A bustling industrial city (Egypt’s fifth-largest), TANTA marks the end of the cotton harvest in October with Egypt’s largest festival, the Moulid of Saiyid Ahmed al-Bedawi, when its population jumps from 430,000 to nearly three million as visitors pour in from the Delta villages, other parts of Egypt and the Arab world. The moulid honours the founder of one of Egypt’s largest Sufi brotherhoods. Born in Fez in Morocco in 1199, Saiyid Ahmed al-Bedawi was sent to Tanta in 1234 by the Iraqi Rifaiyah order, and later established his own tariqa (brotherhood), the Ahmediya. Streets and squares fill with tents and stalls for the moulid, thousands camp out amidst heaps of blankets and cooking pots among the music and chanting, vendors and devotees, Sufi zikrs, even a circus with tigers and a levitation act. Events focus on the triple-domed, Ottoman-style mosque (some 300m northeast of the railway station) wherein Bedawi and a lesser sheikh, Abd al-Al, are buried. The climax to the eight-day festival occurs on a Friday, when the Ahmediya – whose banners and turbans are red – parade with drums behind their mounted sheikh. If you attend the moulid, it is best to leave your valuables somewhere safe: pickpocketing is rife and people quite often suffer injuries from crushing or fist-fights in the dense crowds.

Tanta is known for its roasted chickpeas (hummus in Arabic, though it does not necessarily mean that they are mashed with garlic and tahini). They can be bought at any of the multitude of sweet shops surrounding the mosque.

SaΪs

  • 30km northwest of Tanta, 20km south of Dasuq

Nothing but a few pits and blocks of masonry remains of the once great city of SAΪS, beside the Rosetta branch of the Nile on the northern edge of the modern village of Sa al-Hagar, just west of the Tanta–Dasuq road, Founded at the dawn of Egyptian history, it was always associated with the goddess of war and hunting, Neith, identified by the Greeks with their goddess Athena. The city became Egypt’s capital during the Saϊte Period, under the XXVI dynasty (664–525 BC). For more information about the site, go to w egyptsites.wordpress.com/category/delta and click on “Sa el-Hagar (Sais)”.