City of El-Fayoum Travel Guide
Monuments and ancient sites in the Fayoum Oasis:
Although the Fayoum hosts many monuments, including several unique pyramids, which were established starting during the reign of the Pharos and ending with the period of the Ottomans, a great number of tourists miss it and do not have the chance to visit it.
This is due to many reasons. Egypt is full of numerous interesting monuments and sights that are spread all over the country. Therefore, it is hard for any tourist, especially on their first or second trip to finish the list of the major monuments to be able to go to the Fayoum afterward. The second reason is the lack of luxury and entertainment facilities in Fayoum. However, a one or two days trip to this wonderful oasis would be worth it as the Fayoum has its unique magic.
This region is extremely rich in many archaeological sites, such as the old City of El-Fayoum (Crocodopolis). It is in a natural depression in the desert, linked to the River Nile by a branch called “Bahr Yousuf”, whose name was probably derived from the ancient Egyptian Word “Baym”, which means sea or lake. It contains a lake known by the Ancient Egyptians as “Mr-Wr”, which means “the great sea”, and in Greek, it became “Moris”. Today, in Arabic, it is called “Qaroun Lake”.
The word Baym was most probably the origin of the word El-Fayoum. In Ancient Egypt it was called “shedt” and it was a great city during the Middle Kingdom.
Today the Oasis, with its lakes and sanctuaries, pristine desert areas (which include fossil remains of world importance such as Wadi El-Rayan and the valley of the whales and various cultural sites, plus the rural quietude) forms an amazing and unique site of adventure and beautiful scenery.
In this article, we will explore the monuments that were built in the city of Fayoum and around it.
The ancient city of Karanis
The location of Karanis
The ruins of the ancient city of Karanis are located near the village of Kom Aushim on the Fayoum-Cairo highway, 1.9 kilometers away from the city of Fayoum, and 33 kilometers away from Cairo.
The History of Karanis
The Fayoum received a lot of care during the Ptolemaic era, especially in economic and agricultural aspects. Ptolemy II worked on the reclamation of the land and on drying the water of the Qarun Lake that drowned the area around it. Because of this, many new villages were established in the region like Dimeh Al Siba to the North of Qarun Lake, Senorus, Tersa, Qasr Qarun, and Karanis.
During the Roman era, the Fayoum region witnessed a period of prosperity that lasted for two centuries and resulted in a huge positive transformation to the villages of the region and Karanis among them. However, all of this ended in the third century AD when taxes increased and the morals of the people decreased. The inhabitants of Karanis started to leave the village and step by step Karanis was abandoned in the fifth century AD.
The city's center consists of the ruins of two temples dedicated to the crocodile god of Sobek. There are also a large number of houses, a Roman bath, and the necropolis of the city is located to the North.
In the location of the ruins of Karanis, there is the Kom Aushim Museum which displays the findings of archeologists. The collection includes some glass, pots, and pottery, women's artificial heads that were used as models to try different haircuts, two of the famous Fayoum wooden portraits, and a big number many other findings.
Karanis (Kom Oushim)
Karanis (Kom Oushim) is situated 30km north of the city of El-Fayoum. In old Greek documents, this region was called Karanis and contained 2 temples in the north and another in the south, both dating back to the Ptolemaic Period, as well as some cisterns, public baths, and houses. The Kelsey Museum houses more than 45,000 objects from Karanis, but this does not include all of the finds. The University of Michigan, between 1924 and 1935, excavated this Greco-Roman site, dividing the artifacts with The Egyptian Government when the excavations were finished. Next, to the two Temples, there is a modern museum, which also exhibits some of the finds.
The plan of the 2 temples is similar to the plan of all the Ancient Egyptian Temples of the New Kingdom with the same elements, the only difference is that the 2 Temples of Karanis contain offering tables (Altars) and burials for the mummies of the crocodile, which was the sacred animal symbolizing the God Sobek. Each Temple consists of a pylon and 3 small halls, then the sanctuary. To the western side, at the front of the temple, there is an aquarium, which was dedicated to the followers of the crocodiles. They were constructed during the reign of Emperor Nero but restored during the reign of the Emperor Commodes. Like the southern Temple, the northern one was consecrated for the cult of Sobek but also to other deities such as Amon, Serapes, Zeus, etc.
A dwelling area was discovered in Karanis, the houses built out of mud bricks, and red bricks, with vaulted roofs and stairs, gates, windows, kitchens, and stables. Some walls were painted and covered with colorful decorations.
To the east of the city is a cemetery dating back to the Ptolemaic Period. Recently, a great number of artifacts were found, including ostraca, jars, glass vases, and coins, as well as a large number of papyrus, written in Greek, and of great value, which provides us with details about the aspects of life during that period, like trade deals, taxation documents, and civil contracts. Remains of Public Baths, built of burnt brick, were also discovered.
The Pyramid of Hawara (The Labyrinth)
The bizarre-looking pyramid of Hawara was built by King Amenemhat III during the reign of the 12th dynasty, nine kilometers to the South East of the modern city of Fayoum today.
The history and description of the Pyramid of Hawara
Amenemhat III was the sixth king of the 12th dynasty. He ruled from 1860 BC to 1814 BC. This king had a special interest in the area of the Fayoum and this was why he chose this spot to build this pyramid to serve as his tomb after his death.
The Pyramid of Hawara was built out of mud bricks and was coated with limestone and maybe this is why it was called the black pyramid. Its 58 meters tall and the length of its sides is around 100 meters.
The burial chamber of the pyramid of Hawara was made out of one huge block of Quartz stone that weighed more than 110 tons. And although the burial chamber didn't have a door, the thieves were able to enter it and steal most of its contents.
The design of the base of the pyramid is quite complicated and it was perhaps influenced by the design of the great ancient step pyramid of Djoser. The first thing that Amenemhat III did that was different from the prior kings is that he made the entrance of the pyramid on its Southern side, instead of the north side was chosen by all the kings that built pyramids before him.
To mislead thieves, Amenemhat III constructed a set of stairs that leads to a room that appeared to be the burial chamber, while the actual burial chamber was entered through an opening in the ground that was covered with a huge stone that weighed 45 tons.
The burial chamber was carved inside a huge stone first in a rectangular shape. A huge rock was put inside the hollow area of the rectangular-shaped stone to construct a room that had four walls, each wall was half a meter thick, the length of the room was 7 meters and its width was 2 meters and a half.
The pyramid of Hawara is quite distinctive in its shape and its design. This monument is worth going to, especially since it is located near the city of Fayoum.
The Pyramid of EL-Lahun:
- The location of the Pyramid of EL Lahun
The pyramid of Lahun was built by King Senusret II near the water dam he built near the city of Lahun, 22 kilometers to the South of the modern city of Fayoum.
- The history and the description of Pyramid of Lahun
Senusret II, the fourth king of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt, ruled from 1897 BC to 1878 BC. This king gave particular attention to the Fayoum region and began to work on an irrigation system through the construction of a dike at El Lahun. This was where he built his pyramid as well. The pyramid was discovered and opened by the English scientist William Flinders Petrie in 1889
The Pyramid of Senusret II in Lahun was built on a high hill that is 13 meters high and it was constructed out of mud bricks, the same as the Pyramid of Amenemhat III which was built in Hawara. The pyramid is 48 meters high and the length of its base is 106 meters. The pyramid, the same as many pyramids that were constructed in the area, was coated with limestone.
The entrance of the pyramid of Lahun was built on its southern side, the same as the pyramid of Hawara, and unlike all the other pyramids of Egypt. The entrance leads to many complicated corridors that surround the burial room in a unique design to trick thieves. The coffin of the king which was made of light red granite was found in the burial chamber.
Some ruins of the mortuary temple of the pyramid are remaining to the east of the pyramid. Some small pyramids belong to the queens and princesses of the royal family of Senusret II.
The area hosts several other sites like the necropolis of Lahun, the worker's villages, and the tomb of meat that goes back to the 13th dynasty.
Madinat Madi is located 35 kilometers southeast of the city of Fayoum near the village of Ezbat El Kashef and it was discovered in the year 1937.
The History and Description of Madinat Madi
Madinat Madi contains the ruins of a city that was built around a temple constructed during the 12th dynasty by King Amenemhat III who was the sixth king of the 12th dynasty and ruled from 1860 BC to 1814 BC. He is also the builder of the Pyramid at Hawara.
New items were added to this impressive temple in the Roman era and included startling statues of lions with human heads. Two of these statues are still in perfect shape.
This temple of Madinat Madi is the largest surviving temple of the intermediate period of the Pharaonic era and it is considered the most remarkable monument of the Fayoum.
Maybe this was why Dr. Zahi Hawas, the head of the supreme council of Antiquities, announced that the Egyptian government assigned 3.5 million Euros to develop the area of Madinat Madi and to revitalize this historical monument with the cooperation of the Italian Ministry of foreign affairs.
Qasr Qarun has located 50 kilometers away from the city of Fayoum in the southwest of the Qarun Lake that dominates the Northern section of Fayoum.
Qasr Qarun was built in the location of the ancient town of Dionysias, which was the beginning point of the caravan route to the Bahariya Oasis. This impressive monument was built between 323 and 330 BC during the Ptolemaic period and it flourished in the Roman era.
The temple still sustains the beauty of its wall drawings and inscriptions. It consists of three floors and contains 336 rooms and chambers. The first thing one views when he enters the temple is the throne of the king and a very deep hole that the myth says contains all the money and jewelry of King Qarun who was drowned with all his treasures because he angered god according to the Quran.
The temple of Qasr Qarun is a matchless monument as there isn't any monument in Fayoum or Egypt that is similar to it in its design or history.
Dimeh Al Siba
It is located 3 kilometers to the North of Qarun Lake. It consists of the city of the Ptolemaic city that was founded by Ptolemy II, most probably, in the third century BC.
This city was the starting point of the caravan route going to the other oasis of Egypt located to the South.
The ruins of this city, the city of the lions, contain the temple which was built out of Limestone and sandstone and contains seven Compartments. The city was built over a space of 180 meters and its walls are still surviving today.
The Obelisk of Senurset
It consists of a tall bar of granite that is 13 meters long and it has a round shape top. The obelisk contains a hall to install a crown or a statue of the king.
The obelisk was built by Senusert who was the second pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty. He ruled from 1971 BC to 1926 BC and was one of the most powerful leaders of his era. The obelisk was built in memory of the beginning of the working process to transform the lands of the Fayoum into agricultural lands.
The Obelisk of Senusret was transferred from its original place in the village of Abgig in Fayoum to the entrance of the city in 1972. This Obelisk is considered a landmark of Fayoum.