Lake Qarun, Qasr Qarun & Dimei
The northeast part of the Fayyum Oasis is occupied by the Birket Qarun, the Lake of Qarun (the Korah of Numbers 16:1), which is the surviving part of the much larger Lake Moeris of ancient times. It is almost 30mi/50km long from east to west, with a maximum width of 6mi/10km; the average depth is 13-16ft/4-5m, but in places the depth reaches 50-60ft/ 15-18m. The north side of the lake is barren and enclosed by hills rising to a considerable height; the south side is flat, and in many places intensively cultivated right up to the water's edge. The greenish water is slightly brackish and unsuitable for drinking. Bathing in the lake is not possible because of the thick layer of ooze on the bottom. There is a remarkable variety of bird life around the shoresof the lake, and it is well stocked with fish. Accordingly the local people gain much of their subsistence from wild fowling and fishing.
Birket Qarun - Qasr Qarun
At the southwest end of the Birket Qarun is the site of Qasr Qarun, most conveniently reached on a moderately good road (22mi/36km) from Medinetel-Fayyum via lbshawai and El-Shawashna.Qasr Qarun is a reasonably well preserved temple of the Late Ptolemaic period, surrounded by the remains of an ancient city, probably Dionysias, on the extreme western verge of the Roman province. From here there was a caravan route to Bahriya, then known as the Oasis Minor. A circular foundation wall marks the position of an ancient cistern. The Temple, 63ft/19.20m wide across the facade and 89ft/27m long, is built of carefully dressed blocks of extremely hard sandstone. Like almost all the temples in the oases, it was dedicated to the ram headed Amun-Khnum, of whom there are two representations at the top of the rear wall of the open top storey. Above every doorway of the temple is a winged sun. There are no ancient inscriptions.
Qasr Qarun Forecourt
The entrance, facing east, is reached by way of the forecourt, a high and well built platform 43ft/13m from front to rear. On the facade of the temple, to the right (north) of the doorway, stands a huge half column, a relic of the colonnade which once flanked the court.
Qasr Qarun Chambers
On the lower floor are the chambers dedicated to cult purposes: first three antechambers, the floors of which slope down towards the sanctuary, and the sanctuary itself, divided into three small rooms at the back. On either side of the sanctuary is a narrow corridor with three chambers opening off it. Over the doorways of the two antechambers and the sanctuary the usual cavetto cornice is replaced by a row of royal cobras. Flanking the antechambers are side rooms from which it is possible either to go down into the cellars or to climb two flights of stairs to the upper floor, on which there are various other chambers, and from there to the roof. From the roof there are extensive views of the sand covered remains of the ancient city, the lake and the desert.
Qasr Qarun Small Temples
To the east of the main temple can be found two smaller temples, reasonably well preserved. One, on the same axis as the main temple, is a kiosk, similar in ground plan to the Philae Kiosk. The other, 220yd/200m from the first, is larger, with walls of well fired brick on stone foundations. At the far end of the sanctuary is an apse like recess, and on the two side walls are two engaged half columns, which the fragments lying around show to have been of the Ionic Order.
Northwest of the Qasr Qarun site are the remains of a Roman fort of the time of Diocletian. Defended by nine towers, it was constructed of kiln fired brick with limestone blocks built in at certain points.
Birket Qarun - Dimei
From the landing stage on the north side of Birket Qarun a steep track climbs 2mi/3km to the top of the hill, on which are ruins of Dimei, the ancient Soknopaiou Nesos ("Island of Soknopaios"), a fortified caravan station and a place of some consequence. The ruins cover an area of about 125 acres/0.5 sq. km.
A street 400yd/370m long, formerly flanked by figures of crouching lions, passes the well preserved remains of houses to a platform on which are the ruins of a large temple of the Ptolemaic period dedicated to Soknopaios, a local form of the Fayyum deity Sobek or Suchos, and the "finely throned Isis". The temple, surrounded by a high enclosure wall of sun dried brick, consisted of a number of chambers, the rooms to the rear being built of carefully laid limestone blocks, those in the front part of roughly hewn stone faced with stucco. Only a few reliefs survive; one of them depicts one of the Ptolemies (without cartouche) praying before a ram headed god (probably Amun).
Some 5mi/8km north of Dimei, at the foot of a steep desert escarpment, is the small Temple of Qasr el-Sagha, probably dating from the Old Kingdom, which was discovered by Schweinfurth in 1884. Built of limestone blocks, it contains seven recesses and several other chambers, but no reliefs or inscriptions. Near by are the remains of an ancient quay.
Birket Qarun - Boat Trip
The boat trip across the lake from the Auberge du Lac or the fishing village of Shaqshuq - both on the lakeside road which branches off the main road to Cairo takes about 2 hours.