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The Siwa Oasis or Siwah (Wãḥat Sĩwa in Arabic:
واحة سيوة) is an oasis in Egypt, located between the Qattara Depression and the
Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert, nearly 50 km (30 mi) east of the Libyan
border, and 560 km (348 mil) from Cairo. Location: 29°11′N, 25°33′E.
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.
Siwa appears at first as a sweet and innocent
place deep in the desert which has just opened its eyes to the modern world and
still let's itself be amazed. Which is not wrong, the asphalted road opened
first in 1984.
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
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. Prior to his campaign of conquest in Persia
Alexander the Great reached the oasis, supposedly by following birds across the
desert. The oracle is said to have confirmed him as both a divine personage and
the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt.
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
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.
Siwa Oasis has many mud-brick buildings.
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", dear),
although now mostly abandoned, remains a prominent feature, towering five
storeys 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) 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. The main attraction is a swim in the clear and deep water of
Fatnas Spring, the deepest part of which is 2,300 feet deep, under the watchful
eye of the military police. Changing/restroom facilities have been built and
Omran Mat'am (partial owner of the land around the spring) will serve you
tea/coffee or soda as you relax and catch the sunset.
area is famous for its dates and olives, and is one of the most beautiful
landscapes in Egpt. Olives oil is still made in the area by crushing the olives
from the 70,000 olive trees in the area with stones. The dates are gathered by
zaggala (stick bearers), who must remain celibate until the age of forty, and
the area boasts some 300,000 date trees. It is located on the old date caravan
route, yet until recently, it received few other visitors and retained much of
its heritage. In fact, until the battles which took place around the oasis in
World War II, it was hardly governed by Egypt, and remained mostly a Berber (Zenatiya)
community for the prior thirteen centuries. Siwans continue to have their own
culture and customs and they speak a Berber language, called Siwi, rather than
Arabic. Interestingly, each October there is a three-day festival during which
Siwans must settle all of their past year's disputes.
The area is also famous for its springs, of which there are approximately 1,000.
The water is sweet, and is said to have medical properties.
Though relaxing and certainly now a part of the tourist community in Egypt, it
is very traditional, and visitors should keep this in mind when traveling to the
area. Girls of the area are often married by the age of 14, and afterward where
completely covering clothing, and allowed little communications with the world
outside their immediate family. Many women still wear traditional costumes and
silver jewelry like those displayed in The Traditional Siwan House museum in the
town center. In fact, the area is also well known for its crafts, particularly
woven cloth, which is unique in Egypt.
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