The Egyptian Red Sea town of al-Quseir hit the headlines after Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that a single gold coin dating back to the Umayyad period had been discovered. This coin was unearthed by an American expedition from Yale University during archaeological excavations at the Monastery of Saint John the Little, which is located near al-Quseir. The coin weighs 1.42 grams, and was equal to one third of a Dinar and dates back to 721 AD. One side of the coin is inscribed with the words: “This Dinar was minted in 103” while on the other side it reads, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The American expedition was led by archaeologist Steven Davis who submitted a report to me about the excavation carried out by his team in this important spot that was once a major trade route linking the cities of the Nile Valley and the eastern and western Red Sea ports.
Al-Quseir is considered one of the most important Egyptian towns that prospered during the Islamic age and it is unique in that it retains a lot of its original features and authenticity. Al-Quseir lies on the Red Sea coast between Port Safaga and Marsa Alam. In ancient times the town was the last stop on the caravan trail connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. During the Islamic age, al-Quseir was considered to be something of a fortress due to its natural geographical position and its name is a diminutive from the Arabic words “al-Qasr [Castle] and “al-Hasn [Fortress].
The Islamic town of al-Quseir was built on an ancient Ptolemaic site known as “Leucus Limen” or the White Port. Amid the old ruins of al-Quseir – where excavations are still in their early stages – a number of written manuscripts and inscriptions have been found, some of which were written in Nabataean and even in ancient Hindi due to the existence of a Hindu community in al-Quseir during the Roman era in the first and second centuries AD.
The caravan trail connecting the Nile town of Qaft with al-Quseir on the Red Sea was protected and guarded thanks to the presence of twelve Roman fortresses that served as way-stations, providing caravans with water, food, and protection along the 180 km journey.
Near al-Quseir, in the region known as Wadi Gasus, we discovered Pharaonic descriptions confirming that ancient Egyptian expeditions had been dispatched to the Land of Punt [present-day Somalia] during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut to bring frankincense trees, animal hides, and African beats to Egypt. However the most previous goods that these expeditions brought back to Egypt were aromatic oils and incense that were not only used by the ancient Egyptians in their daily lives, but also in their temples as part of their religious ceremonies, as well as in the mummification process of preparing their dead for the journey into the afterlife.
During the Islamic age, al-Quseir remained an extremely important trade station, and was mentioned by the majority of Arab explorers and travellers like Ibn Battuta and Ahmad al-Qalqashandi and numerous others. Al-Quseir also served as a sea-port by pilgrims en route to Jeddah.
The most important monument in al-Quseir is the ancient castle; the exact date of its construction is not known, although it is known that Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri admired its architecture and restored it. The castle was modified during the Ottoman period, before being re-modelled and fortified a third time by French soldiers during the French campaign in Egypt, and was utilized during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of al-Quseir is its fresh air and climate, which is something that the city enjoys all year round, as well as its beautiful unexplored beaches. This city represents an ideal getaway for all those seeking to relax and recuperate.