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ASSIUT, or Siut, capital of a province of Upper Egypt of the
same name, and the largest and best-built town in the Nile
Valley south of Cairo, from which it is distant 248 m. by rail.
The population rose from 32,000 in 1882 to 42,000 in 1900.
Assiut stands near the west bank of the Nile across which, just
below the town, is a barrage, completed in 1902, consisting of an
open weir, 2733 ft. long, and over 100 bays or sluices, each 16½
ft. wide, which can be opened or closed at will. At the western
end of the barrage begins the Ibrahimia canal, the feeder of the
Bahr Yusuf, the largest irrigation canal of Egypt. The
Ibrahimia canal is skirted by a magnificent embankment planted
with shady trees leading from the river to the town. There are
several bazaars, baths and handsome mosques, one noted for its
lofty minaret, and here the American Presbyterian mission has
established a college for both sexes. Assiut is famous for its red
and black pottery and for ornamental wood and ivory work,
which find a ready market all over Egypt. It is one of the chief
centres of the Copts. Here also is the northern terminus of the
caravan route across the desert, which, passing through the
Kharga oasis, goes south-west to Darfur. It is known as the
Arbain, or forty days road, from the time occupied on the journey.
Assiut (properly Asyūt) is the successor of the ancient Lycopolis
(Eg. Siöout), capital of the 13th nome of Upper Egypt. Here
were worshipped two canine gods (see Anubis), Ophoïs (Wepwoi)
being the principal god of the city, while Anubis apparently
presided over the necropolis. No ruins are visible, the mounds of
the old city being for the most part hidden under modern
buildings; but the slopes of the limestone hills behind it are
pierced with an infinity of rock-cut tombs, some of which were
large and decorated with sculptures, paintings and long inscriptions.
The archaeological commission of the Description de l’Égypte visited them in 1799, when the walls of many of the large
tombs were still almost intact; in the first half of the 19th century
(and to some extent later) an immense amount of destruction
was caused by blasting for stone. Three of the tombs illustrate
one of the darkest periods in Egypt’s history, when the princes of
Siut played a leading part in the struggle between Heracleopolis
and Thebes (Dyns. IX.-XI.); another, of the XIIth Dynasty,
contains a remarkable inscription detailing the contracts made
by the nomarch with the priests of the temples of Ophoïs
and Anubis for perpetual services at his tomb (see Breasted,
Ancient Records of Egypt, Historical Documents, vol. i. pp.
179, 258). Remains of the mummies of dogs and similar
animals sacred to these deities are scattered among the débris
on the hillside in abundance. Lycopolis was the birthplace
of Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism (A.D. 205-270).
From the 4th century onwards its grottoes were the dwellings
of Christian hermits, amongst whom John of Lycopolis was
the most celebrated.
(F. Ll. G.)
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