Hidden beneath the thick layers of the Sahara Desert, there might lie the remnants of several ancient civilizations that once thrived in this arid region. Approximately 4,000 years ago, the Sahara boasted lush vegetation and abundant wildlife, making it an attractive prospect for settlement. Let’s take a look at the legends of Zerura.
Legends of Zerzura
According to the legends passed down by the current inhabitants of regions near the Sahara, such as the oasis city of Dakhla and the oases of Farafra and Bahariya, the desert was once home to prosperous and advanced cities. Among these legends, tales of the fabled city of Zerzura hold a prominent place. The 15th-century Arabic manuscript “Kitab al Kanuz” (“The Book of Hidden Pearls”) also mentions Zerzura, describing it as a city constructed with white stone and brimming with treasures. Within its walls, a bird with a key in its beak was intricately carved on the main gate. Additionally, the manuscript makes reference to black giants who served as guardians of this grand entrance.
Regrettably, the exact authorship and creation date of the manuscript remains unknown. Nevertheless, it contains a collection of stories related to malevolent spirits safeguarding Egyptian treasures, accompanied by spells intended to ward off these spirits and lay claim to the riches.
The Enigmatic Encounter
Records from Benghazi, Libya, recount a remarkable tale that transpired in 1481. A camel caravan, en route to the Dakhla oasis, was ensnared by a fierce sandstorm, leading to the demise of all its passengers except one: a drover named Hamid Keila.
After the tempest subsided, Keila found himself in an unfamiliar landscape where familiar landmarks had vanished. Soon, he encountered a group of extraordinary individuals with light blonde hair and blue eyes, unlike the typical Arab appearance. These enigmatic individuals wielded straight swords instead of the customary curved Arab scimitars.
Taking Keila to their city, Zerzura, they showcased luxurious white edifices, palm trees, and pools where fair-skinned women and children bathed. Although the Zerzurans, or El Suri as Keila referred to them, treated him kindly, their language remained indecipherable to him. Notably, no mosques were present in the city, and the women didn’t wear veils, leading Keila to surmise that they were not adherents of Islam.
Several months later, when Keila returned to Benghazi, he recounted the tale of the mysterious city. However, when questioned about his departure from Zerzura, he hesitated and finally claimed to have fled. The Emir, suspicious of his account, conducted a search and found a gold ring with a large ruby in Keila’s possession. Accusing Keila of theft, the Emir demanded that he guide them to the location of Zerzura under the threat of punishment. Unable to indicate the exact direction, Keila failed to lead them to the city, and his fate afterward remains a mystery.
The European Connection
Rumors suggest that the golden ring found in Keila’s possession made its way through the hands of Libyan rulers, ultimately landing in the possession of Muammar Gaddafi. Experts who studied the ring deduced that European craftsmen produced it during the 12th century. Consequently, speculation arose that the fair-haired individuals seen by Keila could be the descendants of early European crusaders who either settled in the city of Zerzura or founded a new city upon its ruins.
Searches for Zerzura
Despite various verbal descriptions of Zerzura’s location, the first extensive searches were only initiated at the beginning of the 20th century. William Joseph Harding King, an explorer, embarked on a campaign in the Sahara in 1909 but failed to find conclusive evidence of the city’s existence, despite hearing tales of lost oases laden with palm trees and olive groves.
A breakthrough came between 1932 and 1934 when a group led by Ladislaus E. Almazi, Robert Clayton East Clayton, Hubert G. Penderel, and Patrick Clayton reanalyzed John Gardner Wilkinson’s book and set out on an expedition. After six days of travel, they encountered stone ruins adorned with Egyptian hieroglyphs mentioning the name of Pharaoh Djedefra from the 4th dynasty. However, it turned out not to be Zerzura.
Today, the precise location of this elusive “treasure city” remains unknown. Speculation persists that its ruins might lie concealed under the sands within the green valleys of Talh, Abd el Melik, and Wadi Hamra. Researchers focus much of their attention on the Hamra Valley, renowned for its vegetation, acacia trees, rock paintings, and, historically, a river that still flows beneath the sands.
The mystery of Zerzura endures, its legends intertwined with the vastness of the Sahara Desert. As adventurers, researchers, and archaeologists continue their relentless pursuit, the lost city continues to captivate the imagination and beckons those who seek to unravel its enigmatic history.
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