Wadi Sora

The swimmers

Wadi Sora cave Wadi Sora (valley of pictures) was discovered by the Hungarian explorer Laslo Almasy in 1932, while attempting to find the lost Zerzura valleys. The "cave of swimmers" was made famous by the film 'The English Patient' (1996), from the book of the same name by Michael Ondaatje. The book is based (very loosely) on Lazlo Almasy himself and his wartime experiences. The desert scenes in the film were actually shot in Sudan and the cave scenes were film set creations, but this has not stopped the real "cave of swimmers" from becoming one of the most famous rock art sites in the world on the back of the film.

The main "cave of swimmers" is located in the base of a large, conical rocky mound, situated right on the edge of the Western escarpment of the Gilf Kebir. It is easily approached and is a must-do for anyone who has made the effort to get to this remote corner of the Western Desert. The cave is rather exposed, so that sand which has been whipped into the cave by the desert winds over the millenia since the pictures were painted, have taken their toll. Now, the rock art on the lower levels of the cave walls are in a very poor state. But the paintings on the upper levels are in reasonable condition and there is much to contemplate.


The central attraction are these small figures - no more than a few inches long - enigmatically swimming across the rock face from left to right. Almasy himself thought that these swimming figures were an indication that there was a lake nearby in lusher times when the painters of the pictures lived here about 6000 years ago. However, no evidence of any nearby lake has been found and it is now thought that these figures are swimming in a spiritual space, rather than a temporal lake.

What are the swimmers swimming towards? From the left, there are eight figures swimming more-or-less in line to the right. Then below the eighth figure, we see another figure diving vertically down. Below that figure, another five figures are swimming line to the right again. Two of these figures are difficult to make out, but the final three figures can be seen moving towards a "headless beast", which is faint, but none-the-less discernable in the middle right hand edge of the picture. These "headless beasts" are a feature of the rock art in this area, and feature particularly in the newly discovered Foggini-Mestekawi cave a little to the North. At Foggini-Mestekawi, there are more explicit representations of human figures entering (or being devoured by) a headless beast. Here, the entering of the headless beast is just implied.

ws_dog.jpg - 153159 Bytes This little picture of a dog(?) is very nice. It is perhaps five inches high and has survived remarkably well.
Back to the map of the Gilf Kebir