Qasr el-Sagha and Dimai
Above the northern shore of Birket Qarun, in a now deserted and inhospitable area at the foot of the desert escarpment towards Gebel Qatrani, is a small uninscribed temple known locally as Qasr el-Sagha. The site can be reached via a track from Kom Ushim, and is about 25km from the main road. A 4×4 vehicle and a guide is recommended for this visit.
In remote antiquity a forest grew on the escarpment north of the site – petrified remains can still be seen and it is thought that Birket Qarun (ancient Lake Moeris) once extended its northern shore close to the temple in the days when the lake was much larger. Qasr el-Sagha rests on a level platform on the side of the escarpment and was first published by Schweinfurth in 1892 and visited later by Petrie.
The date of the temple is a source of debate among scholars, but its plan suggests that the structure was built no later than the Middle Kingdom. It’s architecture, however, was interpreted by early explorers as being in the style of Old Kingdom structures. The temple was constructed of limestone blocks of different sizes, which fit tightly together without the use of mortar and with oblique corner joints.
The temple was never completed and the walls were left undecorated. The interior contains seven small chambers or shrines and an offering hall. There is also a ‘blind room’ which is completely enclosed and appears to have no entrance.
A German-Polish Mission directed by Gunter Dreyer have recently conducted a magnetometer survey of the Middle Kingdom settlement area at Qasr el-Sagha in order to complete the plan of the area and to establish whether the settlement continued around the south side of the temple.
On the flat plain to the south of Qasr el-Sagha there are several sites of prehistoric villages whose inhabitants seem to have existed by hunting, farming and fishing.
Around 8km south of Qasr el-Sagha, towards Birket Qarun, is the site of the Graeco-Roman town of Soknopaiou Nesos. Today known as Dimai, or Dimeh el-Siba (Dimeh of the Lions), the town is thought to have been founded during the Ptolemaic Period, but appears to have been built on an earlier neolithic settlement. Its Greek name means ‘Island of the Crocodile-god’ but it is doubtful that it was ever an island.
The town site is remote and would have stood on the northern frontier of the Faiyum region – probably as a garrison for the Roman soldiers who protected the area from desert bandits. The site is well-preserved with a broad processional way known as the ‘Avenue of Lions’ which ran from the Gate of Soknopaios down to a quay which would have been on the edge of the lake. The quay has two limestone piers and steps on its southern side. The houses of the town are located on either side of the avenue and would have been typical of the multi-storey houses of the period.
Within the ruins of the town were two temples which stood on a mound and were contained within mudbrick walls. The northern temple, at the end of the processional way and now ruined, was dedicated to Soknopaios, who was a form of the crocodile-god Sobek. Only the stone foundations of this temple remain today. The southern temple was constructed of mudbrick and stone and was probably of a later date.
The mudbrick walls of the town can be seen from quite a distance away. They are still 10m high and the site is strewn with debris and pot-sherds which cover the whole space of the temple area. A Roman cemetery is situated to the south-west of the town.
Dimai was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan in 1931.