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Fayoum Oasis

The oasis of Fayum is associated in Egyptian traditions with a kidney on the branch of the Nile and with the “earthly paradise” in the desert. It depends on the waters of the river, and not on streams or sources, like a real oasis. Water is distributed in the lowlands thanks to a canal system dating back to antiquity, which creates this islet of palm trees separating cotton and clover fields, vegetable gardens and carefully cultivated areas of tomatoes and medicinal plants surrounded by sand covered with lush vegetation. Pigeons nest in clay pigeon bricks doves similar to huge Victorian cakes,

The oasis of Fayum is associated in Egyptian traditions with a kidney on the branch of the Nile and with the “earthly paradise” in the desert. It depends on the waters of the river, and not on streams or sources, like a real oasis. Water is distributed in the lowlands thanks to a canal system dating back to antiquity, which creates this islet of palm trees separating cotton and clover fields, vegetable gardens and carefully cultivated areas of tomatoes and medicinal plants surrounded by sand covered with lush vegetation. Pigeons nest in clay pigeon bricks doves similar to huge Victorian cakes, blinded cattle rotate threshing machines, and buffaloes roam home for milking. There are fishing communities along the shores of Karun Lake, while Bedouin semi-nomads live on the periphery. Almost three million people live in the oasis. 500 thousand – in the city of Fayyum, Despite the fact that it is quite easy to get here from Cairo, you rarely see foreign tourists here. The main reason is the capital of the province, the city of Fayoum, which, having all the shortcomings of Cairo, does not possess any of its advantages. Greedy drivers spoil day trips to distant monuments of antiquity, while locals who are greedy for bakshish pester visitors to Lake Karun, where wealthy Cairo and foreigners come to shoot for vacations. If you really want this badly, you have the opportunity to enjoy bird life scenes, Mowlids or desert excursions. If you experience only a simple curiosity, then a short one-day excursion is likely to discourage the desire for further acquaintance. As for the best time to visit, the winters in Fayoum are warmer and drier than in Cairo, and summers are milder than in Upper Egypt. In the spring, a cold hamsin wind covers everything with dust. At any other time, the air here is so clean that the sun’s rays can burn harder than you expect.

 located in the eponymous oasis on all sides surrounded by the Libyan desert with a population of 315,000 people. Founded in 4000 BC e. this city is the oldest in Egypt and the oldest of all the ancient cities of the world. The modern name of the city comes from the Coptic payom, which translates as “lake” or “sea”.


The oasis of El Fayyum is a tectonic hollow and is located 43 m below sea level. In the distant past, the oasis was called the gardens of Egypt and its size was several times larger than the current. In the Fayyum oasis, Pharaoh Amenemkhet III built the oldest hydraulic structure – Meridovo Lake. Geological studies conducted here revealed traces of rapid climatic changes and, as a result, the transformation of the local fauna. Some of the findings of scientists are simply amazing. In addition to shells of various shapes and sizes, skeletons of ancient sharks, crocodiles, giant turtles, some large-breasted mammals and even the skeleton of a giant whale were found. This is in the desert! However, now, after many centuries, only the oars of pleasure boats break the silence of Karun.

In Ancient Egypt, El Fayyum was the administrative center of the 21 nomes of Upper Egypt. The pharaohs of the 12th dynasty often stayed in El-Fayyum, which was then called Shedet, that is, the “sea.” In later times, Shedet was known as the City of Reptiles, or Crocodilopolis, whose patron was the god Sebek with the head of a crocodile. Mounds north of the current city mark the location of the ancient Crocodilopolis, where residents in the waters of Lake Meridov bred and worshiped crocodiles. This lake was artificially dug approx. 3900 years ago, as a reservoir filled with the Nile. In the pre-dynastic era, the modern territory of El Fayyum was swamped. During the reign of Amenemhat II and Senusert II, the area was drained by canals and dams for cultivating the soil.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309–246 BCE) gave the city and all that is new a sounding name in honor of his deified wife Arsinoe (316–270 / 268 BCE). Under the protectorate of Rome, the city became part of the province of Arcadia and it was called Arsinoe in Arcadia, so as not to be confused with other cities. 5) Large-scale archaeological excavations carried out in this place in 1888-1910 by an English expedition led by Flinders Pitri made it possible to make a sensational discovery – many portraits, later called “Fayum”.

Their origin is very curious. In the era of the Late Kingdom, Hellenistic and Roman art began to exert a growing influence on the culture of the dying ancient Egyptian empire. Under his influence, starting from the 1st century AD, the tradition of putting on a mummy’s funeral mask was supplanted by another custom – to put a portrait of the deceased on top of the mummified body. Preserving the cult purpose, he developed the artistic tradition of the ancient Egyptian portrait.
Soon Fayum portraits were discovered in Memphis, Thebes, Saqqara, Lower Egypt, and other parts of Egypt. One of the largest centers for creating portraits was Alexandria, which became the capital of Egypt after the conquest of the country of the pyramids by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. A large number of artists, sculptors and scientists, immigrants from Greece, settled here.
A careful study of Fayum portraits showed that their authors masterfully mastered the technique of chiaroscuro. In the future, this art began to be forgotten and became widespread only in the Renaissance. Painting by ancient masters was carried out in a rare and complicated at that time encaustic technique, previously known only from the works of ancient authors. The mixture, which the artist applied to a thin layer of wood or canvas, included heated wax, lead white, red ocher and iron oxide.
This method made it possible to vividly and reliably capture the image of the people who inhabited Egypt, while emphasizing the individuality of each. Pay attention to the careful study of the details of the face, the transfer of real color of the skin and eyes. Some of the artistic techniques used to create the Fayum portraits can also be found in Byzantine and Coptic icon painting. 6) To date, at least 750 Fayum portraits are scattered throughout the world museums and private collections. A substantial part of them is in the Egyptian National Museum, some were exported to Europe

In order to visit the Fayyum oasis, you need to make a short trip from Cairo to the southwest through the Libyan desert. This oasis of Cairo occupies a vast territory of approximately 1300-1700 square meters. km, with more than 1 thousand square meters. km of the population is engaged in agriculture. The oasis is also notable for the fact that it is not true, i.e. an oasis in the classical sense of the word, due to the fact that it is fed not by underground sources, but by the waters of the Nile. The oasis connects to the Nile Valley through the narrow El Lahun Valley, which crosses a long chain of low hills. Joseph’s canal runs through the valley, which was built in ancient times to irrigate the Cairo oasis.
The Fayyum oasis is located in the tectonic basin at an average level of 43 m below sea level. On the territory of the oasis is the largest in Egypt, the salt lake Karun with an area of ​​215 square meters. km

Historical information about Fayyum

Here, on the shore of the lakes, prehistoric people lived, who were engaged in hunting and gathering, but subsequently began to gradually cultivate the land. Currently, agricultural products from the Fayyum oasis are coming to Cairo and other regions of Egypt. In addition to grain crops, cotton is grown in this oasis of Cairo, as well as plantations of figs and olive trees, grapes. Cattle breeding is developed in terms of sheep and chicken breeding.
In ancient times, the territory of the oasis was many times larger; it was even called the gardens of Egypt. During the reign of Pharaoh Amenemkhet III (1853-1806 BC), one of the oldest hydrotechnical structures in the world was created here – Meridovo Lake, which was recognized by ancient philosophers as one of the wonders of the world. An ancient asphalt road passes here, presumably built more than 4.5 thousand years ago. Also in the Fayyum oasis you can see one of the first dams in the world.
On the territory of the oasis is the city of El Fayyum, which became famous for the fact that funeral portraits painted on the woods of trees of local species were found in its necropolis. In addition, in the oasis of Fayyum, a whole cemetery of mummified crocodiles was found, which in ancient times was revered as a sacred animal personifying the god of water and the spill of Neil Sebek.

How to get to Fayyum oasis?

In recent years, the popularity of the Fayyum oasis in Cairo has been growing rapidly among Europeans and Egyptians who come to Egypt who spend their holidays in this blessed land. It takes about two hours to get from Cairo by transport, and in addition to its natural beauty, you can enjoy the silence and some entertainment, for example, fishing. You can also visit the hot springs in Ain al-Siliyun or waterfalls in the Wadi al-Ryan area. It is also interesting to visit local markets, where for a fairly low price you can buy unique items made by local craftsmen from ceramics, copper or gold, as well as interesting spices.
Due to the ever-growing popularity of this place, getting to it from Cairo is not difficult. Trains and buses from Ramses or Giza go to Al Fayyum, regular scheduled flights Cairo Fayyum. The tour can be arranged through a travel agency or you can go to Fayyum on your own, while you can hire a vehicle or take a minibus.

In the eyes of the average Russian tourist, Egypt is not the most interesting and original holiday destination. Stereotypes suggest that it is warm there, the Red Sea, you can dive with a mask on the coral reefs, drink, but there is no life outside the hotels. Unless the pyramids and a couple of popular places. Which also do not differ in originality, because tourists are brought there by bus, guides read too simple excursions, and all those present are only concerned with the question of how to sell more and checking in “on the way” to the papyrus store takes up the lion’s share of the time spent in Cairo. This is the case with excursion tourism, but if you have a desire and a head on your shoulders, then in Egypt you can see a completely different world, without tourists. And sometimes even manage to escape from the locals who are trying to sell something, for example, the services of a guide. If you are interested in what authentic Egypt looks like, if you are also a multiculturalist, and also willing to spend time away from comfortable hotels and are able to see beauty in unwashed and nonparadiseous places, then get ready! I must admit right away that I won’t reveal secrets, because the country is well-worn by tourists, and even the locals are ready to make me laugh, they say, well, everyone knows that. But, it turns out, not everyone, so I’ll tell you about places that I liked.

Fayum oasis

faume card How to get there: The oasis is located 85 km southwest of Cairo. You can get there by bus or minibus from the station on Tahrir Square in Cairo (about 104 km). The route is called: “El Fayyum” (الفيوم). The road takes about three hours, because from Tahrir to the pyramids Cairo stands in endless traffic jams, after Giza the road is clear. The center is the city of El Fayyum (الفيوم), on the territory of the oasis there is Karun Lake, also known as Merida (Meridovo Lake). The modern lake is only a small part; for unknown reasons, the lake dried up and decreased several times. The history of the lake is described in the Qur’an: in the days of the prophet Moses (Musa) there lived a man from the people of Moses named Karun (in the Bible he is called Korah), Allah gave him wealth and power, but he became proud and publicly declared that all that he got, was obtained exclusively by his own knowledge and strength. The Most High punished the rich man, the earth opened up and swallowed Karuna along with his wealth, home and minions, and a lake formed from above. 

Fayum_3The first settlements along the shores of the lake arose 5-6 thousand years BC. and Fayyum has always been a developed center, the favorable climate and the incredible picturesque nature of the lake conquered me. The oasis is surrounded by the Libyan desert, and therefore looks even more amazing and beautiful – after a long, withered landscape, palm groves and the smell of fresh green pleasantly delight both the eye and nose. Under the pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom, palaces were erected in Fayum in honor of the main local god, of course, with the head of a crocodile (there were a lot of them in the lake). For example, the famous palace “Labyrinth”, as well as the pyramid of the pharaoh Amenemkhet III (the pyramid of Havar). Although almost nothing has been preserved, but Fayoum is known throughout the world for the outstanding Greco-Roman encaustic of the 1st-3rd centuries. AD under the general name “Fayum portraits” – the best examples of ancient painting. The portrait of a boy named Eftikhiy made a lasting impression on me when I met him, being about the same age as the portrait. In the case of young Euthychus, it further depresses me that the Fayum portraits are funeral portraits of the townspeople, who at that time had replaced the masks on the sarcophagi. So the big-eyed Euthychus died a little baby. 23 portraits are kept in Moscow at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. In total, about 900 were found and it was a truly grandiose find – such a large burial place of “ordinary” people. Although much was lost, for example, at the end of the 19th century, the locals used some of the portraits for kindling to keep warm at night in the desert, while archaeologist Flinders Pitri arrived in time and took it away. In Fayyum there was also a city with the funny Greek name Crocodilopolis, in honor of the same crocodile god. Would you like to be a crocodile or crocodile? What to see now:

  • Karun Lake (in the title photo for the post);faum_naura
  • The city of El Fayyum. A traditional provincial Egyptian city, which in itself is interesting. In the center are water wheels supplying water to the irrigation canal. These wheels, noriya, or in Arabic “naura” (ناعورة) – the only in Egypt, are the generally accepted symbol of Fayyum.
  • The Hawara Pyramid is an unusual structure unlike traditional pyramids. Located a few kilometers from El Fayyum and reminds me of a huge petrified bear. Or a black stone block smoothed by the winds.
  • Wadi al-Khitan (وادي الحيتان – Valley of the Whales) – well-preserved skeletons of ancient whales right at the excavation site lie in the desert.
  • Wadi Ryan is a national reserve, famous for its waterfalls several meters high. The most interesting thing in the reserve in the winter is because it is here that birds fly for wintering.
  • Karanis is a Greco-Roman city in the northeast of the oasis, modern Kom Aushim. There are ruins of the temple in which the mummy of a crocodile was discovered. There is no mummy itself, the temple almost did not survive.

The list can be continued, I did not list all the ancient Egyptian ruins, but it should be borne in mind that the ruins are, as a rule, little preserved and I describe longer than tourists look around this pile of stones. But Fayyum is an interesting place for a day trip. The lake, the reserve, the skeletons of whales, the black pyramid and the city with water wheels are worth the day spent on them. Well, thickets, thickets, this is an oasis.