Kom el-Atl (Bacchias)
A little to the south-east of Karanis, on the northern edge of the Faiyum, is the ancient town of Bacchias, now called Kom el-Atl (locally pronounced Kom el-‘Asl) which means ‘The Place of the Tamarisk’. The site is situated near the small village of Gharay. Once a border town on the desert road from Memphis to the Arsinoite nome, this small community was founded in the Ptolemaic Period. The site lies on an earlier prehistoric settlement.
The town site, which was probably founded in the 3rd century BC and abandoned around the 4th century AD, is now in a ruinous condition, but there are many remains of mudbrick houses still standing. There are also remains of a huge well-constructed mudbrick structure, once thought to have been the town’s temple. Many papyri were found here in the archive of Horos and Tapekysis.
The site was first visited by Flinders Petrie in the 1890s and was later excavated by Grenfell and Hogarth in 1896, who found three pottery jars filled with coins in the ruins as well as papyri and other artefacts. Some of the Faiyum Portraits were also found here, but the majority of the site has never been thoroughly excavated. In the 1990s part of the town was re-excavated by Egyptians and an Italian team from the Universities of Bologna and Lecce who have unearthed more of the ancient buildings and streets.
Since 1993 the excavators have uncovered foundations of a stone temple structure beneath the mudbrick buildings, thought to have been dedicated to Soknobkonneus, a form of Sobek. The plan of this building seems complex, with part of it on an axis to the main structure and pylon remains to the north. It was originally thought that the huge solid mudbrick structure was the temple, but this is now believed to have represented store-rooms which were attached to the stone temple. Recent finds also include a small limestone sphinx with a demotic inscription, fragments of Greek and Roman papyri, many coins of the period as well as various statue fragments. They have also uncovered foundations of a large well-built structure of some importance with remains of inlaid wooden furniture and pottery lamps. The whole site, which stretches over many smaller mounds, is strewn with pottery sherds and takes quite a long time to walk around. A large wolf greeted us from one of the mounds and accompanied us around the site, moving further away each time we got close to it! The team are continuing a topographic survey of the site and to work on restoring the Temple of Soknobkonneus.
How to get there
Kom el-Atl is on the north-eastern edge of the Faiyum basin, not far from Karanis. From the Kom Ushim museum take the road to the bottom of the hill and turn onto a narrow track which follows a canal on the right and runs alongside the town site of Karanis on the left. After around 10km, turn left over a bridge towards the village of Kom el-Atl, after which you will see the town mound and ruins in the desert beyond. There is a gafir’s hut at the site.
The road from Kom Ushim, south to Medinet el-Faiyum goes through the village of Biyahmu. Here Petrie discovered two large limestone pedestals, over 6m high, which once contained seated colossal statues of Amenemhet III. The statues are now gone, but the pedestals remain in situ by a railway embankment. By the size of the pedestals it is suggested that the statues would have exceeded 18m in height.