The charmingly named ZAGAZIG (usually pronounced “Za’a’zi”) was founded in 1830, and is actually a grimy industrial town. Ahmed Orabi (1839–1911), leader of the 1882 revolt against British rule, was born here, and has a statue outside the station. Zagazig is the source of most of the papyruses sold in tourist shops throughout Egypt, which are manufactured in sweatshops and sold to dealers for as little as £E3–4 apiece. From a tourist’s standpoint, its attractions are the Moulid of Abu Khalil, held outside the main mosque during the month of Shawwal (currently July or Aug), and the paltry ruins of Bubastis.

Bubastis (Tel Basta)

There’s little to see of Bubastis (Bubasta in Arabic) beyond the few displayed artefacts, but archeologists have found Old and New Kingdom cemeteries and vaulted catacombs full of feline mummies, and the city was known to the Ancient Egyptians as Pr-Bastet (“House of Bastet”), after the cat-goddess daughter of the sun god Re, who was honoured with licentious festivals. Fifth-century BC Greek historian Herodotus said that its seven hundred thousand revellers consumed more wine than “during the whole of the rest of the year”, and described how the city lay on raised ground encircling a canal-girt temple, “the most pleasing to look at” in all of Egypt. Begun by the VI Dynasty pyramid-builders, Bubastis reached its apogee after its rulers established the XXII Dynasty in 945 BC, though the capital at this time was probably still Tanis.