Siwa is an oasis that's most frequently visited by tourists. It's an island with thousands of date palms, olive trees, lakes and springs, all surrounded by sand dunes. The Berbers who lived in the oasis made it famous with their unique folk handicraft products.
Those who visited the oasis responded to the word Siwa; fabulous landscape and Berbers. The Siwa Oasis, which covers an area of around 80 km2, is located deep in the Western Egyptian Desert near the Libyan border (approx. 60 km away). It is inhabited by about 23,000 people, most of whom are Berbers. Their main occupation is chemical-free agriculture which is based on the existence of 230 natural sources. Thanks to them, 300,000 palm trees and 80,000 olive trees grow in the oasis. The air is the scent of oranges, lemons, granites, guway, lime and peach due to the fruit orchards. Next to the orchards there are many herbs, hibiscus bushes and thousands of olive trees.
The first asphalt road connecting the oasis with the city of Marsa Matruh was not built until the 1980s. As the road was built, the state ban on traveling to and visiting the oasis was lifted. Thousands of years of isolation proved that its inhabitants, the Berbers, were able to create their unique culture and cultivate their traditions, continuing to this day.
The local salt lakes that surround almost the entire oasis are world famous. These are lakes that have no outflow. They were formed in the basins of the depression in which the oasis is located after heavy rains or seeping groundwater. Due to the lack of outflow and a high degree of evaporation (the air temperature in the Siwa oasis in summer exceeds even 45 C), their salinity level is constantly increasing, and a hard salt crust forms on the surface, which sparkles in the sun.
The lakes are best seen from the Aghurmi hills. The largest of them is Birket Siwa with an area of 32 km2, the others are Birket Az-Zaytun and usually dry Birket Azmuri. There are also over 230 springs in the oasis. Most of them are saline to some extent, so they are only suitable for economic purposes. The remaining sources are used to obtain drinking water. The water quality has been appreciated by the Egyptians, and the Siwa water brand has become one of the most purchased in the country.
To see a great view of the entire oasis, climb the Gebel Dakrur hill. This is located 4km southeast of the city of Shali. According to a local legend, somewhere on the hillside there is an entrance to an emerald mine. To get to it, you need to drink water from a nearby spring. Once you've drunk the water a genie will appear guarding the entrance. Unfortunately, there are no further clues, so it is not surprising that no one has managed to find either the genie or the entrance to the mine so far.
Shali is the name of both the largest city in the Siwa oasis today, and the medieval capital of the region. The main attraction of Shali is the ruins of the medieval town buildings, which at first glance resemble a dense mass of dry mud. In the thirteenth century, there were monumental city walls here, which - like the residential buildings within them - were built of unburned mud bricks, made of local clay.
This, in turn, contained a large amount of salt. Unfortunately, the building material was not resistant to water. And it was the sporadic but heavy rains (especially in 1928 and 1930) that caused the flourishing city to become a muddy ruin abandoned by its inhabitants - today it is only a tourist attraction. The night illumination of the hill with the remains of buildings is ideal for romantic walks.
In the modern part of Shali, life revolves around a central square - Midan el-Suk. Here you'll find a market and there are also restaurants, hotels and shops with local Berber handicrafts. You can buy hand-woven and embroidered sun scarves, traditional Jalabiya and headgear decorated with coins and mother of pearl, as well as local jewelry made of Berber silver.
It is also worth visiting the Siwa House Museum located in the city center. Inside a traditional single-story house made of dried brick, you can see an ethnographic collection: clothes, jewelry, dishes, furniture, tools and musical instruments.
Gebel Al Mawta
From almost every place in the Siwa oasis you can see a high mountain with numerous holes. This is Gebel Al Mawta - the Mountain of the Dead - and the holes are carved tombs. The most important of them come from the turn of the 7th and 6th centuries BC, the rest from the Greco-Roman period (4th century BC - 4th AD). These are all simple graves without decorations with the exception of four decorated tombs.
The most beautiful of the tombs is dedicated to Si-Amun. The man buried in it came from Greece or Cyrenaica (eastern coast of Libya), but adopted the Egyptian religion and assimilated with the local people. This is reflected in the decoration, and all frescoes are made in the Egyptian style. In several places, the man is introduced with his wife and children. The theme of decorating the other walls refers to the world of gods. The fresco on the western wall attracts attention. It shows the goddess of heaven, Nut, who accepts gifts of bread and incense. The ceilings feature colorful images of vultures and falcons. These birds symbolize Upper and Lower Egypt.
It is worth visiting the Crocodile Tomb. The name comes from a fresco in the tomb depicting the god Sobek depicted as a reptile. However, it is not known whose body was buried in the grave. In the Mesu-Isis tomb, you can see an impressive frieze. It consists of red and blue ureus (cobras), which are a symbol of pharaonic power. Again, the name of the buried man has not been preserved in the reliefs, and the tomb functions under the name of his wife.
A gravel path planted with date palms leads from Shali towards the fortified hill of Aghurmi, situated in the center of the ancient village of the same name. At its top, there is a legendary temple dedicated to Amon, the chief god of Egypt. The oracle of Amun spoke here to the distinguished leader of antiquity, Alexander the Great (336-323 BC). The sanctuary was built of limestone at the turn of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Only the outlines of figures and hieroglyphs have survived from the reliefs decorating its interior.
The local population attributed magical powers to the place where the temple was built. It was thanks to them that the village was saved from invasions, as in the case of the planned attack by the army of the Persian king Cambyses (6th century BC). The army was supposed to destroy the oracle, but in unexplained circumstances it disappeared in the Western Desert. In 331 BC the temple was visited by Alexander the Great himself. As was Egyptian custom, he went to the oracle of Amun for the god to confirm his right to the Pharaoh's throne. As the legend has it, he heard a favorable prophecy about the war with the Persian Empire.
The numerous buildings around the temple suffered a similar fate to those in Shali. They were built of the same material - unfired mud brick, which contained a lot of salt. As a result, the building material was very hard, but also susceptible to water. After heavy rain in 1926, the inhabitants had to leave the village of Aghurmi and the dilapidated buildings.
The Source of Cleopatra
The source where, according to legend, the last ruler of Egypt used to bathe is famous for its crystal clear warm water and bubbles coming from the depths. A stone wall adds a little charm. Today it resembles a round swimming pool, with spiral steps making it easy to enter the water. It is worth visiting this place in the afternoon and relaxing in the shade of palm trees. You can also visit the restaurant located by the spring, famous for its tasty juices. The juices with mangoes, limes, bananas and guavas are recommended.
The Ain Al Arais spring is between Shali and Aghurmi. It is slightly smaller than Cleopatra's source, but just as deep (about 10 meters). Local wedding ceremonies sometimes take place around the spring. Until recently, on the night before getting married, the bride used to come here with her friends to take a bath. She also gave her younger sister a silver pendant, which was a symbol of virginity. However, the custom has now changed and today the bride comes here with her future husband, but she is not allowed to take a bath. He usually waits in the car for his chosen one.
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