The Necropolis of Bagawat

Memorial Chapels of The Siwa Desert

One of the most well-preserved, most interesting and engaging Christian sites in all of Egypt, the necropolis of Bagawat provides a significant addition to trips or vacations in Egypt. As morbid as one might initially suspect the experience to be, the necrlopolis is far from that, and is in fact a stunning revelation of an isolated part of Egyptian history.

The necropolis is comprised of what seems like countless funerary chapels located throughout the hills of Kharga in the Siwa Desert. Built between the 4th and 8th centuries AD, the chapels of the complex present a surreal example of proto-Coptic and Roman-Byzantine art. The complex is distinguished with a variety in design but unity in the material of construction, sun-baked bricks. This mode and material of construction was unusual at the time as the most commonly used material was stone.

The necropolis contains 263 chapels, and while most of them still have significant art on their interiors, only three chapels have well-preserved ceilings or cupolas with finely detailed paintings of biblical scenes portraying early Christian figures. The paintings present intricate skills of artistic proficiency with lively colors and meticulous designs. A strong sense of merger between Coptic ideologies and ancient Egyptian symbolism is very much apparent in almost all the surviving paintings.

The chapels vary in shape and height, some are circular, square, rectangular, and so forth, but the majority consist of a single room, regardless of shape or size, and are topped by cupolas. Although the necropolis has certainly survived centuries of arid desert conditions, there is enough left of the original constructions that provide a clear sense of what the necropolis would have been like at the time of its establishment. The facades and exteriors of the chapels still maintain some of their original ornamentation and architectural decorations, including columns, capitals, arches, arcades and niches. The variety of design presents a very pleasant silhouette of religious, aesthetic and architectural connotations.

Of the most engaging chapels in the Bagawat necropolis are the Chapel of Peace, and the Chapel of the Exodus, surviving from the 5th and 4th century, respectively. The interior of the cupola in the Chapel of Peace includes portraits, names, figures and depictions from the New and Old Testaments, most importantly St. Paul preaching to St. Thecla, finely painted on a warm colored background. St. Thecla was the first woman martyr, she's depicted in two chapels in Bagawat, and is traditionally thought to have been buried near modern day Cairo, although this theory is criticized. She also has memorials, relics and shrines in various locations worldwide, including France and England.

The landscape of the chapels continues to echo the message of the spirits for which it was built. Against the shadows of the arches and domes, which stand in silence against the harsh summer sun of Siwa, the necropolis remains as a unique reflection of the evolution of religion, art, and civilization.

The overall atmosphere of the necropolis is one of silent enchantment. In the midst of the scorching sun of the desert, the warmth penetrates the chapels, filling them with a serene glow that illuminates the ancient artwork; emitting an exceptional sense of peace, tranquility, and above all, divinity.