Founded ca. 270 BC- abandoned ca. AD 650 The village of Karanis is located in the northern part of the Fayum Oasis, south-west of today’s Calro; the modern name of the place is Kom Aushim, easily to be reached on the highway to the Fayum from Cairo. After approx. 60 km from the pyramids of Giza, you see the remains of ancient Karanis on your left-hand side. Like many other villages in the Fayoum, Karanis was
Founded in the first half of the 3rd century BC; at that time, the new rulers of Egypt after Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies, developed the Fayuom into a large fertile zone. The lake, once covering nearly the whole oasis, shrank to the level on which we see it today, its shores lying at – 45 m below sea level. Ptolemy I (ruled from 305 to 283 BC) and Ptolemy ii ruled from 285 to 246 BC) needed Greek speaking settlers as administrators and soldiers for their new government; tens of thousands of people flocked into the country on the Nile at that time, arriving from all parts of the Greek-speaking world around the Mediterranean. The first Ptolemies showed themselves as very civilized and wise rulers by not seizing land from the indigenous population but by creating new land in the Fayum and in the Delta with their advanced technological knowledge.
Karanis was founded on a limestone range at + 7 m above sea level. Up to here a new canal was dug around the perimeter of the Fayum, leading water from a side branch of the Nile, the Bahr Yussuf (Joseph’s River”). By this canal, which supplied water to the village and its fields for about 700 years, Karanis was connected to the Nile valley. When that canal was no longer maintained properly in the 7th century, the village had to die.
Karanis was named after Karanos, the first legendary king of Macedonia, home of Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies. With such name, Karanis was distinguished from other villages in the northern Fayoum, perhaps for its particular location at the end of the newly dug canal. In the beginning the village may have counted ca. 1500 inhabitants, a third were Greek-speaking, the other two thirds were Egyptians. From these beginnings a real multi-cultural society developed including Egyptians Greeks, Macedonians, Persians, Jews, and Romans. Over time, the village grew: In the 2nd century AD, it had about 3500 Inhabitants. Under Roman rule from 30 BC to AD 300, the village flourished even more. Many veterans of the Roman army enjoyed their retirement here, as we know from the papyri.
The wealth of Karanis came from its fertile land, In particular.in the south and east of the village. Wheat, barely, lentils beans, fodder for the animals and palm trees were grown here. Karanis was a center for the collection of grain which had to be paid as taxes and shipped to Alexandria.
People in Karanis worshiped mostly the Egyptian gods. As in all the other villages of the Fayum, the main temples were dedicated to the crocodile god Souchos, but Anubis, Harpocrates and Isis also had shrines here: those stood beside the temples of the Greek gods Aphrodite, Demetér and Asclepius. From the 5th century AD onwards. Karanis was completely Christianized: in the papyri we heard of a monastery in its close vicinity.
In Karanis two temples have been discovered. They were dedicated to forms of sobek. However, about 27 different Egyptian, Greek or Roman deities recorded at the town. Crocodiles were kept in the sacred lakes of these temples and were fed grain, meat and wine mixed with milk and honey they were used in ceremonies, and were mummified up on death. The southern larger temple was built in the first century AD on the foundations of an earlier temple and was dedicated to the crocodile gods Pnepheros and Petesuchos.
The South Temple:
The temple is preceded by a portal with an inscription dedicated to Nero and subsequently usurped by Claudius. The un-decorated temple consists of a quay at the head of a processional way, leading through a paved colonnaded courtyard to the temple interior, which has three rooms.
In one of the walls of the second room there is a deep niche in which a sacred mummified crocodile was buried, which was used in ceremonies. In the sanctuary, a large altar reveals a low hidden chamber which can be entered through a low hole along one side, from which priests probably issued oracles. However, the use of these chambers is not certain. The roof of this temple provides a good view of Karanis and the fertile land to the south.
The Northern Temple:
It dates back to the end of the first century AD and was also built on the foundation of earlier temple using mainly gray Limestone. It was dedicated to Sobek, Serapis, Zeus and Amun. Its layout is similar to the southern one The Temple is completely not inscribed. It was once surrounded by a thick, mud-brick wall, of which a small portion remains to the north of the temple.
The four outer corners of the temple are decorated with slender columns and two pylons. A large stone altar with perhaps an oracle niche dominates the sanctuary. This Temple and the Southern one were abandoned around the middle of the third century AD, the reason probably being the introduction of Christianity within the area (Dunn, 2005).
The Graeco-Roman Town
The town consisted of two main north-south wide streets, while hundreds of houses were grouped together in small clusters. Within each block, houses shared walls and occasionally a courtyard; otherwise they were independent structures. The more luxurious houses had stone lintels and vaulted ceilings, while most of the houses prepared with a basement used for storage. They were lit by small windows set high in the walls, which also provided ventilation. However, oil burning lamps were also used, sometimes placed into wall niches.
The Greaco – Roman bath in Karanis had been excavated, carefully documented and studied, and consolidated in 1975 by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology (IFAO). Lies to the north of Karanis. The bath consists of ( Disrobing room – Sauna – Hot bathroom – water tank – waste water pit )
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Exhibition: Papyri from Karanis – Voices from a multi-cultural society in 2015
Explore Karanis with Fayoumer!
As to provide the Fayoum visitors with an ultimate Fayoum experience. Explore Fayoum founder, Mahmoud a.k.a Fayoumer, a local guide and a researcher based in Fayoum Governorate will take you on curated tours to explore fabulous Fayoum in different thematic itineraries to ensure an ultimate Fayoum experience. He will share with you his knowledge of the area and his interesting Fayoum stories. More Info here
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