Page images
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

the earthquake-stricken city of Modica in the south of Sicily. It is spanned by many bridges ; its palaces overhang it as if they belonged to Venice.

Nobody can truly say whether it is river or canal. But the latest scientific theory is that it is a naturally formed branch of the Nile; that at some date before the dawn of history the Nile in flood burst through the banks separating it from a chain of depressions and hurled its waters through the heart of the Fayum at High Nile, cutting a fresh channel for itself. At Low Nile whatever is left of the water flows back into the Nile. The swift current of the Bahr Yûsuf, which turns so many water-wheels, is certainly suggestive of this. Others are equally positive that it is an artifically cut canal, and tradition, which generally has some kind of foundation, is in favour of this.

Major Hanbury-Brown quotes an Arab tradition from an article by Mr. Cope Whitehouse in The Contemporary Review of September 1887:

" Joseph, to whom may Allah show mercy and grant peace, when he was Prime Minister of Egypt and high in favour with Raiyan, his sovereign, after that he was more than a hundred years old, became an object of envy to the favourites of the king and the puissant seigneurs of the Court of Memphis, on account of the great power which he wielded and the affection entertained for him by his monarch. They accordingly thus addressed the king : 'Great king, Joseph is now very old ; his knowledge has diminished, his beauty has faded, his judgment is unsound, his sagacity has failed.' The king said : ‘Set him a task which shall serve as a test.' At that time the El-Fayum was called El-Hun, or the Marsh. It served as a waste-basin for the waters of Upper Egypt, which flowed in and out unrestrained. The courtiers having taken counsel together what to propose to the king, gave this reply to Pharaoh : ‘Lay the royal commands upon Joseph that he shall divert the water of the Nile from El-Hun and drain it so as to give you a new province and an additional source of revenue. The king assented, and, summoning Joseph to his presence, said : “You know how dearly

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

gh gb

I love my daughter, and you see that the time has arrived in which I ought to carve an estate for her out of the crown lands, and give her a separate establishment, of which she would be the mistress. I have, however, no territory avail. able for this purpose except the submerged land of El-Hun. It is in many respects favourably situated. It is a convenient distance from my capital. It is surrounded by desert. My daughter will thus be independent and protected.' 'Quite true, great king,' responded Joseph :'when would you wish it done? for accomplished it shall be by the aid of Allah, the all-powerful. "The sooner the better,' said the king. Then Allah inspired Joseph with a plan. He directed him to make three canals : one from Upper Egypt, a canal on the east, and a canal on the west. Joseph collected workmen and dug the canal of Menhi from Ashmunin to El-Lahun. Then he excavated the canal of El-Fayum, and the eastern canal, with another canal from El-Hun; then he set an army of labourers at work. They cut down the tamarisks and bushes which grew there and carried them away. At the season when the Nile begins to rise the marsh had been converted into good cultivable land. The Nile rose; the water entered the mouth of the Menhi canal, and flowed down the Nile Valley to El-Lahun; thence it turned towards El-Fayum, and entered that canal in such volume that it filled it, and converted the land into a region irrigated by the Nile. King Raiyan thereupon came to see his new province with the courtiers who had advised him to set Joseph this task. When they saw the result they greatly marvelled at the skill and inventive genius of Joseph, and exclaimed: We do not know which most to admire, the draining of the marsh and the destruction of the noxious plants, or the conversion of its surface into fertile land and well-watered fields.' Then the king said to Joseph, ‘How long did it take you to bring this district into the excellent state in which I find it?' Seventy days,' responded Joseph. Then Pharaoh turned to his courtiers and said: 'Apparently one could not have done it in a thousand days.' Thus the name was changed from El-Hun, or the Marsh, to El-Fayum, the land of a thousand days.'”

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

The artist's bits in Medinet are vanishing as far as old houses are concerned, but the riverscape of palms both up and down stream is delicious. Even the far-famed Mahmûdiya Canal at Alexandria does not yield such dream-pictures.

The Fayum is a place to which you need to be personally conducted unless you can speak Arabic; even modern Greek does not always carry you, and French and Italian are almost as useless as English, except at the principal hotel, where they speak a little Italian, and the head waiter, when he is not out at lake Kurun, can speak a little English. In the absence of that functionary we might have starved but for my knowledge of Italian.

English people must not yield to their fears at the aspect of this hotel; though the restaurant, the bar, and the billiardroom are one, the bedrooms are not unclean and have no insects, and visitors will not be required to take their meals in the billiard-room restaurant. An unoccupied bedroom was set apart for our meals. The cooking is not bad, nor is the hotel dear if you take your meals à la carte. The servants are a little mysterious. You never know the exact nationality or status of any of them. I suspected one of them of being the proprietor. There were no women servants. The butter had been left there by the last guests in the preceding year.

The Fayum Hotel stands on the banks of the Bahr Yusuf, a stone's throw from the railway station. The other hotel is a little beyond it. It is worth while looking at, for it is characteristic. But it is not possible.

Having established ourselves in the hotel, we went out to see the town and discover two Syrians, a doctor and a landowner, to whom thoughtful friends had given us introductions, knowing the language difficulty in the Fayum. The doctor gave us some useful information about the antiquities, but Mr. Nicholas Khouri Haddad was out in the country.

We wandered on, feeling so flat at the newness of the town, that we were quite rejoiced when we came to a Pasha's awful blue-and-yellow house of moulded plaster. The only redeeming feature about the bazar was the nice old Kait Bey mosque at the end, which had a quaint minaret, a tomb-dome, and an arcade-old, shapeless, and charming. This was the mosque that used to span the Bahr Yûsuf. But the course of the canal has been deflected, and it no longer tunnels through Saracenic arches under the venerable structure.

In the same way the delightful old Saracenic bridge carrying an ancient piece of the bazar across the canal, which has formed the subject of so many pictures, has been sacrificed to modern utilitarianism, much to the loss of Medinet Fayum from the tourist-attractions point of view. Even the famous “high-lift water-wheel" on the Tamiya Canal has gone. On the way back we unearthed two modest curio shops, one with some very good things in it-of which anon. There are no shops in the town worthy of the name except a few moderately good Greek grocers-Medinet is sufficiently unspoiled to depend on its bazar.

Towards sundown we wended our footsteps to Crocodilopolis, the Arsinoë of the Ptolemies, the Shodit of the Pharaohs. The ruins of that classical city on Lake Kurun, the great Lake Moeris of the ancients, at which the sacred crocodiles with jewels on their feet (and possibly gilt, which must have interfered very much with their comfort) came to be fed with delicacies intended for human stomachs. They must have felt more bored than poodles. It is many a day, perhaps two thousand years and more, since Lake Moeris came to meet the terraces of Crocodilopolis, if it ever did come. Scientific opinion prefers to think that the sacred crocodiles were kept in mere ponds. There is no geological trace of the lake having extended so far-it is not certain that even the colossi of Biahmu were on the lake.?

[ocr errors]

" There has been a city on the site of Medinet-Fayum for four or five thousand years. The Pharaohs called it Shodit, “the Reclaimed," from the draining of the Great Marsh. The crocodile god, Sobku, the chief of the aqueous gods, was naturally most in favour. Maspero speaks of "the unique character of the religious rites which took place there daily. The sacred lake contained a family of tame crocodiles, the image and incarnation of the god, whom the faithful fed with offerings-cakes, fried fish, and drinks sweetened with honey. Advantage was taken of the moment when one of these creatures, wallowing on the bank, basked contentedly in the sun. Two priests opened his jaws, and a third threw in

Of the ancient splendours of Crocodilopolis nothing remains but the site and a few foundations. These cover a large area, but two things militate against a proper examination-a Mohammedan cemetery of large extent has grown up among the ruins, and the thrifty fellah has been using the debris to manure the fields on account of the nitrates which it contains. By far the most antique-looking thing in Crocodilopolis is the mastaba, of poor modern masonry, in which a potter has established himself with the primitive wheel and table that were in use in the time of the Pharaohs. This mastaba, built of pots, was like a bit of ancient Egypt—for it was in form of the tombs round the Pyramids, and had a column up its centre, and a light roof of reeds, under which a boy sat spinning.

The eternal demand for bakshish was not long delayed. I wonder why nobody has discovered the hieroglyphic for bakshish yet. It must have existed. Crocodilopolis is a "potter's field” in the New Testament sense ; there are not even mud-brick ruins of any importance. Yet it was capable of looking picturesque with its fringe of palms, and the right atmospheric effects.

Night changed the whole scene for us. The other Syrian to whom we had brought an introduction, Mr. Nicholas Khouri Haddad, came in just as night fell. All Medinet talks of Nicholas Khouri--a singularly handsome boy of twentyone in absolutely correct English riding kit. We were not to make any plans, he said, we were just to tell him what we wished to see, and what time we had at our disposal. He would fill it all in, and show us anything else which he thought we ought not to miss. He would arrange for carriages, donkeys, boats, anything that was necessary; and he insisted on taking us out in his carriage, there and then, for a drive through the rich fields of the Fayum in the dusk.

the cakes, the fried morsels, and finally the liquid. The crocodile bore all this without even winking; he swallowed down his provender, plunged into the lake, and lazily reached the opposite bank, hoping to escape for a few minutes from the oppressive liberality of his devotees. As soon, however, as another of these approached, he was again beset at his new post, and stuffed in a similar manner.”

« PreviousContinue »