Central Egypt cave captivates visitors

Visitors at the Wadi Sannur Cave in Beni Suef

Miners digging in 1992 for alabaster in a de­sert area of Egypt’s central province of Beni Suef made a dis­covery that would keep geologists busy and mesmerise adventurers for years.
Using explosives, the miners destroyed the rock one layer at a time, until a huge cavity appeared. When the dust settled, the few dar­ing miners who ventured inside the hole found a huge cave with unique natural beauty.
“The miners could not believe that as they searched for marble and alabaster, they would make such an important discovery,” said Rania Mohamed, the head of the office of the National Tourism Promotion Authority in Beni Suef. “Now, this cave is one of the most visited sites near the province and the whole of central Egypt.”
Geologists studying the site 125km south of Cairo pointed to the geological and potential tourist value of the discovery, prompting the Egyptian government to de­clare the cavern, named Wadi San­nur Cave, a national protectorate. This banned human activity inside and near the cave.
Since then, visitors have been converging on the cave from around Egypt and beyond, even though the government has not done much to promote it as a tour­ist destination.
Wadi Sannur Cave, 15 metres deep and covering 700 sq. metres, has rock formations of shapes and colours moulded over millions of years through the accumulation of sediment.
Visitors walk into the main area of the cave that leads on both sides into naturally formed chambers with walls made of the most pre­cious types of alabaster and colour­ful marble. Rocks dangling from the ceiling, some of them luminous like light bulbs, add to the natural beauty of the cavern.
There is a sense of entering an otherworldly place. The beauty of the cave is in marked contrast to the desert surrounding it. Once visitors get deep inside, they are cut off from the outside world, pro­viding a unique sense of quiet and serenity.
Mohamed said the National Tourism Promotion Authority pre­pared plans to upgrade the cave, keep unauthorised mining activi­ties away and create facilities and services, including cafés and public toilets, to meet visitors’ needs.
The lack of basic services around the cave means visitors must spe­cially prepare before heading to the area, said tourist guide Mahfouz Abul Ela.
“Visitors need to bring food and water with them and should be equipped with special boots to climb the rocks inside and outside the cave,” Abul Ela said. “In win­ter, the Wadi Sannur area is very cold, which makes it necessary for visitors to bring heavy clothes with them.”
Wadi Sannur cave is approxi­mately a 1-hour drive from Cairo. A visit to the cave can be part of a package that includes other equal­ly interesting sites in Beni Suef and the surrounding area.
The central Egyptian province harbours many tourist sites, in­cluding Heracleopolis Magna — the city of Hercules. Approximately 15km west of Beni Suef, the city was the capital of Upper Egypt dur­ing the First Intermediate Period 2181-2055BC.
Other places worth visiting in Beni Suef include Meidum, an archaeological site that contains what is believed to be the second pyramid built in Egypt after Djoser in the Saqqara necropolis in Giza. A step structure, the pyramid was started by Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, and was com­peted by Sneferu.
Of all the sites in Beni Suef, however, the Wadi Sannur Cave remains the most magnetic, said Elwy Ahmed, who has visited the cavern five times.
“I first came two years ago upon the advice of a friend. Since then, I never reject an invitation to visit the cave from the many travel groups of which I am a member,” said Ahmed, 26. “The cave is so beautiful that it captivates visitors and shows that Egypt is not only about the pyramids in Giza or the temples in Luxor.”
Ibrahim Ouf
is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.