Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis is an oasis in Egypt, located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert, nearly 50 km (31 miles) east of the Libyan border, and 560 km (348 miles) from Cairo. About 80 km (50 miles) in length and 20 km (12 mi) wide, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt's isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, mostly ethnic Berbers who speak a distinct language known as Siwi. Agriculture is the main activity, mostly dates and olives, supplemented by basketry.

Although the oasis is known to have been settled since at least the 10th millennium BC, the earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was established. The ancient Egyptian name of Siwa was Sekht-am (meaning "palm land").

Greek settlers at Cyrene made contact with the oasis around the same time (7th century BC), and the oracle temple of Ammon (Zeus Ammon) was already famous during the time of Herodotus; the oracle is said to have confirmed Alexander the Great as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt during a visit made prior to his campaign of conquest in Persia. The Romans later used Siwa as a place of banishment. Evidence of Christianity at Siwa is dubious, but in 708 the Siwans resisted an Islamic army, and probably did not convert until the 12th century. A report of 1203 mentions only seven families totalling 40 men living at the oasis, but later the population grew to 600.

The first European to visit since Roman times was William George Browne, who came in 1792 to see the ancient temple of the oracle.

The oasis was officially added to Egypt by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1819, but his rule was tenuous and marked by several revolts.

Siwa was the site of some fighting during World War I and World War II. The British Army's Long Range Desert Group was based here, but also Rommel's Afrika Korps took possession three times. German soldiers went skinny dipping in the lake of the oracle, which was considered a sacrilege.

The ancient fortress of Siwa, built of natural rock salt, mud-brick, and palm logs and known as the Shali Ghali ("Shali" for city, and "Ghali" for dear), although now mostly abandoned, remains a prominent feature, towering five storys above the modern town.

Other local historic sites of interest include: the remains of the oracle temple, the Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead) - a Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs, and "Cleopatra's Bath," a natural sulphur spring. The fragmentary remains of the oracle temple, with some inscriptions dating from the 4th century BC, lie within the ruins of Aghurmi. The revelations of the oracle fell into disrepute under the Roman occupation of Egypt.

Another attraction is Fatnas Island, which became a palm-fringed peninsula located on the edge of a saltwater lake. The lake had been partially drained in recent years due to a plan to limit the effect of rising water levels in Siwa due to agricultural runoff from uncontrolled wells (a major problem affecting the entire oasis), and Fatnas Island is now surrounded mostly by mud flats.


Journeys trips that include Siwa Oasis:

Cairo to Casablanca Overland Adventure from Oct. 13-Nov. 23, 2007 with Will Weber


Information based on