- Life around the Lake
Fayum is separated from the Nile Valley by a relatively thin
ridge and contains a large lake, called Birket Qarun, around
which the life in the area has always rotated. Geological
studies proved that the area of the Fayum saw significant
and turbulent changes in its climate and geography, and in
fact the region is famous for the fossils that can be found
in the desert. Apart from shells of various sizes, skeletons
of whales, sharks, crocodiles, giant turtles and large horned
mammals can be found in the desert north of the lake.
the pharaonic period, especially starting from the Middle
Kingdom, the region achieved considerable importance. The
vicinity of the depression to the Nile Valley seems to have
made possible an artificial regulation of the level of the
lake, and large monuments were built around its shore. Lahun
and Hawara, on the ridge dividing the Fayum from the Valley,
were chosen for the construction of two pyramids, both of
which are now in ruins. The funerary complex at Hawara, built
by the XII Dynasty king Amenhotep III, consisted of a pyramid
and a large funerary temple.
centuries after its construction, it was visited by the Greek
traveller and historian Herodotus, who described it as a labyrinth.
Excavated by the British archaeologist Petrie in the years
1888-1910, the site unfortunately revealed almost nothing
of the wonderful building that once must have been there.
were life-size portraits of people of the community living
there, which were kept in the houses and then placed as funerary
masks on the mummy of the deceased. The Roman cemetery north
of Hawara, instead, yielded one of the most important archaeological
findings of the area, the so-called Fayum Portraits.
the Ptolemaic and Roman periods the level of the lake was
lower than in the past but still higher than today, as the
remains of Dimeh reveal. This city, once a busy harbour on
the northern shore of the lake, lies a few of kilometres off
in the desert.
site is worth a visit, and can be easily reached using a 4x4.
Other interesting archaeological sites are the unusual Middle
Kingdom temple at Qasr el-Sagha, the town of Medinet Madi,
with a Middle Kingdom temple later expanded by the Ptolemies,
the Late Period town of Dionysyas (today called Qasr Qarun)
and the large Roman Bath at Kom Aushim. Other sites, such
as Medinet Fayum (the ancient Crocodilopolis) or Darb Gerze
(the ancient Philadelphia) have revealed important archaeological
evidence, but offer little for the tourist to see.
the lake is much smaller than in the past, but it is nevertheless
a place of great beauty. Artificial lakes were created in
the southern region towards Wadi Raiyan, where (with a 4x4)
it is possible to visit the waterfalls. The Fayum is only
a few kilometres south of Cairo, and may be the ideal destination
for a one-day excursion. A 4x4 will allow you to visit all
the main archaeological and natural sites.