Yasser Metwally

My life…and the world

Fayoum city, Egypt

The author: Professor Yasser Metwally


Due to the canals, in the area, Medinet El-Fayoum has been called the Venice of Egypt. The city of close to half a million people was first known as Crocodilopolis, and later Arsinoe, and has a substantial Coptic presence. It is the capital of the province and lies at the center of the depression, and also the transportation network of the area. All of the canals, roads, and train rails in the Fayoum converge at Medinet El-Fayoum, including the famous Joseph’s Canal, though to have been built by the biblical Joseph.

The city’s dominate attractions are the water wheels built by the Greek settlers, the canals, and the Obelisk which stands at the city’s northern entrance and was erected in honor of Senwosret I (12th Dynasty). This monument was originally found in two pieces during the 18th century and was recently reconstructed and erected in the City. It is thought to be the only Obelisk in Egypt with a rounded top, and has a cleft where a golden statue of Ra was originally placed.

The canal is the main avenue for most commerce in the city. The covered market place and the adjacent street of gold smiths found across the 4th bridge to the west of the central tourist office, are worth a visit

Video 1. Fayoum city, Egypt

The Fayoum 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 lake Qaroun remains 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. Name the ancient Pharaonic attracted the symbol and emblem of the Egyptian, who is casting his head in the form of a crocodile, there is in the far north of the city remains of the Temple of the most ancient temples had a sacred symbol Sojos or foundry, and dating to the Twelfth Dynasty.

The renewed by King Ramses II and then subsequently renewed the Nineteenth Dynasty, and there was a holy lake next to the temple, where he keeps a crocodile as a symbol of the god Sojos. It is located on the west bank of the Nile north of Cairo, and dates back to 4400 BC has continued to 1000 years, and remains of pottery found that researchers did not find at the center of civilization on the effects of the dead, and often they had been buried in a remote location.

But agriculture is not the Fayoums only claim for being first. The Greek mummy  portraits found in the Fayoum are said to be the world’s first true life portraits,  and examples can be found in area museums. In addition, a paved road,  which has been noted as a landmarkof engineering by engineering societies along  side the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, is said to be possibly the first paved road  in the world and dates to over 4,500 years. And finally, the world’s first dam was  probably built here in order to control the Nile floods into the area.

The peacefulness of the area is a relief from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, from which it is a brief trip. Bird life still abounds around Lake Qaroun, bordered by semi-nomadic Bedouin settlements and fishing villages. Here, on the edge of the desert, you can sail, windsurf, swim and fish. Other places of outstanding natural beauty near Fayoum are the hot springs at Ain al-Siliyin, where you can bath and the waterfalls at Wadi al-Rayan, 40km towards Bahariyya, also suitable for swimming and picnics.

Fayoum is not a true oasis since it depends on Nile water instead of underground  springs or wells. The ancient Bahr Yussef canal runs through the center of the city and irrigates the land. Only two hours from Cairo by road, Fayoum is renowned for  its year-round warm climate, numerous water wheels (introduced by the Ptolemies  in the 3rd century) and lush agricultural land. Cotton, clover, tomatoes, medicinal plants and fruit are all grown here. The local Souk (market) in Fayoum City sells  copperware, spices and gold jewelry and there is a special pottery market
once a week.

  • Introducing Medinat Al-Fayoum:

The largest town on the Al-Fayoum oasis was a favorite holiday spot for 13th-dynasty pharaohs, who built a series of pleasure palaces in the area. Centuries later, the Greeks, who believed the crocodiles in Lake Qarun were sacred, called the area Crocodilopolis, and built a temple in honor of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god. During Ptolemaic and Roman times, pilgrims came from across the ancient world to feed the sacred beasts.

The Fayoum, sometimes referred to as the Fayoum Oasis, even though it is not a true Oasis, is situated not too far south of Cairo. It takes its name from the Coptic word, Phiom or Payomj, meaning lake or sea. During very ancient times,  it was actually a sea, and today is well known for the finds of great, ancient whales.

During prehistory, more people lived in the Fayoum than in the Nile Valley. The  land here was lush, and there was an abundance of water. Between 7200 and  6000 BC, a time known as the Qarunian period, Southwest Asians, whom we call  Epi-Paleolithic Qarunians, migrated to the area and settled it, making hunting  and fishing their main occupations. At the time, plants and animals were just  beginning to be domesticated. All of this took place around a much larger
lake than is there now.

Later, during Neolithic times (5500 to 4000 BC), two distinct groups of people existed around the lake shores. These were the early Neolithic Fayumian and Late Neolithic Moerian. It was during this period that the first agricultural communities sprang forth. These people dined on gazelle, hartebeests or catfish, cooked in rough faced bowls or cooking pots, and served their friends and family on red polished rectangular earthenware dishes.

However, around 4000 BC, the climate of the Fayoum began to dry up, and over a period of many years, the people left their drought stricken homes and migrated closer to the Nile. By about 3500 BC, some were living east of the Nile in what is now Maadi-Digla, a modern suburb south of Cairo. From their ancient sites, we know that they had grain silos, made pottery and used sickles. Once the Nile Valley became dominant, the Fayoum was all but abandoned, because life along the river was much easier. The Fayoum became hunting and fishing paradise, as well as a place to be mined for its salts, limestone. The Fayoum Oasis has come in and out of favor with tourists to Egypt over the years. Only a few years ago.

  • The Origin of the name Al – Fayoum:

– Al-Fayoum was first called in old ages “Mire Wire” which means the great sea because the water used to cover all the low areas in the city. Then it was called “Shidet” which means the Lake. While in the Greek and the roman ages it was called “Ber Sobak” which means the house of God Sobak because the area was inhabited by the crocodiles and these crocodiles were adored and had the name Sobak. Then the name was changed to be “Arsiuny” after the king’s sister name, and it was mentioned in the ancient Egyptian writings by the name “Bi Yam” which means the Lake finally it was changed to be Fayoum and when the Arabs entered Egypt they added the Arabic definite article to be called Al – Fayoum.

  • Tourism in Al – Fayoum:

– There are many types of tourism in Al – Fayoum such as the environmental, safari, cultural and joyful tourism. The most important attraction factors for tourism in Al – Fayoum are: The moderate warm weather. Its location is near to Cairo. Full of the historical and cultural places from the old ages. There you can find Pharos, Roman, Coptic and Islamic monuments. There are many cultural places to visit in addition to the arts and Folklores. Also you can see the beauty of nature.

  • Karoun Lake:

    – The Lake is located in the North Western part of the governorate, it is considered the oldest natural lake in the world and it is characterized by the important geological components. It contains rare different plants and inhabited by many birds some of which are emigrants and some are residents. Also there where some ancient mammals that aged 10 million years were discovered in the protectorate, in addition to the oldest monkey in world and some petrified trees. There you can find pharos, roman, Coptic monuments such as the churches area, El-Sagha temple and Karoun palace temple.

  • Rayan Valley:

    – It is located in the south western part of the governorate; it consists of upper and lower lakes and waterfalls area connecting the two lakes. Also there is the Rayan water springs south the lower lake; these springs are surrounded by the Rayan Mountain. Near by the lower lake you can find El – Madoura mountain area. The Rayan Valley is characterized by its complete desert environment including the sandy hills, different plants and animals and also some ancient aquatic organisms. It has 15 different kinds from wild animals and different kinds of eagles.


August 23, 2010 - Posted by | Modern Egyptian panorama

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