Fayoum Oasis and Lake Qaroun, EGYPT
- Keywords: Egypt Cultural Landscape, Oasis, Fayoum, Lake Qaroun, Moeris, canals, Cocodrilopolis.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
-Al Fayoum Oasis is pointed out in the Tentative List of UNESCO (“Oasis of Fayoum, hydraulic remains and ancient cultural landscapes”, date of Submission: 28/07/2003) in category: Cultural, and under the criteria: (i)(iv)(v). -Lake Qarun Protected Area of Egypt: Area: 230 Km2 Type: Wetland of International Importance Year of establishment: 1983 Objective: Protection of marine and terrestrial wildlife According to Med-o-Med, this site has also enough natural values to be considered as a cultural landscape.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Fayoum is not a true oasis since it depends on Nile water instead of underground springs or wells. The ancient Bahr Yussef canal runs through the center of the city and irrigates the land. Only two hours from Cairo by road, Fayoum is renouned for its year-round warm climate, numerous water wheels (introduced by the Ptolemies in the 3rd century) and lush agricultural land. Lake Moeris is an ancient lake, nowyadays Known as Lake Qarun, in the northwest of the Faiyum Oasis, 80 km (50 mi) southwest of Cairo, Egypt. It persists in modern times as a smaller lake called Birket Qarun. The lake’s surface is 140 ft (43 m) below sea-level, and covers about 78 square miles (200 km2). Lake Moeris was freshwater in prehistory. In 2300 BC, the waterway from the Nile to the natural lake was widened and deepened to make a canal which is now known as the Bahr Yussef. This canal fed into the lake. This was meant to serve three purposes: control the flooding of the Nile, regulate the water level of the Nile during dry seasons, and serve the surrounding area with irrigation. There is evidence of ancient Egyptian pharaohs of the twelfth dynasty using the natural lake of Faiyum as a reservoir to store surpluses of water for use during the dry periods. The immense waterworks undertaken by the ancient Egyptian pharaohs of the twelfth dynasty to transform the lake into a huge water reservoir gave the impression that the lake was an artificial excavation, as reported by classic geographers and travellers. Today the lake is a saltwater lake. It is a source for tilapia and other fish from the local area. Its area is estimated to vary between 490 mi² (1,270 km²) and 656 mi² (1,700 km²). The lake is an important archeological site because of the presence of marine, fluvial and continental environment all in one area with a unique collection of fossil fauna and flora that goes back to some 40 million year. Fynally, according to the second category (ii.b) of the Cultural Landscape Categories in the 2008’s Operational Guidelines, There are many elements and units have been formed the cultural landscape of Fayoum Oasis, which could be identified as follows: -Natural heritage components: lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. -Cultural heritage components: local festivals, traditional houses, traditional handcrafts, historical trade route, artifacts and archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises).
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Fayoum, Al Fayoum, Faiyum or Al Fayyum Oasis.
- Current denomination Fayoum, Al Fayoum, Faiyum or Al Fayyum Oasis.
- Original denomination Fayoum, Al Fayoum, Faiyum or Al Fayyum Oasis.
- Popular denomination Fayoum, Al Fayoum, Faiyum or Al Fayyum Oasis.
- Address: Less than 100km south of Cairo, west of the Nile.
- Geographical coordinates: N 29 32 - E31 00 N29 06 - E30 43 N29 25 - E30 25 N29 27 - E31 05
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Fayoum Oasis (or Al-Fayoum Oasis, Al Fayyum Oasis, and other variations in spelling) is a depression or basin in the desert immediately to the west of the Nile south of Cairo. The extent of the basin area is estimated at between 1,270 km² (490 mi²) and 1700 km² (656 mi²). The basin floor comprises fields watered by a channel of the Nile, the Bahr Yussef, as it drains into a desert depression to the west of the Nile Valley. The Lake is in the Fayoum Province, 40 km in length, 5.7 km in width and 34 to 43 m below sea level with a mean depth of 4.2 m. The Faiyum Oasis contains the city of Faiyum. It also comprises several other towns, among them Sinnūris and Tāmīya to the north of Faiyum, and Sanhūr and Ibshawāi on the road to the lake.
- Access and transport facilities: From outside Egypt: International flights direct to Cairo, then either an internal flight (see below) or overland by bus or by car. From Cairo: Overland You may like to book a tour through a travel agent or hire your own transport. Bear in mind that desert driving has special requirements and be sure to get a suitable vehicle and guidance on possible hazards. 0therwise you can travel to each location by bus or service taxi and arrange trips from there. Fayoum: Service taxis from Midan Giza (Giza Sq.) or buses from the Ahmed Helmi or Giza terminals. By train from Ramses or Giza stations.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Fayoum Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA).
- Legal protection: Lake Qarun Protected Area of Egypt.
These settlements arose during the pre-dynastic periods and during the Old Empire when the sovereigns provided incentives to encourage agriculture. It was, however, with the XIIth dynasty, when Egypt’s capital was transferred to Lishte, a place quite close on the Nile, that there was renewed interest in the region from the country’s rulers because of its enormous agricultural potential and a considerable amount of work was done to develop the area. The work was started by Senusert II (1872-1854) and completed by his grandson Amenemhat III (1853-1809), the Bahar Youssef was channelled and a network of irrigation canals was set up. This doubtlessly also made it possible to protect the Fayoum from the Nile’s devastating floods and to gain agricultural land to the detriment of the “Inland sea”. The first to have drawn attention to this hydraulic undertaking and colossal drainage operation and who described it in the Vth century with great admiration, was Herodotus. This was indeed one of the oldest experiences of this magnitude and perhaps even the oldest of all time, never achieved before, about 3850 years ago, with no comparison whatsoever, except for contemporary hydraulic works, or later works on the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia. Strabo in 24 BC described how the water of the Nile was channelled and distributed and already in his time the system had been greatly improved by the Ptolemies, who, in their turn, undertook great drainage and further development works. Amenemhat III deified “The magnitude of the great works undertaken by Amenemhat in the Fayoum as well as the size of the monuments he left (his funerary temple of Hawara and the famous labyrinth of the Greek travellers) made such an impression that, confusing his coronation name of Pramarres with the quite similar name of Lake Moeris, the Greeks attributed the digging of the lake to him”.Amenemhat III, the genius behind the development of the “country of the Lake” was deified by the Ptolemies (about 15 centuries after his death) who in turn were interested again in the Fayoum, drained it definitively and at the same time developed its agriculture and its economy, especially under Ptolemy II (285-246 BC).
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Desert Lake
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: Precipitation in the hills of the Eastern Desert and Sinai is very variable. In these places a stream may flow as a torrent for a day or so after a storm, during which over 100 mm of rain may fall, but it may thereafter remain dry for several years. There are two seasons. Winter lasts from November to March, and summer from April to October. Winters are cool and mild, but summers are hot and dry. Then, in the deserts, daytime temperatures may reach 48°C but may fall to 10°C at night. NE winds predominate in winter, but it is the occasional westerly winds that bring rain. In summer, winds are from the SW, off the Sahara. January is the coolest month throughout the country and August is generally the hottest month.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: Physically, the Oasis corresponds to a depression dug in the limestone rock with a surface area of about 17.000 km², whose bottom lies 45 m below sea level and the surrounding relief rises 350 metres above sea level. To the north, a lake called Lake Qaroun, spreads over 40 km in length and is 4 km wide at some points, thus covering about 200 km². The Faiyum Oasis (or Al-Fayoum Oasis, Al Fayyum Oasis, and other variations in spelling) is a depression or basin in the desert immediately to the west of the Nile south of Cairo. The extent of the basin area is estimated at between 1,270 km² (490 mi²) and 1700 km² (656 mi²). The basin floor comprises fields watered by a channel of the Nile, the Bahr Yussef, as it drains into a desert depression to the west of the Nile Valley. The Bahr Yussef veers west through a narrow neck of land north of Ihnasya, between the archaeological sites of El-Lahun and Gurob near Hawara, it then branches out, providing rich agricultural land in the Faiyum basin, draining into the large saltwater Lake Moeris (Birket Qarun). The lake was freshwater in prehistory but is today a saltwater lake. It is a source for tilapia and other fish for the local area. The Lake is in the Fayoum Province, 40 km in length, 5.7 km in width and 34 to 43 m below sea level with a mean depth of 4.2 m. Groundwater appears to be continuously seeping from a number of sub-surface springs at the lake bottom. A gently sloping sand-plain extends from the lakeshore northwards and upwards to reach sea level at 7 km north of the shoreline. The lake is an important archeological site because of the presence of marine, fluvial and continental environment all in one area with a unique collection of fossil fauna and flora that goes back to some 40 million years.
Vegetation in Lake Qarun: Occasional and sparse vegetation of mostly Tamarix nilotica, Nitraria retusa and Alhagi maurorum are found. Some salt-marsh vegetation is present due to the brackish water from the main drainage canals.
Lake Qaroun is well known for wetland of international importance for waterbirds. The internationally important concentrations are Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, Shoveler Anas clypeata and Slender-billed Gull Larus genei. The internationally important Little Tern Sterna albiforns breeds here. The lake produces an average of 900 tons of fish and shrimps once a year. Flamingo The Golden Horn is one of the most wonderful islets in the reserve. The 376-feddan-islet serves as the most convenient spots for bird reproduction, specifically the flamingo. Despite its scanty size (only one sq. km), the importance of Hamour islet rests in its favorable climate for reproduction of both resident and migrant birds, as the islet rises a little above the lake water level. The biological diversity of the reserves are very important when one considers that 88 species of birds have been spotted here. In addition, there are rare kinds of ducks, eagles, falcons, hornbills, macaws, swans and parakeets. Many wild plants are also to be found. The lake houses more than 10 kinds of fish, including garfish, eel, cod, muskellunge, halibut, striped bass and shrimps. The reserve also offers shelter to five kinds of mammals including Egyptian hyena, red fox, beaver, kudu and gnu. Moreover, the reserve houses rare kinds of reptiles including the Egyptian Cobra, red-spotted and coral snake. All these make Lake Qaroun one of the richest nature reserves nearby Cairo.
Land uses and economical activities:In the Faiyum oasis is Birket Qarun (Arabic for Lake of Qarun), which abounds in fish. Lake Qarun has been a source of fish and a habitat for waterfowl since time immemorial. But agriculture is not the Fayoums only claim for being first. The Greek mummy portraits found in the Fayoum are said to be the worlds first true life portraits, and examples can be found in area museums. In addition, a paved road, which has been noted as a landmark of engineering by engineering societies along side the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, is said to be possibly the first paved road in the world and dates to over 4,500 years. And finally, the worlds first dam was probably built here in order to control the Nile floods into the area. The peacefulness of the area is a relief from the hustle and bustle of Cairo, from which it is a brief trip. Bird life still abounds around Lake Qaroun, bordered by semi-nomadic Bedouin settlements and fishing villages. Here, on the edge of the desert, you can sail, windsurf, swim and fish. Other places of outstanding natural beauty near Fayoum are the hot springs at Ain al-Siliyin, where you can bath and the waterfalls at Wadi al-Rayan, 40km towards Bahariyya, also suitable for swimming and picnics.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The Fayoum thus became one of Egypt's richest agricultural areas where Strabo could see the only olive groves in the country and taste the wine which was produced there in abundance. Cotton, clover, tomatoes, medicinal plants and fruit are all grown here. The local Souk (market) in Fayoum City sells copperware, spices and gold jewelry and there is a special pottery market once a week. Over 1,000 km² (400 mile²) of the Faiyum Oasis is cultivated, the chief crops being cereals and cotton. The completion of the Aswan Low Dam ensured a fuller supply of water, which enabled 20,000 acres (80 km²) of land, previously unirrigated and untaxed, to be brought under cultivation in the three years 1903-1905. Three crops are obtained in twenty months. The province is noted for its figs and grapes of exceptional quality. Olives are also cultivated. Rose trees are very numerous, and most of the attar of roses of Egypt is manufactured in the province. Faiyum also possesses an excellent breed of sheep.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
Lake Qaroun nature reserve, the oldest in the world, is distinguished by its matchless environmental and natural assets. Within this reserve that comprises 1155 sq. km of land and 230 sq. km of water, both the old and modern civilizations have converged. Lake Qaroun is a safe haven and warm cradle for thousands of migrant birds fleeing the severe cold of Europe. It is also the incubator and the happy nest that embraces infant birds on the lake islets during reproduction time. Various kinds of fish live in the lake waters, while many species of mammals, reptiles and birds live in this wonderful reserve. Moreover, the reserve abounds in rare fossils, archaeological and geological formations. Lake Qaroun was declared a nature reserve by the virtue of the Prime Minister decision No 348 in 1989 with a view to protecting and conserving the biological, archaeological and geological diversity of the area. Being a damp land area, special attention was required to maintain it.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
The reserve of Lake Qarun contains several monuments including As-Sagha (goldsmiths) palace that lies at the northern part, dating back to the Pharaonic Middle Kingdom. It looks like a small temple made of rosy stone with seven compartments. Three km away from As-Sagha palace there lies Abu Lifa Monastery that was built in the monastic era on an elevated spot in the bosom of a mountain to keep monks secure from Roman oppression. Greek monuments include relics of the old town of Skitnopius, once the departure point for the south desert-bound trade caravans.
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Fayoum is Famous as well for the variety of handicrafts: producers of palm leaf baskets, carpets and kilim can be found in tiny workshops in villages. Nazla and Tunis are the most famous villages of producing pottery items. Also, the Greek mummy portraits found in the Fayoum are said to be the worlds first true life portraits, and examples can be found in area museums.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
Domestic, industrial ensembles, energy related systems:
The world’s first dam was probably built here in order to control the Nile floods into the area.
Roads, paths, trails, walking/mechanical ways:
A paved road, which has been noted as a landmark of engineering by engineering societies along side the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, is said to be possibly the first paved road in the world and dates to over 4,500 years.
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
There are, especially in the neighborhood of the lake, many ruins of ancient villages and cities. Mounds north of the city of Faiyum mark the site of Crocodilopolis. There are extensive archaeological remains across the region which extend from the prehistoric period through to modern times. Some of them are: Amenemhat III (the Labyrinth), Pyramid of Bacchias Dimeh al-Siba Hanging Mosque Karanis Kwawand Asla-Bey Medinet Madi Deir El-Malak Ghobrial (Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel) Dimai Qasr Qarun, the Ancient Town Dionysias Tebtunis Virgin Mary (Deir al-Hammam) Ain as-Siliyiin
- Traces in the environment of human activity: The Egyptians of the IIIrd century BC thus in their own way acknowledged this tremendous technical feat with its great impact in the Fayoum and in Egypt and possibly in the outside world as well.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: There are semi-nomadic Bedouin settlements around the lake.
- Languages and dialects: Egyptian
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: On a curious monument dating from that period and found in Kisnan Fares (Medinet El Fayoum), the deified Amenemhat III is shown together with the crocodile god Sobek (a local deity of Fayoum), the baboon of Thot and the hippopotamus of Thoueris. The deified king was thus placed on an equal footing with the other gods, all linked in one way or another, with the waters of the life-giving Nile". (according to a text by Jean-Pierre Corteggiani, Egyptologist. For the first three centuries AD, the people of Faiyum and elsewhere in Roman Egypt not only embalmed their dead but also placed a portrait of the deceased over the face of the mummy wrappings, shroud or case. The Egyptians continued their practice of burying their dead, despite the Roman preference for cremation. Preserved by the dry desert environment, these Faiyum portraits make up the richest body of portraiture to have survived from antiquity. They provide us with a window into a remarkable society of peoples of mixed origins —Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Libyans and others — that flourished 2,000 years ago in Faiyum. The Faiyum portraits were painted on wood in a pigmented wax technique called encaustic
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:The lake's main water source is drainage from agricultural land, which enters through two major drains called el-Batts and el-Wadi. This water has become increasingly saline as agriculture has intensified and the water is now more saline than seawater. Freshwater fish and invertebrates have largely disappeared and marine species have been introduced. This lake is of international importance for wintering waterbirds including Black-necked Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis, and Northern Shoveller, Anas clypeata. A fruitful day can be spent here in el-Fayoum (1h30 driving distance from Cairo) seeing the numerous ancient sites including the small but excellent museum.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
-Lake Qarun Reserve: Natural heritage and ancient remains -Fayoum Oasis itself
- Living heritage
Authenticity:This region has the earliest evidence for farming in Egypt, and was a center of royal pyramid and tomb-building in the Twelfth dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, and again during the rule of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Faiyum became one of the breadbaskets of the Roman world.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria and Med-O-Med considerations, Fayoum Oasis and the Qaroun Lake: (v) is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change, (vi) is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (vii) contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, (viii) is an outstanding example representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, (ix) is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, (x) contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the specific irrigation systems came from the Islamic culture. -Mythical values and religious: this oasis could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Fayoum oasis is one of all of the oases of Egypt Desert which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
-Giddy, L. Egyptian Oases: Bahariya, Dakhla, Farafra and Kharga during Pharaonic Times, Warminster, Aris & Philips, 1987. -Jackson, R. At Empire’s Edge: Exploring Rome’s Egyptian Frontier, New Haven et Londres, Yale University Press, 2002. -Thurston, H. Island of the Blessed : the Secrets of Egypt’s Everlasting Oasis, Toronto, Doubleday, 2003. -Vivian, C. The Western Desert of Egypt: an explorer’s handbook, AUC Press, le Caire, 2000. -Wagner, G. Les oasis d’Égypte à l’époque grecque, romaine et byzantine, d’après les documents grecs, Le Caire, Recherches de papyrologie et d’épigraphie grecques, 1987
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías