Fayoum Oasis is
Egypt’s largest oasis, populated by more than 2 million. It is not a pure oasis like the other ones of
Egypt, as most of its water comes from the
Nile. But it is a depression and it has its own artesian hells, allowing water to reach the surface from underground reservoirs. The extent of it is quite grand, and the green gardens seem to go on and on. Its villages are simple and far too often filthy, making a stark contrast to the gardens and the splendid past.
Fayoum’s history goes back in time as far as
Egypt S. Its earliest recorded name, in the time of the pyramid builders, was To-She, with the construction of irrigation canals in the 19th century BCE, the oasis became the most fertile region in
Egypt. The 4th century BCE king Ptolemy 2 Philadelphus named ‘it after his sister/wife Arsinoe.
With the introduction of Roman control a few centuries later, a new taxation system ruined local farmers and resulted in a decline of the oasis that would last for almost 1600 years, before Mohammed Ali introduced new programs, promoting agriculture. Fayoum city’s selection of hotels are mainly 1 star or less, with one 3 star exception.
Out of the main city there are a few more elections, and one high standard hotel. Prices are OK. The selection of nice restaurants in Fayoum resembles the selection of hotels. But the hotel restaurant at Queen Hotel does a decent dinner in fine surroundings (but without a single window), but they should learn to put on some music when both hotel and restaurant is empty. Your best choice in Fayoum is one of the many stylish fast food joints. Some of these are sit-down places, and although their interior seems to be inspired by McDonald’s, they actually serve good food.
Fayoum Oasis is a wonderful area of
Egypt with a rich and interesting history. It is an area where Egyptians often vacation and which is constantly growing more popular among Europeans. This 692 sq. mile depression was a lush paradise during prehistoric times. Its water level was eighty-five meters higher than today (currently 45 meters below sea level) and the
Nile regularly flooded through the low mountains separating it from the Fayoum. At 215 square km, the current
Egypt's largest salt water lake. The prehistoric people who lived here were, at first, nomadic hunters and gatherers, but later began harvesting plants near the lake. This developed into what is said to be the earliest agricultural area in the world, where fences were erected and guarded warehouses built. It has remained an agriculture center, well known for its fruits, vegetables and chickens.
Fayoum city is a pleasant village gone town, More than 300 000 people live here, Some have called it a miniature version of Cairo, but it is really more a village of larger houses The river scene, however, is nice, cutting through the most popular downtown sections of the place. Apart from the downtown, Fayoum has fairly little to offer. There are really just two sights in town. In addition to the water wheels, the most memorable is the obelisk of Sesostris 1 which stands in a roundabout 10 minutes walk from downtown. It is about 13 meters high and is the only obelisk with a rounded tip. Sesostris 1 made Fayoum into the most important centre of
Egypt in his time, almost 4000 years ago.
Getting to Medinet Madi, or Narmuthis, is half the fun. I had a taxi driver zigzagging through the Poorest villages of Fayoum on badly surfaced roads late in the afternoon, When we finally made it out there, all you could see from a distance was a small square shape on top of a long mound. After running across the field and climbing up the mound, and seeing that the shape was only a palm frond hut, I shouted a bad word. But then suddenly, I saw Medinet Madi appearing underneath me. And it was quite a surprise with its long temple and a ruined city in the background.
The history of Karanis goes back to the 3rd century BCE, when Greek mercenaries founded it, and lasts until the 5th century CE. The location was strategic, midway between the old centers of northern
Egypt and the increasingly important Fayoum Oasis. It was clearly a rich town, although never large. Perhaps up to 5,000 people lived here, but 2 temples were built to worship variations over the god Sobek; Petesouchos and Pnepheros. The
Temple of the South is slightly better preserved than the
Temple of the North. The layout of the two is quite similar, and they both contain the fascinating house of the crocodile, where a live crocodile lived and was venerated, it lies in the heart of the temple, and has a Small door on the side leading into a room about 6 square metros large. Around this, there area a number of rooms and staircases leading one story up, from where humans could deal with the crocodile, the town of Karanis is all over the area, but most of it is little excavated, The Greco-Roman bath house mentioned in guide books is little more than a bath tub with a roof where there now only are some remains of the original wall-decorations left.
Dima was originally a Greco-Roman town called Soknopaiou Nesos, which means “
Island of the Crocodile god” in Greek. Although it dates back to Ptolemaic period, it was probably settled for millennia’s before this, Dima was the first of the original ancient settlements of Fayoum to be abandoned, and lies today in an arid region where no agriculture is any longer possible. Dima one of is the sight around Fayoum offering least information of its past, although a processional way to the remains of a temple dedicated to Soknopaios still exists. There are also remains of the mud brick wall that ringed the city, a wall that was 10 meters high and 5 meters thick.
Near the modern day
Umm el-Barakat lays the ruins of the ancient town of
Tebtunis. While dating back to the
New Kingdom, the ruins are from the period from the Ptolemaic rulers to the Romans, 4th century BCE until 3rd or 4th century CE. At the site, there is a small temple dedicated to a local variation of Sobek, Soknebtynis, and a stone-paved processional way leading to the temple. This is protected by two lion statues made from limestone. There is also a crocodile cemetery, where more than 1000 mummified crocodiles and sarcophagi were found in 1900.
Water not moving is apparently a great attraction in
Qaroon is the largest lake in the entire country, 45 meters below sea level. It is gradually developing into a resort, both with beaches, beach resorts and now also holiday houses. Early in the day, green fishing boats rest on the eerie calm lake, almost melting with the sky. Only the backdrop of the desert in the north breaks this unity. Bird watchers can have nice time here, with 88 species nest around the lake, including flamingoes.
Qaroun was too salty for fish for a long time, until marine species were introduced in the 1970’s. These include eel, mullet, sole and shrimp. But apart from a beautiful sight or two, I believe that most foreigners can calmly leave
Qaroon to the Egyptians themselves. The amenities here area limited, and if a lazy day on the beach is your thing, the Red Sea resorts, as well as Marsa Matrouh and Alexandria has a better offer.
Ein El Seylien
Am as-Siliyiin is one of the major springs in the area. The water is sweet, and contains traces of titanium which are said to prevent Teri sclerosis. There are some vendors, restaurants, accommodations and other amenities in the area, which is located in a lush valley. Other such springs around Fayoum include al-Sha’ir, Biahmu and Al-Mandarah
The Water wheels
Fayoum has a great number of water wheels, perhaps as many as 200. This was an important addition to Fayoum’s economy in the 3rd century BCE, allowing the stream of the river to have water lifted up to a level where it could be transported into the fields for irrigation.
The two best places to see water wheels are either in
City, which has 4 standing next to another. 3 km north of town, there is a cluster of 7 waterwheels.
Kasr Qaroon is a temple dedicated to the Fayoum god Sobek, built during Ptolemaic times. It appears immediately as strangely simple and square from the outside, since it is like a complete rectangular box with slightly tilted walls. Its interior is distinguished by a maze of rooms, and stair cases, all ending on the roof, and this is part of the attraction, since only few of Egyptian temples have roofs and only few of these have access allowed. There is not much to see inside the temple, since all decorations are gone, all but the ones above the doors. But for early European travelers, Kasr Qaroon was a destination motiving quite active traveling. There was for long a theory that the maze of the temple, as well as the city near it, was the famous ancient Labyrinth described by Herodotus and Strabo. Of the city Dionysius, little of interest remains. The foundations and sometimes even walls of many houses peek through the sand, but no systematic excavations have been conducted here and you get no feeling of how the ancient city must have looked like.
Kasr El Sagha
In between the petrified remains of a thick forest from antiquity, and on an outlying scarp of the
Mountain, lies a temple now called Kasr el-Sagha. We do not know to which god or gods it was intended to be dedicated. Since it never was completed, there is a total lack of friezes and inscriptions. Its date has been set to no later than the Middle Kingdom. This can be seen from its plan, but the construction technique is unique in
Egypt. The blocks used are irregularly shaped, but have corners and angles that fit together as a jigsaw. By this the structure is held together, but ‘it calls for more imagination: It resembles an Inca structure of
South America. It appears that there were no nearby settlements to the temple, but there were villages in prehistoric times on a flat plain to the south.
Hawara’s Pyramid of Amenemhat
Amenemhat 3’s pyramid at Hawara was his second, of some unknown reason he ordered in this 15th year of reign the construction of a new pyramid at completely new location. Not only that, the design was also different.
One of the most accepted theories for this is that the designers of the first pyramid had discovered that the walls of the first pyramid were too steep. The pyramid at Hawara is not a great sight, although it is a huge construction. But time has formed it into something that looks more like a little mountain. The reason for the disintegration is once again the use of cheap materials. The core was made from mud brick and the exterior covered by limestone. And when the limestone was robbed, the mud brick would start to smolder from sun, rain and wind.
Pyramid of Sesostris
The architect of Sesostris 2’s pyramid, Anupy, introduced a new technique of building a pyramid. As a matter of fact, there was a mound here initially, upon which the structure was laid. Limestone pillars were dug into the ground, and then covered by mud brick. This core structure was then covered by finely cut’ limestone. Today the limestone casing is gone, and left is the mud brick structure which now looks like a mountain from a distance. As this pyramid was built about 700 years after the first, Anupy knew that time was every pyramid’s biggest enemy. In order to protect the pyramid from
Nile flooding, he had created a sponge trench, filled with sand and rolled flints.
It dates from the Mameluk era built on
Bridge by the wife of Sultan Qait-bay in the 15t1 century, 1476A.D. It is distinguished by its rostrum inlaid with ivory.