THE FAIYUM OASIS
The Faiyum oasis, the once-idyllic birthplace of Amenhotep III, lies southwest of ancient Memphis in the Libyan desert (Map 1). At 40 miles wide, it is Egypt's second broadest stretch of arable land after the Nile Delta. On its northern edge, 150 feet below sea level, is its largest feature – the shrunken, brackish inland sea called Lake Qarun (Horn). In the past, connecting streams and canals made Qarun a catch basin for the Nile's annual floodwaters when they were especially high. Herodotus wrote that the lake (called “Moeris” in his day) was actually man-made, which, considering what we shall see of Amenhotep III's projects, is not entirely impossible, and that water flowed into it from the Nile six months of the year but reversed itself the other six months.
Waterfowl, fish, and other aquatic life were abundant there – so much so, according to the Greek historian, that taxes were paid to the royal treasury on their account. The perch was worshiped as a local god, as was its nemesis, the crocodile, Sobek, the principal god of the Faiyum's administrative seat, Shedet (Greek Crocodilopolis). The surrounding land was rich, producing wheat, barley, flax, hemp, figs, pomegranates, and grapes. Uncultivated wild heath was home to game animals such as gazelles, feral cattle, and hare as well as their predators, foxes and jackals.