KHARGA (WAH EL-KHARGA, the outer oasis), the largest of the Egyptian oases, and hence frequently called the Great Oasis. It lies in the Libyan desert between 24 and 26 N. and 30 and 31 E., the chief town, also called Kharga, being 435 m. by rail S. by W. of Cairo. It is reached by a narrow-gauge line (opened in 1908) from Kharga junction, a station on the Nile valley line near Farshut. The oasis consists of a depression in the desert some 1200 sq. m. in extent, and is about 100 m. long N. to S. and from 12 to 50 broad E. to W. Formerly, and into historic times, a lake occupied a considerable part of the depression, and the thick deposits of clay and sand then laid down now form the bulk of the cultivated lands of the oasis. It includes, however, a good deal of desert land. The inhabitants numbered (1907 census) 8348. They are of Berber stock. Administratively the oasis forms part of the mudiria of Assiut. It is practically rainless, and there is not now a single natural flowing spring. There are, however, numerous wells, water being obtained freely from the porous sandstone which underlies a great part of the Libyan desert. Some very ancient wells are 400 ft. deep. In water-bearing sandstones near the surface there are underground aqueducts dating from Roman times. The oasis contains many groves of date palms, there being over 60,000 adult trees in 1907. The dom palm, tamarisk, acacia and wild senna are also found. Rice, barley and wheat are the chief cereals cultivated, and lucerne for fodder. Besides agriculture the only industry is basket and mat making from palm leaves and fibre. Since 1906 extensive boring and land reclamation works have been undertaken in the oasis.
The name of the oasis appears in hieroglyphics as Kenem, and that of its capital as Hebi (the plough). In Pharaonic times it supported a large population, but the numerous ruins are mostly of later date. The principal ruin, a temple of Ammon, built under Darius, is of sandstone, 142 ft. long by 63 ft. broad and 30 ft. in height. South-east is another temple, a square stone building with the name of Antoninus Pius over one of the entrances. On the eastern escarpment of the oasis on the way to Girga are the remains of a large Roman fort with twelve bastions. On the road to Assiut is a fine Roman columbarium or dove-cote. Next to the great temple the most interesting ruin in the oasis is, however, the necropolis, a burial-place of the early Christians, placed on a hill 3 m. N. of the town of Kharga. There are some two hundred rectangular tomb buildings in unburnt brick with ornamented fronts. In most of the tombs is a chamber in which the mummy was placed, the Egyptian Christians at first continuing this method of preserving the bodies of their dead. In several of the tombs and in the chapel of the cemetery is painted the Egyptian sign of life, which was confounded with the Christian cross. The chapel is basilican; in it and in another building in the necropolis are crude frescoes of biblical subjects.
Kharga town (pop. 1907 census, 5362) is picturesquely situated amid palm groves. The houses are of sun-dried bricks, the streets narrow and winding and for the most part roofed over, the roofs carrying upper storeys. Some of the streets are cut through the solid rock. South of the town are the villages of Genna, Guehda (with a temple dedicated to Ammon, Mut and Khonsu), Bulak (pop. 1012), Dakakin, Beris (pop. 1564), Dush (with remains of a fine temple bearing the names of Domitian and Hadrian), etc.
Kharga is usually identified with the city of Oasis mentioned by Herodotus as being seven days' journey from Thebes and called in Greek the Island of the Blessed. The oasis was traversed by the army of Cambyses when on its way to the oasis of Ammon (Siwa), the army perishing in the desert before reaching its destination. During the Roman period, as it had also been in Pharaonic times, Kharga was used as a place of banishment, the most notable exile being Nestorius, sent thither after his condemnation by the council of Ephesus. Later it became a halting-place for the caravans of slaves brought from Darfur to Egypt.
About 100 m. W. of Kharga is the oasis of Dakhla, the inner or receding oasis, so named in contrast to Kharga as being farther from the Nile. Dakhla has a population (1907) of 18,368. Its chief town, El Kasr, has 3602 inhabitants. The principal ruin, of Roman origin and now called Deir el Hagar (the stone convent), is of considerable size. The Theban triad were the chief deities worshipped here. Some 120 m. N.W. of Dakhla is the oasis of Farafra, population about 1000, said to be the first of the oases conquered by the Moslems from the Christians. It is noted for the fine quality of its olives. The Baharia, or Little Oasis (pop. about 6000), lies 80 m. N.N.E. of Farafra. Many of its inhabitants, who are of Berber race, are Senussites. Baharia is about 250 m. E.S.E. of the oasis of Siwa (see Egypt: The Oases; and SIWA).
See H. Brugsch, Reise nach dem grossen Oase el-Khargeh in der Libyschen Wiiste (Leipzig, 1878); H. J. L. Beadnell, An Egyptian Oasis (London, 1909); Murray's Handbook for Egypt, nth ed. (London, 1907); Geological and Topographical Report on Kharga Oasis (1899), on Farafra Oasis (1899), on Dakhla Oasis (1900), on Baharia Oasis (1903), all issued by the Public Works Department, Cairo. (F. R. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)