Sunday، 15 May 2016 - 12:00 AM
It is Located 60 km south of Wadi EL-Rian in El-Fayoum oasis. This is around 150 km southwest of Cairo. The site today is a nature reserve area and a natural Heritage Site.
It is an area of fossils; considered as an open museum which dates back to 40 million years and contains petrified primitive whales skeletons, shark teeth, shells and roots of Mangroves preserved in soft rocks.
It is also home to 15 species of desert plants, sand dunes and about 15 types of wild mammals including the white deer the Egyptian deer and the red fox.
UNESCO said the value of Wadi Al-Hitan lies in the fact that it is evidence as one of the major stages of evolution: the transformation of the whale from a land to mammal. It is believed that whales once had feet that enabled them to walk on shore before getting into the water, moving easily between land and sea.
Wadi Al-Hitan, or the Valley of the Whales, is an expanse of desert littered with fossils, and located behind a mountain known as Gabal Gar Gohannam (The Mountain Next to Hell). It is true that, in the light of the setting sun, the mountain seems ablaze with an eerie red light.
Wadi Al-Hitan is also near the Al-Qatrani mountain range, well known for its value as a geological site: "Of all the important sites in Egypt, Al-Qatrani is the object of the most studies because it used to be a jungle, populated by all kinds of mammals. The whole area, about 150km of desert today, is an open-air geological museum," notes Mohammadein Hassan, a geologist and a ranger in the Wadi Al-Rayan protectorate. Hassan adds that this area is famous worldwide for its rare vertebrate fossils and mega-fossils.
Studies of Gabal Gar Gohannam have shown that most of the fossils in the area are of marine creatures. Complete skeletons of sharks, dogfish and whales have been located. According to Mustafa Mahmoud, the Egyptian-Italian project co-director in the Wadi Rayan natural reserve, this area was under water for 40 to 50 million years ago.
To date, 34 whale skeletons have been discovered, with tails reaching up to 18m in length.
The Al-Oyoun Monastery, built in the ’60s and later deserted, is once more occupied by monks.
The monastery is built amidst four small lakes; a large variety of wild flora and fauna flourished here. Now, the presence of humans and the noise of vehicles have frightened most of the animals away. "The gazelles, in particular, are very shy animals and terribly frightened by any sound," Mahmoud explains.
This area is particularly sensitive because the animals have been targeted by hunters for a long time. The gazelles and other wild creatures have therefore taken shelter in a spot protected by sand dunes, which is very difficult to reach by car.