The Fayyum Oasis is in the form of a triangle with rounded corners and its point to the south, extending 40mi/65km from east to Wat its widest part and 30mi/ 50km from north to south.
Enclosed by low ranges of hills, it falls gradually from south to north. It is watered by the Bahr Yusuf ("Joseph's Canal"), which leaves the lbrahimiya Canal (originally the Nile) at Deirut, cuts through the hills enclosing the Fayyum in a narrow passage at El Lahun, spreads out over the oasis in many arms and ramifications and finally flows into the Birket Oarun (Lake Qarun), on the northwest edge of the depression. The Fayyum is noted for its agreeable climate.HistoryIn prehistoric times the Fayyum Depression was probably still covered by the waters of an arm of the Nile dating from the Pliocene era which here formed an extensive lake and swamp area with luxuriant vegetation and abundant animal life. There must have been large numbers of crocodiles, which were worshiped as divinities from earliest historical times (Sobek, later known as Suchos; Crocodilopolis). The oldest traces of settlement date from the Neolithic and show off inities with the early cultures of the Nile Valley. By the beginning of the historical period the lake had shrunk in size and may have extended in the north as far as the little desert Temple of Qasr el-Sagha, in the south to Biahmu and the area between Abshawai and Agamiyin. It was known in ancient Egyptian as Sha-resi (the "Southern Lake") and later as Mer-wer ("Great Lake"), known to Greek travelers and geographers as Lake Moeris. According to Herodotus it had a circumference of 3600 stadia (445mi) and covered an area of some 770 sq.mi i.e about three-fifths of the present area of the oasis. It has been estimated that in ancient times the surface of the lake lay 74ft/22.5m above the level of the Mediterranean (now 150ft/45m below). To the south of the lake was a narrow strip of cultivable land known as Ta-she ("Lake-Land"), with the chief town, Shedet (Crocodilopolis), which was protected against flooding by embankments. Several rulers of the 12th Dynasty established settlements at the east end of this area, and Amenemhet III in particular seems to have taken a special interest in it, undertaking large-scale reclamation of the swamps. Under the 18th Dynasty Amenophis lll's wife Tiy had her residence at El-Lahun.In Ptolemaic times the Fayyum formed the Arsinoite nome, about which the Greek geographer Strabo (c. 63 B.C.-A.D. 20) has this to say:"This nome is the most remarkable of all, on account both of its scenery and its fertility and cultivation; for it alone is planted with large and excellent olive trees which bear fine fruit, and the oil is good when the olives are carefully gathered. Those who fail in this respect may indeed obtain oil in abundance, but it has a bad smell. Elsewhere in Egypt the olive tree is never seen except in the gardens of Alexandria, where under favorable circumstances it yields olives but no oil. In this region, too, vines, corn and pulses, together with many other plants, flourish in no small abundance."The Ptolemies, particularly Ptolemy II Philadelphus, reduced the size of the lake still further by the construction of dikes until it was about the dimensions of the present-day Lake Qarun. The draining of the swamps yielded new land on which Greek and Macedonian settlers were established; and the success of this program of land reclamation is demonstrated by the fertile fields and flourishing villages which have occupied the site of Lake Moeris over the past 2,000 years. According to Strabo "Lake Moeris is capable, thanks to its size and depth, of taking in the surplus water during the inundation without flooding the inhabited and cultivated area, and later, when the water subsides, of returning the excess through the same canal (i.e. the Bahr Yusuf), while retaining sufficient to irrigate the land. At both ends of the canal there are lock gates which enable the engineers to regulate the inflow and outflow of the water." It is not known how the distribution of the excess water was achieved. At present day El- Lahun there is still a lock gate. Herodotus's statement that Lake Moeris had been artificially created was an error and is contradicted by Strabo's account.The Fayyum is now a governorate with an area of 692 sq.mi/1792 sq. km and a population of 1,300,000. Olives are still grown here, together with cotton, sugarcane, wheat, maize, rice, excellent fruit, bananas and citrus fruits. Small livestock and poultry (dovecots) are also reared. Characteristic features of the landscape are the large undershot water wheels. Further land reclamation projects are under way on the shores of Lake Qarun. Among the urgent problems connected with the development of the Fayyum is the control of bilharzia, a troublesome disease transmitted by flukes parasitic on water snails.
Umm el-Baragat - Tebtynis
Some 9mi/15km southeast of Medinet el-Fayyum, on the banks of the Bahr el-Gharaq at the village of Umm el-Baragat, are the remains of ancient Tebtynis, in the necropolis of which many papyrus rolls were found on crocodile mummies. The city, which may have originated in the Ramessid period and became a place of some consequence in the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, had a temple dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, similar to the one at Medinet Madi, of which only scanty remains survive. Within the temple precincts were found many hieratic, demotic and Greek papyri, some of them with very informative texts, particularly in the fields of medicine and religion.
2mi/3km southwest of the site of Tebtynis, on the edge of the desert, are the rock tombs of Kom Ruqayya, probably dating from the 12th Dynasty.
This pyramid contains the Tomb of Amenemhet III. The base measures 106 m, and in its original state it would have stood 12 m high.
In the desert to the east of the Birket Qarun and northwest of Tamiya is the hill of Kom Aushim, with the remains of the Greek city of Karanis which is frequently mentioned in the records, including a temple dedicated to Pnepheros and Petesuchos.
On the east side of the Fayyum, 2.5mi/ 4km northeast of El-Roda, are the remains of ancient Philadelphia, a Greek garrison town founded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus about 250 B.C. Large numbers of mummy portraits were found in the necropolis here.
At the extreme eastern end of the Fayyum, on the railroad line from Medinet el-Fayyum to El-Wasta in the Nile Valley, is Seila, with a small step pyramid which is thought to date from the third Dynasty.
El-Maimun (west bank), with the Qosheisha Dam (said to date from the time of the founder of the Egyptian kingdom, Menes), which pounds the surplus water of the Bahr Yusuf.
Some three hours northwest of El-Maimun is the village of Abusir el-Melek, known to the Egyptians as the "Abydos of Lower Egypt", with large ancient cemeteries. Near here is the Tomb of Merwan II (744-750), the last Omayyad ruler.
4mi/6km northwest of El-Roda lies the well fortified village of Tamiya, on the Bahr Tamiya, an arm of the Bahr Yusuf, also known as the Bahr el-Wadi or Bahr el Bats, which is dammed at this point.
Birket Qarun - Qasr el-Banat
Some 9mi/14km southeast of Qasr Qarun is Qasr el-Banat, with the remains of ancient Euhemeria, including a temple dedicated to Suchos and Isis.
Harit - Kharabet lhrit
4.5mi/7km west of Qasr el-Banat is Watfa, with the remains of ancient Philoteris; and 2mi/ 3km southeast of this, at the village of Harit (Batn Harit), is the site of ancient Theadelphia, known as Kharabet lhrit, with a temple dedicated to the crocodile god Pnepheros and a necropolis.
Bush (west bank of the Nile), a village mainly inhabited by Copts.
7mi/11km east of Karanis is the hill of Umm el-Qatl, the ancient Bacchias.