that led to Asia, or to Arabia and the horn of Africa. This 200km journey was the most direct route from the Nile to the Red Seamarker, as the Nile bends toward the coast at the western end of the wadi.

The Hammamat route ran from Qiftmarker, located just north of Luxormarker, to Quseirmarker on the coast of the Red Sea. Qift later was called Coptos by the Greeks, and it was an important center for administration, religion, and commerce. The cities at both ends of the route were established by the First Dynasty, although evidence of predynastic occupation also has been found along the route.

Quarries

In Ancient Egypt Hammamat was a major quarrying area for the Nile Valley. Quarrying expeditions to the Eastern Desert are recorded from the second millennia BCE, where the wadi has exposed Precambrian rocks of the Arabian-Nubian Shield. These include Basalts, schists, bekhen-stone (an especially prized green metagraywacke sandstone used for bowls, palettes, statues, and sarcophagi) and gold-containing quartz.

Pharaoh Seti is recorded as having the first well dug to provide water in the wadi, and Senusret I sent mining expeditions there. The site is described in the earliest-known ancient geological map, the Turin Papyrus Map, describing a quarrying expedition prepared for Ramesses IV.

Carvings

Today Hammamat is famous mostly for its ancient Egyptian graffiti, as well as that in ancient times it was a quarry that lay on the Silk Road to Asia, and is a common destination for modern tourists. The wadi contains many carvings and inscriptions dating from before the earliest Egyptian Dynasties to the modern era, including the only painted petroglyph known from the Eastern Desert and drawings of Egyptian reed boats dated to 4000 BCE.

Common era

Occupying groups from the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire used both the route and the mines, the Romans establishing toll stations, the Byzantines reopening New Kingdom and Ptolemaic mines at Bir Um Fawakhir, and both building watch towers along the route that survive today. The Romans built a series of eight watering stages (hydreuma), one of which, the Qasr el-Benat, the Castle of the Maidens, survives.

A modern asphalt road, the Wadi Hammamat road now runs for 194km through the wadi, making it a vital transport route, and enabling tourists to travel easily between the sites of nearby Luxor and Thebes.

Modern European description

The first European descriptions of the Wadi Hammamat were from the Scottish traveler James Bruce in 1769, and the Russian Egyptologist Vladimir Golenishchev led the first modern study of the inscriptions in 1884-1885.

Biblical significance

Pi-hahiroth on the eastern shore of Egypt just south of the Gulf of Aqabamarker, near Thebes port of Elim, is recorded in the Book of Exodus as a stop on the flight of the Jews from Egypt, suggesting that their path was through the Wadi Hammamat.

Popular culture

The Pogues wrote a song about it, titled Girl From The Wadi Hammamat.

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