Fayoum Oasis is a quiet, green place. The shores of Lake Qarun are overgrown with palm groves in which rare species of birds live, and there are arable fields and gardens all around. Thanks to this, the oasis became known as the "gardens of Egypt".
Fayoum (Al-Fayyum) is one of the largest oases in Egypt, located on the left bank of the Nile, 130 km southwest of Cairo. It is separated from the river by a narrow strip of desert. The main source of water in the oasis is Lake Qarun (Birkat Karun/Buhayrat Qarun), located in the northern part and fed by the waters of the Nile through the Joseph Canal (Bahr Jusuf/Bahr Yussef). Initially, Lake Qarun was only filled with water during the floods of the Nile. However, the rulers of the 12th dynasty (20th-18th centuries BC) decided to use them to grow the economy of Egypt and widened and desludged the Joseph Canal. Meaning, the lake became a water reserve, and the floods of the Nile could be controlled. Soon Fayoum became fertile farmland.
Today, there are not only date and palm groves and fruit orchards, there are numerous fields where grain and cotton are grown. The water is distributed around the oasis through small channels fed by small springs. It is thanks to them that this area is constantly green.
The unique characteristic of Fayoum is the numerous waterfalls that cannot be found anywhere else in Egypt. They were created due to the difference in levels between two artificial reservoirs created in recent years, connected by a canal. They were to facilitate the development of new areas. Thanks to this, the deserted Wadi el-Rayan valley has become the second resting place in an oasis, next to the shores of Lake Karun.
The Fayum Oasis is also famous for its original handicrafts. Braided carpets, hand-made strings of clay and painted beads or baskets woven from palm leaves and rice stalks are a perfect souvenir from the area.
Pottery is also popular. Workshops where unique clay vessels, both decorative and functional, are created by hand or on wheels can be found everywhere. In order to maintain and make this local tradition famous, in the mid-1990s, two Swedish potters founded the Fayoum Pottery School in the small town of Tunis (on the western shore of Lake Qarun). Soon the place became a busy production center full of workshops selling unique clay pots, figurines and sculptures.
On Tuesdays, in the main city of the Fayoum oasis, there is a market where you can buy all local produce. The Egyptians also use broken pots to put into the walls of dovecotes, which in Fayoum and all over Egypt take the form of tall clay towers with holes through which birds fly in.
The first historical mentions of the existence of the Fayoum oasis come from the reign of Menes, also known as Narmer (turn of the 3rd and 4th millennium BC). The capital of the oasis was then Shedyt, which was then called Crocodilopolis, Arsinoe, and now Fayoum. The development of the region was possible thanks to the rulers of the XII Dynasty, who opened the Joseph Canal, which allowed the use of the periodic Lake Karun in the Egyptian economy. They also visited the oasis and built pyramids and tombs in El-Lahun and Hawara. However, the most interesting tombs in Fayoum date back to the Roman rule (1st century BC - 7th century AD), when the corpse was not only embalmed, but also decorated with realistic images of the deceased. These mummy images, painted on clay tablets, are called Fayoum portraits.
Progressive urbanization and industry have made the oasis capital of Fayoum lose much of its former small-town charm. However, in the surrounding villages, full of mud brick houses, fields and donkeys dozing in the shade, not much has changed since the days of the pharaohs.
The city of Fayoum is called the Venice miniature. This was due to numerous bridges spread over the Joseph Canal, the main waterway of the city and smaller ones that bring water to farmland. Fayoum is an ideal base for exploring the oasis. All roads cross in the center of this city, which in the past had three different names. The Egyptians called it Shedyt, the Greeks called it Krokodilopolis ("Crocodile City") or Arsinoe, after Ptolemy II's sister.
The ruins of the ancient capital are located in the northern part of Fayoum and are called Kiman Faris. Few of the buildings have survived to this day. One of the most interesting objects is undoubtedly the sacred lake, which was inhabited by crocodiles, cult animals of the patron of the city - the god Sobek. Such lakes were an inseparable element of temple complexes. They were artificial or natural reservoirs, fed with water from the Nile or underground springs. The crocodiles living in the temple in Fayoum lived in "luxurious" conditions - they were fed with meat and honey cakes and decorated with golden necklaces.
There is an obelisk in the middle of one of the crossings near the ruins. It is a high granite stele, carved by the order of Pharaoh Senuseret I (19th century BC). However, the text on it is so blurred that few characters can be read.
The city's attraction, and at the same time the symbol of the entire oasis of Fayoum, are water wheels. The four colossi are located in the very center, right behind the tourist information point. Seven more, smaller wheels are located along the three-kilometer long Sinnuris Canal. The first wooden water wheels were introduced in the oasis during the reign of Ptolemy (3rd-1st century BC), who thus decided to improve agriculture. The wheels carried water from the lower levels to the higher farmland. Currently, there are around 200 water wheels in the entire oasis. We won't see these anywhere else in Egypt. The way that they work has not changed since ancient times, only the material used to make them has changed, today they are mainly made from steel. Arabs call the wheels saqia. The inhabitants of Fayoum are proud of them because they represent the oasis' great agricultural traditions.
Fayoum has something for everyone, from its beautiful, lush marshes, with an abundance of wildlife and huge numbers of migratory birds to the amazing waterfalls. You can visit the modern city or the local villages, where time has stood still. Local produce and handicrafts are the perfect gift to take home to remind you of your time in this amazing city.
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