Cairo’s Petrified Forest

Clumps of fossilized wood in the Petrified Forest around Cairo

photography by: Fabio Achill/ Flickr

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Among the world's largest and most densely populated cities, Cairo often leaves its inhabitants and visitors craving a quiet escape from its otherwise hustle and bustle. Tucked away in the eastern outskirts of this ancient metropolis, the Petrified Forest offers just that. This unique natural reserve boasts a serene landscape, adorned with millions of years-old fossilized trees.

With a rich history spanning across millennia, Cairo and its surroundings are world-renowned for their treasure trove of archeological sites left by the ancient civilization of Egypt, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Sphinx and the Valley Temple of Khafre, to name just a few. While these monuments are definitely old, they all pale in comparison to the strewn remnants of the region’s prehistoric past, lying south of New Cairo City, a suburb of the Egyptian capital.


The Petrified Forest or Gabal al-Khashab is home to a cluster of fossilized trees, dating back to over 30 million years ago, to a time when the climate of the region was far wetter and supported dense vegetation. It was during this era that a now-extinct branch of the Nile carried logs of dead wood, distributing it throughout the area.


Over thousands of years, the arboreal debris were buried under the sediment, while mineral-rich water percolated through the wood, replacing the organic material cell by cell with silica and other minerals, thus turning the wood into stone. This process, known as petrification, preserved the trees in stunning detail, revealing the intricate patterns of the bark and rings that denote the age of the trees.


Since 1989, the area has been designated as a natural reserve with the aim of protecting the rare fossils from the ever-expanding urban sprawl. Intrepid visitors who explore the secluded site will come across large trunks and branches of petrified wood, some lying on the desert floor while others are partially buried in the sand.


The rock-encrusted trees are perhaps most conspicuous by their striking colors, ranging from deep red and brown to yellow and even some shades of green, a testament to the various minerals that have seeped into the wood over the ages. Alongside remnants of trees, one can also find here a plethora of desert-dwelling animals, roaming among their fossilized counterparts.


To get here, first take a taxi or bus to Cairo’s German University and then walk east towards the main entrance along Talaat Harb Axis.