Egypt: Qasr Qarun, the Ancient Town Dionysias

Qasr Qarun, the Ancient Town Dionysias

By Jimmy Dunn

A view of the ancient town of Dionysias in the Fayoum of Egypt

Near the western edge of Lake Qarun in the Fayoum, Qasr Qarun marks the location of the ancient town of Dionysias, now located near the modern village of Qarun. During ancient times, it was the beginning (or end) of the caravan route to the Bahariya Oasis, and thus, of some importance. The town was cleared by a Franco-Swiss archaeological team in the 19401s and 1950s and an epigraphic survey was conducted in 1976, but has since been the subject of several restorations projects.

The town is spread out north and south and is mostly in ruins save for a few structures that are worth mentioning. The Roman bath is a mere outline on the ground as are most of the houses, but a few still sand, at least partially. Some even have fresco decorations on the interior walls.

A view of the

The most noteworthy of these is located just east of the Roman fortress. Thermal baths with frescoes were discovered here in 1948, but the desert has long since reclaimed them.

The Temples

Here, we also find a most interesting temple dedicated to Sobek-Re, that is sometimes referred to as the "Temple of Stone", located in the middle of the ancient town. It dates to between 323 and 330 BC during the Ptolemaic period, but has not been dated more precisely due to the absence of inscriptions.

The temple is made of blocks of yellow limestone and is substantially complete. The exterior of the temple was partially restored by the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and parts of the internal structure have been reinforced.

The sanctuary and chapels of the

One of the most interesting aspects of this temple is that its roof is still place, offering us a sense of the atmosphere that once prevailed in all the temples of the Western Desert. The exterior, minus its damaged portico, looks like a square box, but this is deceiving. The interior of the temple is a labyrinth of rooms, stairways, corridors, cellars, tunnels and upper rooms of all sizes at different levels, and nooks and crannies complex enough to have caused early travelers into believing it to be the real labyrinth at the Hawara Pyramid. Specifically, there are fourteen rooms on either side of central corridor that leads to three chapels.

There are vestibules, a sanctuary and a few additional chambers. There is also a stairway to the roof which is worth the climb for the splendid view.

There is also a smaller temple was constructed mainly from mudbrick and dates to the Roman Period. The temple was dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek-Re. The interior contains Ionic columns. Only the square core of the structure has survived and most of the outlying buildings are now destroyed.

The Fortress

A depiction of Sobek-Re on the roof of the

Located to the west of the temple, the Roman fortress constructed during the reign of Diocletian as protection against the Blemmyes, is now a ruin. It was probably very similar to the forts that still stand at the Kharga Oasis and it probably served the same purpose. Dionysias was an outpost town receiving caravans from the Western Desert, which required a garrison as a guard against attack. As the first outpost in the Fayoum, it required good fortification

The fortress was built of mudbrick and measured about 90 by 80 meters, with square towers at each corner and semicircular towers on the sides. Within the ruins of the fortress are the remains of a Christian basilica. There are also a few stone capitals, some having Corinthian design.

Some records of this fort survive, indicating that at some point the Roman soldiers were probably conscripts. At the end of Rome's rule, soldiers were not very eager to serve.

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Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000 Thames and Hudson, Ltd ISBN 0-500-05100-3
Fayoum, The Hewison, R. Neil 2001 American University in Cairo press, The ISBN 977 424 671 3
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Western Desert of Egypt, The Vivian, Cassandra 2000 American University in Cairo Press, The ISBN 977 424 527 X

Last Updated: June 12th, 2011