Wandering – again
I had intended to write about the garden and, in particular, the raised beds. There’s enough work to be done, and a number of points – interesting, baffling, despair-inducing to write about. But, as you see, I got diverted…. again!
Definitely not my garden…. The nomad spirit took over once more yesterday, and I abandoned veg. beds, borders and even the fascination of the compost bins in order to wander off to Fayyum, most lovely of agricultural regions close to Cairo and truly worth the agony of an hour or two on the Ring Road.
First thing was Lake Qarun, so obscured by mist that we couldn’t locate the horizon. As ever, it was weirdly still, like a mirror, though the winter wildfowl were abundant. Then, a glimpse of daily life in the fields, where it seems little has changed over the millennia since the men of Alexander’s Macedonian army were settled here in order to cultivate the land. Irrigation channels criss-cross the fields:
And, once the corn harvest is over, the remains of the plants are carried off as fodder to the livestock in the fields by the most traditional of transport:The soil in Fayyum is rich and its produce abundant, possibly because the area once had a much larger system of lakes, extended through engineering works by the kings of the Middle Kingdom some four thousand years ago. It follows that there must have been plentiful, rich debris left in the soil. The area, fed by a tributary of the Nile, was in any case naturally productive. Here’s Toby Wilkinson* on the subject:
From the very beginning of pharaonic history, the Fayum was a popular location for royal retreats and summer palaces. In the Middle Kingdom and Ptolemaic periods in particular, it was the focus of major irrigation and land reclamation activities, in effect creating ‘another Egypt’ in the Western Desert.
The fields are wonderfully cultivated – it’s always a pleasure to see how neatly ploughed they are whether big or small.
Among the crops we came across fields of sugar beet:
And, towards the western edge, medicinal herbs such as calendula:
As well as what may be tanacetum (tansy) interplanted with corn:
On a previous exploration of Fayyum in the spring, we found fields full of chamomile as well – we could actually smell the herb well before we spotted it – and this is the only area in Egypt where I have come across so many plants with pharmaceutical applications, outside Sekem’s Heliopolis University nursery beds.
But, intriguingly, a loop round to the west, well away from Lake Qarun, is a reminder of just how singular Fayyum is. Approaching the archaeological site of Madinat Madi arguably from the wrong direction – from the west rather than from the east – we rattled our away across a desert landscape of desolate beauty:
Even so, take a close look at the ground beneath your feet and you’d be surprised at the tracks in the sand….
It is possible that the spirit of Namibia is running away with me here. The only lions in the area are the stone statues at Madinat Madi (as far as I know!) so the most this is likely to be is a desert fox, I imagine.
By twilight, we were back among the fields and the irrigation canals. The cattle were being herded home from the fields
And a calm, still atmosphere prevailed over an irrigation canal – it seemed to sum Fayyum up beautifully:
- The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt – Toby Wilkinson, pub. by Bloomsbury