Top 22 Things to See and Do in the Fayoum Oasis
The Fayoum Oasis is a paradise for nature lovers. It is Cairo’s most popular countryside excursion and is located about an hour-and-a-half South of Greater Metropolitan Cairo. The Fayoum oasis, was well known for its rich soil and was very important to the integrity of the ancient Egyptian, Ptolemaic, and Roman empires. With cliffs meeting Lake Qaroun, the area is a total contrast of white desert and green, arable land. Nowadays, the Fayoum Oasis is known for the Wadis Al-Hitan and Rayan, dubbed the ‘Valleys of the Whales and Waterfalls’. The oasis is also known for its rich Ptolemaic culture, the Fayoum Mummies, Old Kingdom pyramids, and its beautiful countryside.
Those who live in the Fayoum are primarily farmers. There is possibly a strong ethnic Greek presence in the Fayoum since it was a hub for Greco-Roman life for centuries. There is also a strong Coptic Christian presence, with several large and important monasteries. With Egypt’s January 25th, 2011 Revolution, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and president Morsi, and the advent of president Sisi, the Fayoum oasis is fairly devoid of foreign travelers, allowing perfect shots of the two Wadis and the many incredible sites that lay along the way.
More often than not, travelers will outsource their trip to tour operators or agencies in their home country or in Egypt, believing that it is the safest, cheapest, and the most memorable way to see the land of the pharaohs, and leave rested, and a better person. At Egyptian Sidekick we believe that the mass tourism model currently dominant in Egypt, with its many detours for the purposes of sale, exposure of groups to hassle and harassment, and tight scheduling simply cannot compete with the flexibility and cost-savings which go with locally-inspired options like those offered by our local guides and student chaperones.
The Fayoum oasis is one area where a Sidekick comes in handy, as you will be picked up at your hotel, hostel, or place of residence, and drive in the early morning to see the two Wadis and several sites along the way, and then dropped off back at your starting point in Cairo. Make sure to tell whatever venue you are staying with to prepare a paper bag lunch for you – this is a very common practice, since the trip to the Fayoum Oasis is lengthy, and all hotels prepare the breakfast for their guests.
TOP 22 THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN THE FAYOUM OASIS
1This area is a Unesco World Heritage site, and a National Park. The site is referred to as, ‘Whale Valley’ on account of fossilized skeletons of a whale sub-species strewn across the Egyptian Western desert. The site also has a modern interpretive center.
2Wadi Al-Rayan is a Protected Area, and features waterfalls, marshlands, fantastic dunes and mountainous formations. The whole area is popular with bird watchers, local Egyptians, sand boarders, and jeep safari goers. The site awes with its pristine beauty.
3This is the second largest lake in Egypt, second only to Lake Nasser. There is still some fishing going on, despite urban crawl. The lake spills into the Rayan Protected Area in a series of streams, cascades, and the waterfalls.
4This collapsed pyramid allegedly belongs to pharaoh Huni, and has been iconic for the Fayoum region. Archaeologists, and engineers posit that the collapse did not occur in antiquity, and was due to the use of different construction materials.
5Once an ancient city called Theodosiopolis, the city is famous of its ‘Book of Nut’ papyri script, fragments of which can be seen in museums around the world. Both in the Old Kingdom and right up to the Christian Roman era, Tebtunis was a thriving town.
6Well known for papyri from former Roman soldiers who settled in the Fayoum upon retirement, the ancient city has a Ptolemaic-era ‘South’ temple. The town was a mainly agricultural, subsistence-farming settlement typical of the Egyptian, Greco-Roman period.
7This village is a sleepy hamlet in the oasis, with a surprisingly thriving art scene. The nearby Mohamed Abla Art Center offers courses in photography, art, and pottery. You can view how pottery is made, and purchase some locally-made crafts.
8This is the most interesting site in the Fayoum – from an archaeological viewpoint. Still not completely excavated due to its size, the temple at the heart of this sphinx- and lion-guarded site is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek, Ernutet and Horus.
9The pyramid of powerful pharaoh Amenemhat III dominates the entrance into the Fayoum oasis. It was constructed of mud brick, and has had most of its outer facing stone removed for later constructions, hence the eroded exterior.
10Standing about 13 meters tall, the obelisk is made of red granite. Senusret was a very active builder, replacing many of the mud brick temple enclosures throughout Egypt with stone constructions. He erected other obelisks in Heliopolis as well.
11The temple at ancient Dionysus is Ptolemaic, and dedicated to the god Sobek. The settlement was a starting point for caravans heading West into the desert and the many oases that held shrines and rich agricultural lands exploited in antiquity.
12Egyptians continue to keep pigeons, and you are likely to see pigeon towers all over Egypt. They are not kept as pets, but instead for food, and are built tall in agricultural settlements like the Fayoum oasis. They have become synonymous with rural Egypt.
13In Fayoum City, and the many other settlements around Lake Qaroun, you are likely to encounter still functioning water wheels which help irrigate the countryside. They are a regular stopover for travelers to the Fayoum oasis.
14This monastery was likely established in the 4th century by Coptic Christian Bishop Aur. The church is dedicated to Archangel Gabriel, and has been rebuilt several times. It is famous for its wood-panel paintings and Coptic Orthodox relics.
15Famous for its avenue of lions, and the ‘Walls of Dimai’, this Ptolemaic settlement was one of many part of an extensive network in the Fayoum. The site remains mainly unexcavated, and travelers can still find artifacts. None must be removed.
16Associated with the Old Kingdom pharaoh Senusret II, the pyramid is located South East of that of the pyramid of Hawara. It is also made of mud brick. The site is famous for the Lahun medical papyrus attesting to the sophistication of the ancients.
17The road to the Fayoum oasis is covered in farmland. Its natural beauty is not dissimilar from the way the region would have looked in ancient times. Be prepared for all sorts of animals, farmers and their families, and sprawling green fields.
18This pyramid belongs to Senusret I, and has not survived well due to its mud brick core. The site is famous as it was in one of the nearby tombs that archaeologists discovered one of the oldest versions of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.
19This mountain, right next to Wadi Al-Rayan and Lake Qaroun is called the ‘magic mountain’. A nearby cliff can be scaled for some incredible photography of the Fayoum oasis. This is one for the nature lovers, and those hunting for the perfect shot.
20This small, uninscribed temple, running up to Gebel Qatrani, also features a petrified forest. The temple is unusual as it is held together with oblique corners, rather than mortar. A German-Polish archaeological mission works at the site.
21This village is unique since its workers still hand-make pottery, and fire it in the nearby kilns. The whole area is incredibly picturesque, and has been dubbed, the ‘Village of the Potters’. There is pottery available for purchase.
22North of Lake Qaroun lay the fossilized remains of an ancient petrified forest. Travelers can get up close to actual tree trunks and discern the growth patterns. The forest grew very tall in a time of extremely high oxygen levels.
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