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Valley whales in Fayoum.jpg
Clockwise from top:
a fishing boat on Lake Qarun, Whale Valley, trees fighting desertification, Sobek Temple
Faiyum is located in Egypt
Location within Egypt
Coordinates: 29°18′30″N 30°50′39″E / 29.308374°N 30.844105°E / 29.308374; 30.844105Coordinates: 29°18′30″N 30°50′39″E / 29.308374°N 30.844105°E / 29.308374; 30.844105
23 m (75 ft)
 • Total3,848,708
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)

Faiyum (Arabic: الفيوم el-Fayyūm  pronounced [elfæjˈjuːm], borrowed from Coptic:  ̀Ⲫⲓⲟⲙ or Ⲫⲓⲱⲙ Phiom or Phiōm from Ancient Egyptian: pꜣ ym "the Sea, Lake") is a city in Middle Egypt. Located 100 kilometres (62 miles) southwest of Cairo, in the Faiyum Oasis, it is the capital of the modern Faiyum Governorate. Originally called Shedet in Egyptian, the Greeks called it in Koinē Greek: Κροκοδειλόπολις, romanized: Krokodilópolis, and later Medieval Greek: Ἀρσινόη, romanizedArsinoë.[1] It is one of Egypt's oldest cities due to its strategic location.[1]

Name and etymology

Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs

Originally founded by the ancient Egyptians as Shedet, its current name in English is also spelled as Fayum, Faiyum or Al Faiyūm. Faiyum was also previously officially named Madīnet Al Faiyūm (Arabic for The City of Faiyum). The name Faiyum (and its spelling variations) may also refer to the Faiyum Oasis, although it is commonly used by Egyptians today to refer to the city.[3][4]

The modern name of the city comes from Coptic  ̀Ⲫⲓⲟⲙ /Ⲡⲉⲓⲟⲙ epʰiom/peiom (whence the proper name Ⲡⲁⲓⲟⲙ payom), meaning the Sea or the Lake, which in turn comes from late Egyptian pꜣ-ym of the same meaning, a reference to the nearby Lake Moeris; the extinct elephant ancestor Phiomia was named after it.

Ancient history

Archaeological evidence has found occupations around the Fayum dating back to at least the Epipalaeolithic. Middle Holocene occupations of the area are most widely studied on the north shore of Lake Moeris, where Gertrude Caton Thompson and Elinor Wight Gardner did a number of excavations of Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic sites, as well as a general survey of the area.[5] Recently the area has been further investigated by a team from the UCLA/RUG/UOA Fayum Project.[6][7]

According to Roger S. Bagnall habitation began in the fifth millennium BC and a settlement was established by the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BC) called Shedet (Medinet el-Fayyum).[8] It was the most significant centre of the cult of the crocodile god Sobek (borrowed from the Demotic pronunciation as Koinē Greek: Σοῦχος Soûkhos, and then into Latin as Suchus). In consequence, the Greeks called it "Crocodile City" (Koinē Greek: Κροκοδειλόπολις Krokodeilópolis), which was borrowed into Latin as Crocodīlopolis. The city worshipped a tamed sacred crocodile called, in Koine, Petsuchos, "the Son of Soukhos", that was adorned with gold and gem pendants. The Petsoukhos lived in a special temple pond and was fed by the priests with food provided by visitors. When Petsuchos died, it was replaced by another.[9][10]

Under the Ptolemaic Kingdom, the city was for a while called Ptolemais Euergétis (Koinē Greek: Πτολεμαῒς Εὐεργέτις).[11] Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309–246 BC) renamed the city Arsinoë and the whole nome after the name of his sister-wife Arsinoe II (316–270 or 268), who was deified after her death as part of the Ptolemaic cult of Alexander the Great, the official religion of the kingdom.[12] Ptolemy II Philadelphus also established a town at the edge of Faiyum named Philadelphia. It was laid out in a regular grid plan to resemble a typical Greek city, with private dwellings, palaces, baths and a theatre.[13]

Under the Roman Empire, Arsinoë became part of the province of Arcadia Aegypti. To distinguish it from other cities of the same name, it was called "Arsinoë in Arcadia".

With the arrival of Christianity, Arsinoë became the seat of a bishopric, a suffragan of Oxyrhynchus, the capital of the province and the metropolitan see. Michel Le Quien gives the names of several bishops of Arsinoë, nearly all of them associated with one heresy or another.[14]

The Catholic Church, considering Arsinoë in Arcadia to be no longer a residential bishopric, lists it as a titular see.[15]

Fayyum was the seat of Shahralanyozan, governor of the Sasanian Egypt (619–629).[16]

The 10th-century Bible exegete, Saadia Gaon, thought el-Fayyum to have actually been the biblical city of Pithom, mentioned in Exodus 1:11.[17]

Around 1245, the region became the subject of the most detailed government survey to survive from the medieval Arab world, conducted by Abū ‘Amr ‘Uthman Ibn al-Nābulusī.[18]

Faiyum mummy portraits

Portrait of a man, c. 125–150 AD. Encaustic
on wood; 37 cm × 20 cm (15 in × 8 in)

Faiyum is the source of some famous death masks or mummy portraits painted during the Roman occupation of the area. The Egyptians continued their practice of burying their dead, despite the Roman preference for cremation. While under the control of the Roman Empire, Egyptian death masks were painted on wood in a pigmented wax technique called encaustic—the Faiyum mummy portraits represent this technique.[19] While previously believed to represent Greek settlers in Egypt,[20][21] modern studies conclude that the Faiyum portraits instead represent mostly native Egyptians, reflecting the complex synthesis of the predominant Egyptian culture and that of the elite Greek minority in the city.[22][23][24]

The Zenon Papyri

Fragment of a papyrus letter discussing tax issues from the Zenon Archive (National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The construction of the settlement of Philadelphia under Ptolemy II Philadelphus was recorded in detail by a 3rd-century BC Greek public official named Zeno (or Zenon, Greek: Ζήνων). Zeno, a native of Kaunos in lower Asia Minor, came to Faiyum to work as private secretary to Apollonius, the finance minister to Ptolemy II Philadelphus (and later to Ptolemy III Euergetes). During his employment, Zeno wrote detailed descriptions of the construction of theatres, gymnasiums, palaces and baths in the 250s and 240s BC, as well as making copious written records of various legal and financial transactions between citizens.[13][25][26][27]

During the winter of 1914–1915, a cache of over 2,000 papyrus documents was uncovered by Egyptian agricultural labourers who were digging for sebakh near Kôm el-Kharaba el-Kebir. Upon examination by Egyptology scholars, these documents were found to be records written by Zeno in Greek and Demotic. These papyri, now referred to as the Zenon Archive or the Zenon Papyri, have provided historians with a detailed record of 3rd-century BC Philadelphia society and economy.[28] The discovery site was identified as the former location of ancient Philadelphia. Today, the precise location of the town is unknown, although archaeologists have identified two sites in north-east Faiyum as the possible location for Philadelphia.[27][29]

Modern city

Faiyum has several large bazaars, mosques,[30] baths and a much-frequented weekly market.[31] The canal called Bahr Yussef runs through the city, its banks lined with houses. There are two bridges over the river: one of three arches, which carries the main street and bazaar, and one of two arches, over which is built the Qaitbay mosque,[31] that was a gift from his wife to honor the Mamluk Sultan in Fayoum. Mounds north of the city mark the site of Arsinoe, known to the ancient Greeks as Crocodilopolis, where in ancient times the sacred crocodile kept in Lake Moeris was worshipped.[31][32] The center of the city is on the canal, with four waterwheels that were adopted by the governorate of Fayoum as its symbol; their chariots and bazaars are easy to spot. The city is home of the football club Misr Lel Makkasa SC, that play in the Egyptian Premier League.

Main sights

  • Hanging Mosque, built when the Ottomans ruled Egypt by prince Marawan bin Hatem
  • Hawara, archeological site 27 km (17 mi) from the city
  • Lahun Pyramids, 4 km (2 mi) outside the city
  • Qaitbay Mosque, in the city, and was built by the wife of the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay
  • Qasr Qarun, 44 km (27 mi) from the city
  • Wadi Elrayan or Wadi Rayan, the largest waterfalls in Egypt, around 50 km (31 mi) from the city
  • Wadi Al-Hitan or Valley of whales, a paleontological site in the Al Fayyum Governorate, some 150 km (93 mi) southwest of Cairo. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Köppen-Geiger climate classification system classifies its climate as hot desert (BWh).

The highest record temperatures was 46 °C (115 °F) on June 13, 1965, and the lowest record temperature was 2 °C (36 °F) on January 8, 1966.[33]

Climate data for Faiyum
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 28
Average high °C (°F) 18.9
Daily mean °C (°F) 11.6
Average low °C (°F) 4.3
Record low °C (°F) 2
Average precipitation mm (inches) 1
Source 1: Climate-Data.org[34]
Source 2: Voodoo Skies[33] for record temperatures

Notable people

People from Faiyum may be known as al-Fayyumi:

  • Tefta Tashko-Koço (1910-1947), well known Albanian singer was born in Faiyum, where her family lived at that time.
  • Saadia Gaon (882/892-942), the influential Jewish teacher of the early 10th century, was originally from Faiyum, and often called al-Fayyumi.
  • Youssef Wahbi (1898-1982), a notable Egyptian actor, well known for his influence on the development of Egyptian cinema and theater.
  • Mohamed Ihab (b. 1989), Egypt's most decorated weightlifter. He is a World Champion competing in the 77 kg category until 2018 and currently in the 81 kg class. He will be representing Egypt in the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.


  • Qarun Palace

    Qarun Palace

  • Temple


  • A whale skeleton lies in the sand at Wadi Al-Hitan (Arabic: وادي الحيتان, "Whales Valley") near the city of Faiyum

    A whale skeleton lies in the sand at Wadi Al-Hitan (Arabic: وادي الحيتان, "Whales Valley") near the city of Faiyum

See also


  1. ^ a b Paola Davoli (2012). "The Archaeology of the Fayum". In Riggs, Christina (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. Oxford University Press. pp. 152–153. ISBN 9780199571451.
  2. ^ Gauthier, Henri (1928). Dictionnaire des Noms Géographiques Contenus dans les Textes Hiéroglyphiques. Vol. 5. p. 150.
  3. ^ "The name of the Fayum province. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven". Trismegistos.org. Archived from the original on 2012-02-29. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  4. ^ "Faiyum. Eternal Egypt". Eternalegypt.org. Archived from the original on 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  5. ^ Caton-Thompson, G.; Gardner, E. (1934). The Desert Fayum. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
  6. ^ Holdaway, Simon; Phillipps, Rebecca; Emmitt, Joshua; Wendrich, Willeke (2016-07-29). "The Fayum revisited: Reconsidering the role of the Neolithic package, Fayum north shore, Egypt". Quaternary International. The Neolithic from the Sahara to the Southern Mediterranean Coast: A review of the most Recent Research. 410, Part A: 173–180. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.072.
  7. ^ Phillipps, Rebecca; Holdaway, Simon; Ramsay, Rebecca; Emmitt, Joshua; Wendrich, Willeke; Linseele, Veerle (2016-05-18). "Lake Level Changes, Lake Edge Basins and the Paleoenvironment of the Fayum North Shore, Egypt, during the Early to Mid-Holocene". Open Quaternary. 2. doi:10.5334/oq.19. ISSN 2055-298X.
  8. ^ Bagnall, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Roger S. (2004). Egypt from Alexander to the Early Christians: An Archaeological and Historical Guide. Getty Publications. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-89236-796-2. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  9. ^ Pettigrew, Thomas (1834). A History of Egyptian Mummies: And an Account of the Worship and Embalming of the Sacred Animals by the Egyptians : with Remarks on the Funeral Ceremonies of Different Nations, and Observations on the Mummies of the Canary Islands, of the Ancient Peruvians, Burman Priests, Etc. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman. p. 211.
  10. ^ Bunson, Margaret (2009). Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Infobase Publishing. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-43810997-8.
  11. ^ Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidenow, Esther, eds. (2012). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-19954556-8.
  12. ^ Guillaume, Philippe (2008). Ptolemy the second Philadelphus and his world. Brill. p. 299. ISBN 978-90-0417089-6.
  13. ^ a b McKenzie, Judith; McKenzie, Rhys-Davids Junior Research Fellow in Archaeology Judith; Moorey, Peter Roger Stuart (January 2007). The Architecture of Alexandria and Egypt, C. 300 B.C. to A.D. 700. Yale University Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-300-11555-0. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  14. ^ Le Quien, Michel (1740). Oriens christianus: in quatuor patriarchatus digestus : quo exhibentur ecclesiae, patriarchae caeterique praesules totius orientis. ex Typographia Regia., Vol. II, coll. 581-584
  15. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 840
  16. ^ Jalalipour, Saeid (2014). Persian Occupation of Egypt 619-629: Politics and Administration of Sasanians (PDF). Sasanika. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-26. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  17. ^ Saadia Gaon, Tafsir (Judeo-Arabic translation of the Pentateuch), Exodus 1:11; Rabbi Saadia Gaon's Commentaries on the Torah (ed. Yosef Qafih), Mossad Harav Kook: Jerusalem 1984, p. 63 (Exodus 1:11) (Hebrew)
  18. ^ The 'Villages of the Fayyum': A Thirteenth-Century Register of Rural, Islamic Egypt, ed. and trans. by Yossef Rapoport and Ido Shahar, The Medieval Countryside, 18 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018), p. 3.
  19. ^ "History of Encaustic Art". Encaustic.ca. 2012-06-10. Archived from the original on 2012-12-23. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  20. ^ "Egyptology Online: Fayoum mummy portraits". Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved January 16, 2007.
  21. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online - Egyptian art and architecture - Greco-Roman Egypt Archived 2007-05-28 at the Wayback Machine accessed on January 16, 2007
  22. ^ Bagnall, R.S. in Susan Walker, ed. Ancient Faces : Mummy Portraits in Roman Egypt (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications). New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 27
  23. ^ Riggs, C. The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt: Art, Identity, and Funerary Religion Oxford University Press (2005).
  24. ^ Victor J. Katz (1998). A History of Mathematics: An Introduction, p. 184. Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-321-01618-1: "But what we really want to know is to what extent the Alexandrian mathematicians of the period from the first to the fifth centuries C.E. were Greek. Certainly, all of them wrote in Greek and were part of the Greek intellectual community of Alexandria. And most modern studies conclude that the Greek community coexisted [...] So should we assume that Ptolemy and Diophantus, Pappus and Hypatia were ethnically Greek, that their ancestors had come from Greece at some point in the past but had remained effectively isolated from the Egyptians? It is, of course, impossible to answer this question definitively. But research in papyri dating from the early centuries of the common era demonstrates that a significant amount of intermarriage took place between the Greek and Egyptian communities [...] And it is known that Greek marriage contracts increasingly came to resemble Egyptian ones. In addition, even from the founding of Alexandria, small numbers of Egyptians were admitted to the privileged classes in the city to fulfil numerous civic roles. Of course, it was essential in such cases for the Egyptians to become "Hellenized," to adopt Greek habits and the Greek language. Given that the Alexandrian mathematicians mentioned here were active several hundred years after the founding of the city, it would seem at least equally possible that they were ethnically Egyptian as that they remained ethnically Greek. In any case, it is unreasonable to portray them with purely European features when no physical descriptions exist."
  25. ^ "Who was Zenon". apps.lib.umich.edu. University of Michigan. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Philadelpheia (Gharabet el-Gerza)". www.trismegistos.org. TM Places. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  27. ^ a b "Where do the Zenon Papyri come from?". apps.lib.umich.edu. University of Michigan. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  28. ^ About the Zenon Papyri - University of Michigan.
  29. ^ "Kôm el-Kharaba el-Kebir". iDAI.gazetteer. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  30. ^ The Mosque of Qaitbey in the Fayoum of Egypt Archived 2007-05-27 at the Wayback Machine by Seif Kamel
  31. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fayum" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 219.
  32. ^ "The Temple and the Gods, The Cult of the Crocodile". Umich.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-10-13. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  33. ^ a b "Al Fayoum, Egypt". Voodoo Skies. Archived from the original on 24 February 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  34. ^ "Climate: Faiyum - Climate graph, Temperature graph, Climate table". Climate-Data.org. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013.

External links

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