Oasis is a small fertile spot in a desert region, usually having a spring or well.
Underground water sources called aquifers supply most oases. These natural springs may rise to the surface naturally, or people may dig in the ground to release the water.
Oases vary in size, ranging from about 1 hectare (2.5 acres) around small springs to vast areas of naturally watered or irrigated land.
They can be found in desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sahara Desert of Egypt and many other desert regions of the world.
It seems amazing that trees could sprout in an oasis. Where do the seeds come from? As it happens, scientists believe that migrating birds spot the glint of water from the air and swoop down for a drink. Any seeds that they happen to have swallowed earlier will be deposited in the damp sand around the waterhole, and those seeds that are hardy enough will sprout, providing the oasis with its tell-tale splash of color in the sand.
Some of the world’s largest supplies of underground water exist beneath the Sahara Desert, supporting about 90 major oases there.
Oases provide a habitat for animals and are used as a source of water for humans.
People who live in an oasis must manage land and water use carefully; fields must be irrigated to grow plants like apricots, dates, figs, and olives.
The location of oases has been of critical importance for trade and transportation routes in desert areas; caravans must travel via oases so that supplies of water and food can be replenished.
The Silk Road across Central Asia incorporated several oases. Some oasis on the road developed into cities such as Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan), Merv (Turkmenistan), and Yarkand (Xinjiang, China).
Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia. It is claimed that Merv was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The site of ancient Merv has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Ghadamès, known as ‘the pearl of the desert’, stands in an oasis. It is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities and an outstanding example of a traditional settlement. Its domestic architecture is characterized by a vertical division of functions: the ground floor used to store supplies; then another floor for the family, overhanging covered alleys that create what is almost an underground network of passageways; and, at the top, open-air terraces reserved for the women. The old part of the town, which is surrounded by a city wall, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
Las Vegas is the most populated city in in the US state of Nevada. It is a popular tourist destination known for gaming and entertainment. Before the arrival of casinos, however, Las Vegas was the site of a natural oasis in the Mojave Desert. Springs brought water from the regions aquifer to the surface, ultimately flowing into the Colorado River. Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows,”, and was named when the oasis was discovered by Mexican merchants in 1829.
The word “oasis” came into English via Latin: oasis from Ancient Greek: ὄασις – óasis, which in turn is a direct borrowing from Demotic Egyptian. The word for oasis in the later attested Coptic language (the descendant of Demotic Egyptian) is wahe or ouahe which means a “dwelling place”.