Egypt / Cities and Towns /
Other spellings: Al, Al- often in front; fayyom, fayyum, faiyoum, faiyum, fayum
The oasis of Fayoum is about 1,270 km², and irrigated by the Yusuf Canal, first constructed 3,500 years ago, bringing in water from the Nile. Fayoum also has its own springs, but these contribute only a small part of the total water used in the oasis.
The main Lake Qarun has a surface area of 234 km² and is 45 metres below sea level. It had freshwater in ancient times, but it has now saltwater. Surplus water has since 1966 been pumped from Qarun to the Wadi Rayan, where two large lakes have been formed. There are no public records of their surface levels, but it may be between 20 and 70 metres below sea level.
The city of Fayoum is a market and administrative centre for its region. With about 1,000 of the total 1,827 km² cultivated and the abundance of water, local agriculture is one of the most fertile in Egypt, producing cotton, flax, hemp, rice, sugar-cane, roses, oranges, peaches, pomegranates, figs, grapes and olives. The raising of sheep and poultry, fishing (in both Lake Qarun and the lakes of Wadi Rayan) and the making of a rose attar which is used for perfumes.
Fayoum has excellent connections to other urban centres, mainly because of the desert-bound highway running north to Cairo and south past Assyut. Fayoum is linked with the Nile Valley by road to Beni Suef, and rail to al-Wasta.
The city of Fayoum is dominated by the Yusuf Canal which flows through it, and from it two northbound canals, the Sinnuris and the Tanhale. Fayoum surrounds the canal as a modern city with buildings and blocks rising as high as 14 storeys. In the centre of the city there are still examples of the old water-wheel system with buckets, raising water to irrigation channels.
Fayoum has been an important urban and agricultural centre since the earliest times in Egyptian civilization. The region has a large number of remains from a long history, including fortresses, temples and the pyramids at Illahun and Hawara.
Through the first three centuries CE, the dead in Fayyum were embalmed with a portrait of the deceased over the face. Thanks to the dry climate in Fayoum many of these have survived, making it the richest body of portraiture to have survived from antiquity. The portraits indicate a society of peoples of mixed origins, including Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Syrians, Libyans and others.