Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Fayoum

The Fayoum: History and Guide. New Revised Edition

R. Neil Hewsion
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 124
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Fayoum
    Book Description:

    The Fayoum, a large and exceptionally fertile depression in Egypt’s Western Desert, some 90 kilometers southwest of Cairo, is a region both rich in history and outstanding in natural beauty. Its historical legacy includes temples, pyramids, and towns from the Middle Kingdom and the Ptolemaic Period, as well as churches, monasteries, and mosques from later times. Neil Hewison here outlines the history (and prehistory) of the Fayoum and its lakes, describes the agriculture and rural life of the region, then guides the visitor around the province site by site, never averse to taking an interesting detour along the way. Originally published in 1984, this guide to one of Egypt’s most distinctive and beautiful regions quickly became regarded as a classic. The text has been thoroughly revised and updated for this new edition, including a new section on the recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wadi al-Hitan, the Valley of the Whales. The book is illustrated with color photographs and two maps. Recommended by Lonely Planet.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-271-3
    Subjects: Middle East Studies, History, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on Pronunciation
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Chapter 1 The Fayoum Now
    (pp. 1-24)

    “Cool are the dawns; tall are the trees; many are the fruits; little are the rains.”

    Not the earliest description of the Fayoum by a foreigner, but certainly one of the most poetic. The words were written quite recently—around 750 years ago, in fact—by a former governor of the Fayoum, Abu ‘Uthmân al-Nabulsi. Although during his brief stay this Syrian amir conceived no liking for the inhabitants of the region, he was impressed by the richness and beauty of the land, parts of which reminded him of the gardens of Damascus.

    Other visitors, long before and long after...

  7. Chapter 2 History of the Fayoum
    (pp. 25-32)

    In ancient mythology, the great lake of the Fayoum was identified with Nun, the primeval ocean, the origin of all life, while the high land around the capital, Shedet, was the primeval hill where life first came into existence.

    A legend recorded by Diodorus tells of King Menes (the semi-mythical uniter of Upper and Lower Egypt) on a hunting expedition in the Fayoum. His own dogs attacked him near the lake, but his life was saved by a crocodile, which carried him across the water to safety. In gratitude he declared the lake a sanctuary for crocodiles, and founded the...

  8. Chapter 3 Traveling in the Fayoum
    (pp. 33-42)

    The Fayoum, despite its remoteness, or perhaps because of it, has often been on the itinerary of visitors to Egypt, in both classical and modern times, and a number of interesting accounts of travel and observations in the province survive. The earliest and probably the best known is that of Herodotus, a Halicarnassian Greek, who visited the Fayoum in the course of his travels some time in the middle of the fifth century BCE and recorded his experiences in Book II of hisHistories. During his guided tour, he was shown the Labyrinth at present-day Hawwâra, and Lake Moeris, ancestor...

  9. Chapter 4 Fayoum City
    (pp. 43-56)

    The main town of the Fayoum is not, as some guidebooks would have it, usually known as al-Medîna. As Maṣr, for many, means both Egypt and Cairo, so al-Fayoum is both the province and its capital. For convenience in English we may refer to the former as the Fayoum, the latter as Fayoum.

    Baedeker’s 1878 guide to Egypt described Fayoum as a “not un-pleasing specimen of an Egyptian town,” and that restrained Victorian double negative encapsulates perfectly the essential undemonstrative tone of the place. It is not an awe-inspiring beauty-spot and has no exceptional tourist attractions, but it is not...

  10. Chapter 5 ʹÎn al-Siliyîn
    (pp. 57-58)

    Take a Sanhûr service taxi, and ask for Siliyîn, which is before Sanhûr, ten to fifteen minutes from Fayoum (1D2). Motorists take the main road north out of Fayoum, passing the Governorate Club on the way out of town. Bear left at the fork at the entrance to Menshât ‘Abdallah, and about 2 kilometers farther on there is a T-junction: turn right here, cross the Ring Road, pass by Zawyat al-Karadsa and through Beni Ṣâleḥ, then, about 5 kilometers from the T-junction, you will reach the entrance to ‘În al-Siliyîn on your left, marked by a concrete arch meant to...

  11. Chapter 6 Birkat Qarûn
    (pp. 59-66)

    Birkat Qarûn (birkat · arûn, often referred to simply as al-Birka), snuggling at 45 meters below sea level into the lowest, northern section of the Fayoum depression, is a large, now salty lake whose history has both dictated and been dictated by the history of the Fayoum. Its salinity, about the same as that of seawater, makes it unfit for both drinking and irrigation, though this has not always been so. Cultivation reaches down to its southern and eastern shores, where fresh water can be brought from the irrigation system, but the entire northern shore is bare desert, uninhabited, and...

  12. Chapter 7 Wâdi al-Rayyân
    (pp. 67-70)

    A great new hydrological project, in the best traditions of Amenemhat I and Ptolemy I, was completed in the last quarter of the twentieth century in Wâdi al-Rayyân, a large depression in the desert west of the Fayoum. Water now flows into this originally dry basin, 43 meters below sea level, to form two large lakes (see page 8 for the planning and aims behind this new Moeris). The northern lake lies higher than the southern, so the reed-clad channel linking the two lakes ends in a row of falls a couple of meters high. These are the famousshallalât...

  13. Chapter 8 Monasteries in the Fayoum
    (pp. 71-74)

    Monasteries were established early in the Fayoum, particularly between the fourth and sixth centuries, that is, shortly after the birth of monasticism in Egypt’s Eastern Desert, and at one stage numbered thirty-five in and around the province. According to tradition, St. Antony, one of the first Desert Fathers and acknowledged founder of Christian monasticism, visited the Fayoum early in the fourth century and inspired many followers here to enter the desert as hermit monks.

    Dêr Wâdi al-Rayyân(دير وادى الريان • Wâdi al-Rayyân Monastery) is a loose community of monks who live individually in caves on the west side of...

  14. Chapter 9 Ancient Sites of the Fayoum
    (pp. 75-108)

    There are sites dating from virtually all eras in the Fayoum, from Neolithic through Dynastic to Ptolemaic and Roman, in various states of preservation. The main sites are presented here in approximately anticlockwise order, starting at Kôm Ôshîm on the Cairo road. They are:

    Kôm Ôshîm:Ptolemaic/Roman town; museum.Entrance fees.

    DimêhandQaṣr al-ṣâgha:Ptolemaic town; Middle Kingdom temple.Permit required.

    Al-Ṣanam:Middle Kingdom pedestals of two colossi of Amenemhat III.

    Qaṣr Qarûn:Well-preserved Ptolemaic temple.Entrance fee.

    Madînat Mâḍi:Twelfth Dynasty and Ptolemaic temples; ruined town.

    Umm al-Burigât: New Kingdom temple and town.

    Hawwâra: Middle Kingdom pyramid of...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 109-110)
  16. Index
    (pp. 111-116)