Since pharaonic times the Eastern Desert was famous for its trading routes and mining resources. 


With the rules of the Ptolemeic and the Romans (4th century BC until 7th century AC) trading was extended to the Mediterranean region. Caravans leaving from South Arabia, East Africa and South Asia had to cross the Eastern Desert and successively follow the Nile to the Mediterranean Sea, which they had to navigate to Rome. In ptolemeic times trade of elephants, gold and emeralds, in roman and early Byzantium times pearls, pepper, general exotic spices, silk, exotic animals, medicines, frankincense and myrrh were traded with Rome in exchange for wines, fine pottery, glass and textiles.

ancient fort

Several caravan routes led from Red Sea harbors like Myos Hormos and Berenike to the Nile. At distances of 30 to 35km, about a day-march on foot, fortified water stations were established to supply the caravans.


Branch roads connected mining areas to the main routes. In the north mainly granite, porphyry and other hard rock for pillars, bathtubs, statues and fountain bowls were quarried and roughly shaped at site before transported to the Nile. In the southern Eastern Desert gold, emeralds and bekhen stone for sarcophagi and statues were mined. Cairns of piled stones frequently marked the caravan routes and towers occasionally overlooked the road.  Fire towers covered the whole distance from Myos Hormos (Quser) till Coptos (Qift) to signal messages from the coast to the Nile.


Many remains of this period are still visible today. Fortresses, wells, quarries, mining shafts and even whole villages can be found in this now deserted area.