A spring in the FayoumThe 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. It’s 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 it’s fruits, vegetables and chickens.
A mummy portrait of the FayoumWorkers in the FayoumBut agriculture is not the Fayoums only claim for being first. The Greek mummy portraits found in the Fayoum are said to be the worlds first true life portraits, and examples can be found in area museums. In addition, a paved road, which has been noted as a landmark of 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 worlds 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.
Sunset on lake QarounFayoum 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 renouned 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.
Other small villages in the area too small to document independently include Qasr Qarun at the western end of Birket Qarun and Shakshuk also by the lake on a bay.
Notation: Many of the monuments, sightseeing, accommodations and amenities listed may be some distance from Medinet El-Fayoum itself.
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 .
How to get to Fayoum
From outside Egypt
International flights direct to Cairo, then either an internal flight (see below) or overland by bus or by car.
You may like to book a tour through a travel agent or hire your own transport. Bear in mind that desert driving has special requirements and be sure to get a suitable vehicle and guidance on possible hazards. 0therwise you can travel to each location by bus or service taxi and arrange trips from there.
Service taxis from Midan Giza (Giza Sq.) or buses from the Ahmed Helmi or Giza terminals. By train from Ramses or Giza stations.