Bir Tawil
Imagery ©2017 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps.

Would You Visit Bir Tawil — The Unclaimed Land No Country Wants?

O nce upon a time, a man named Jeremiah Heaton promised to fulfill the wish of his daughter — six years of age — of her one day becoming a real princess; and to do so would entail a journey to a barren land with “no fixed population, no coastline, no surface water and no arable soil” and plant a flag to declare the establishment of a kingdom as a sovereign monarchy whereby her daughter would truly be a real princess…

…or so the story goes. Way back in a year in the distant past known as 2014, the father from the mythical land known as Virginia did plant the flag; but that does not necessarily guarantee that the inhospitable land was actually his solely because he claimed it and planted a flag.

Would You Visit Bir Tawil — The Unclaimed Land No Country Wants?

I would like to say that I have journeyed to this fabled piece of forgotten land — or, perhaps, maybe not — but alas, I have never visited the lone trapezoidal anomaly nestled south of what was supposed to be the official straight border along the 22nd parallel of Egypt and Sudan. Neither country wants to claim the barren lawless land known as Bir Tawil, for to do so would automatically mean the acknowledgement of relinquishing a larger, more fertile and more lucrative disputed piece of land referred to as the Hala’ib triangle, with many miles of coastline along the Red Sea.

I have, however, driven on what has been known as the road to nowhere — but that is another story.

The closest I came to Bir Tawil was a scant 275 miles to the north and slightly west in an ancient city known as Luxor, of which I still intend to compose reports of that trip back in 2015. To try obtaining directions to Bir Tawil on Google Maps is an exercise fraught with futility, as no viable transportation option is possible.

Jack Shenker visited the forbidden land with companions in 2010 — traveling from Cairo with little planning — and wrote in this article for The Guardian:

Egypt and Sudan’s rival claims on Hala’ib both rest on documents that appear to assign responsibility for Bir Tawil to the other country. As a result, neither wants to assert any sovereignty over Bir Tawil, for to do so would be to renounce their rights to the larger and more lucrative territory. On Egyptian maps, Bir Tawil is shown as belonging to Sudan. On Sudanese maps, it appears as part of Egypt. In practice, Bir Tawil is widely believed to have the legal status of terra nullius – “nobody’s land” – and there is nothing else quite like it on the planet.


The article written by Jack Shenker is a fascinating read if you are into the anomalies and vagaries of land borders concocted by the political and economical imperfections of human beings in an attempt to have everything on our tiny planet throughly mapped and in order — which I am, as evidenced by my fascination with enclaves and exclaves

…but the best of intentions do not always go as planned; and the article provides some detailed history of Bir Tawil as well as the recounting of the personal experience of Shenker, who tells of being “two days’ drive from the nearest tap or telephone.”

As with Heaton after him, Shenker also planted a flag in the rocky sand — a place which is home to only members of a couple of nomadic tribes — with no other autonomous sovereign entity in the world officially recognizing the claims of either man…

…and in the meantime, Bir Tawil remains the land no country wants.

Imagery ©2017 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps. Information graphics by Brian Cohen.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!